Happier Inc. Founder Nataly Kogan on the Importance of Refilling Your Emotional Reservoir

Nataly Kogan’s life story is the sort of thing that gets mythologized in the U.S., inspiring people the world over to leave their home countries in search of similar success. 

Kogan came from Russia to the United States with her family at the age of 13. Things were hard—they got by with the help of public housing and food stamps. With persistence, though, Kogan was able to climb the ladder at firms like Microsoft and McKinsey, eventually reaching the upper rungs of the corporate world. She achieved success. 

Happily ever after? Not quite. 

Kogan had realized no matter how much she achieved or how hard she worked, she wasn’t experiencing the sort of personal satisfaction she expected would naturally accompany her professional pedigree. 

Then, she crashed hard. It was the result of what she describes as the complete neglect of her emotional, mental, and physical health. 

Now, the serial entrepreneur, author, keynote speaker and TEDx presenter is sharing her hard-earned wisdom to help you strengthen your emotional fitness. 

“I’m not an expert on burnout because I studied it in a lab for 20 years. I’m an expert on burnout because I burnt out,” Kogan says. 

In her Achiever’s Exclusive interview with SUCCESS’ Madison Pieper, Kogan discusses the experiences that shape her work with her company, Happier, and the message of her forthcoming book, The Awesome Human Project: Break Free from Daily Burnout, Struggle Less, and Thrive More in Work and Life.

“I treated myself like a machine with unlimited ability to go and do and do, and I thought that was the right way. I thought that is how you live a meaningful life. And I didn’t get the prize of euphoria. Instead, several years ago I stopped being able to function,” Kogan says. 

Sound relatable? Kogan offers high achievers like herself these tips so you, too, can go from burnt out to thriving. 

1. Don’t ignore your daily energy levels. 

Each of us start every day with a finite amount of energy: emotional, physical and mental. Kogan describes it as an “energy reservoir,” not unlike a water bottle. 

Everything we do at work takes a little bit of water out of the bottle: from answering emails, to jumping on meetings, and even listening to others talk. 

The problem? Without our constant attention, it’s really easy for the bottle to deplete itself. Suddenly, we’ve got nothing left to give. 

“I think we all know that feeling, of just, you get to the end of the day and you’ve got nothing—you’ve got nothing left to give,” Kogan says. “That is daily burnout.”

One of Kogan’s more important realizations was that daily burnout impacts us all. 

“I thought lazy people burn out, weak people burn out, but I had been burning out daily,” Kogan says. “At the end of the day, I shouldn’t be on ‘nothing.’”

2. The solution begins with awareness of the problem. 

Growing up as the daughter of Russian immigrants, Kogan says, “there was no discussion of feelings—anywhere.” 

Making matters worse was the prevailing corporate culture of the time, which encouraged employees to “leave feelings at the door.” 

Now, both companies and employers are wising up to techniques like Kogan’s when they encourage employees to do emotional well-being “check-ins.”

How does it work? According to Kogan, the same way you check in with colleagues or friends, you should also routinely be checking in with yourself. 

Kogan says we should be “very tangibly checking in with [ourselves] and asking, ‘How am I feeling? How is my energy reservoir? How is my mental energy, emotional energy, physical energy?’ … That is the first step, because awareness gives us choices,” she says. 

Kogan recommends blocking out a specific time of day to do your check-in and marking it down in your calendar. 

3. Self-care is also about caring for others.

Kogan defines self-care as the skill of “fueling your emotional, mental and physical energy.” 

She also believes self-care should be an essential part of everyone’s mental health routine—and not just reserved for people who feel like they’ve got extra time on their hands. 

“I’m really on a mission to bust through this idea that self-care is a luxury or a gift that you get once you get it all done,” Kogan says. 

Case in point? Kogan points out the reality that self-care goes beyond your immediate well-being—it’s also something that directly impacts others around you. 

“I want you to get really honest with yourself and ask: ‘What is it that other people need?’” Kogan says. “Because when I don’t practice self-care, what people in my life and at work get is me snapping at them; they get my stress; they get my heavy energy; they get my exhaustion; they do not get what they want.” 

Still unconvinced self-care is essential? Kogan would remind you that nothing runs on unlimited energy—and refueling is as important for busy professionals as it is for a car, for example. 

“When the car runs out of gas, do we go, ‘Well, I don’t know, does the car deserve more gas?’ or, ‘Is there a time for me to fill up the car?’ No—you have to fill up the car, or it cannot do its job of being a car,” Kogan says.

Photo by Dean Drobot / Shutterstock

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