The Burnout Is Real: Setting Boundaries and Amplifying Your Value
Season 5, Episode 1
Guest: Carla Cobos Hull, Owner, Unleash International
Are you feeling burned out and undervalued? Carla Cobos Hull, owner of Unleash International, shares advice to effectively set boundaries, advocate for yourself and communicate your value to key stakeholders.
Meet Our Guest
Carla Cobos Hull, president and founder of Unleash International and the creative mind behind the Conscious Planner Certification, is a dynamic force in the event industry. With a unique blend of expertise, a vast network and a visionary approach, Carla leads teams to craft events that are not only unforgettable but also profitable, all while avoiding the pitfalls of burnout.
In 2008, Carla embarked on her journey in the meeting and event arena, instantly falling in love with the industry. Over the years, she has continued to blossom as a leader, infusing her work with qualities such as passion, honesty, creativity, integrity, kindness and inspiration. Having navigated the corporate, association and non-profit sectors, Carla has cultivated a broad network of trusted professionals, allowing her to tailor each event with precision.
Her experience spans the management of meetings, conventions, conferences, tradeshows, roadshows and roundtable events across Latin America, the U.S., and Europe.
Cobos Hull is an active member of the MPI Potomac Chapter, where she served as the career development co-chair from 2019 to 2020 and earned the esteemed STAR award in 2020. Her earlier contributions include board membership at the Greater Orlando Chapter from 2009 to 2011.
With a bachelor's degree in hospitality, a master's in business administration and notable certifications such as CMP, CMM and CCP, Carla is a distinguished professional in her field.
Beyond her professional endeavors, Carla finds immense joy and inspiration in her two children, who infuse her life with love and energy. To recharge creatively, she enjoys meditation, workouts and cherished moments with her family, which she holds as the cornerstone of her world.
Connect with Carla
More About Our Host
Well, me too, girlfriend, and you have had a whirlwind of the start to the new year. You've been traveling the world. Where were you? What were you doing? How has the year started for you?
Carla Cobos Hull
Well, the year started, I would say, unexpected. Normally, I like to start the year very quiet and, just in general, with family catching up with clients and things like that. But one client just said, "Look, we gotta go to Switzerland." So, there I run off the first week of January and I was in Davos, Switzerland, having events and just doing the thing, you know?
That's amazing. And what were the events that you were working on?
Carla Cobos Hull
Pretty much roundtables for high-level clients. And, you know, it's for the World Education Forum. And as you know, that is a huge location where all the world leaders go. And so I got the opportunity to go in support the client in creating events and roundtables for them.
So, I'm very, very excited about that. And it was quite the experience; just the energy, the people, the dynamics of how they interact, which I have never experienced before, as a meetings and events professional in my almost 20 years doing this. It was completely different, to be honest.
Yeah. And what an amazing opportunity, just being a bit of a fly on the wall, and also getting your hands dirty at the World Economic Forum. Did you meet any of the leaders that were there? Did you get to see them in action having these high-level talks?
Carla Cobos Hull
And you know, it's interesting enough, say, when we are planners; when we go to places, we get to not see the most important things on, like, what's happening on stage. We're always on the back end or on the side and are trying to set up or things like that. So, we don't, I didn't really get to see that. But for me, mostly, I wanted to see the city. I wanted to explore and connect with the energy of the nature of the mountains of what's happening there. And I'd give myself a little bit of time to enjoy that, to go and see local stores and things like that.
So, even though I knew there was things happening around me, and crazy things happening around me, I really wanted to ground myself and pretty much enjoy the town and what was happening instead of just focusing on what was happening, if you know what I mean?
So, it was a different perspective that I wanted to go within; kind of like go and really understand this city, the town, the people in the culture, because I've never been there before. Within a very international crowd.
Absolutely. And what an amazing time of year to be in Switzerland, with the snow, and I just think it would be so magical. So, good for you. What a great way to start the year. I would love for you to tell me and also tell the audience more about your company, Unleash International.
Carla Cobos Hull
Yeah, so Unleash International came about, to be honest, after--I'm gonna be very open and share my heart with you guys. Literally, after having depression and anxiety--I've been working in the meetings and event industry for a long time--and I just hit bottom. I was burned out completely. And I had no life. It was my family was hurting. I was hurting my job and pretty much the way that I was doing work was hurting.
So, it's kind of like I was not productive in any way around. And so, when, of course, the world stopped in 2020, kind of everything started flourishing and that's where Unleash International came about, where I needed to come back to myself and find myself as a planner. I wanted to find myself as, "Okay, what am I doing in the work that I'm doing?" We have so much impact in our hands and we do nothing about it, right? And the only people impacted that hurt--like, the impact in a negative way--is ourselves all the time.
And so, I needed to change that for myself or my family and for the work that I was doing. So, I decided to start shifting and working on that and Unleash International birthed out of that, really. And focusing on really creating more conscious events, not conscious events for others, but for the planner first. So, I always say, if you want change, it has to come from within first, right? If you want to change how people treat you, how are you treating yourself, right?
And so, those are the things that came about. And so, I started changing within myself. I started focusing on me and healing in really taking care of myself. And looking at the way I talk to myself, and looking at the way that I took care of myself, I fed myself I--you know all the things, right? And so, then it became more of like, "Okay, I like this, I like the new me, This is like, wow, I'm alive, I have time." And it helped that was 2020, right, because we had the time--events stopped.
So, it really helped me kind of focus on myself. But once the true test came in, once we opened back again, with events was like, "Okay, Carla, this is the test, right? You gotta go back to an event; are you going to do the same things?" And that's when I started testing in all myself, everything about how to be the conscious planner and how I call it right. Like, really, it's the basis of Unleash Internationally becoming conscious about yourself and how you're managing yourself within the events, within the planning, within the onsite, within the people around you at home and at work.
So, that's how it came about.
That's fantastic. And I think it's such a great reminder that a lot of times our purpose can stem from pain, from really difficult experiences that open up doors for change, for an opportunity to grow and to do things differently. And for you, you turned that into a business, which is just phenomenal.
I want to talk to you about the state of the meetings industry right now, as we know, it's 2024. For the last couple of years, we have had so many ups and a lot of downs as well with the pandemic and just so many other things. How would you personally describe the state of our community right now?
So, the people who are in our community--how are people doing right now?
Carla Cobos Hull
Honestly, I see it all the time with clients and with people that I hire--co-workers and friends in the industry. The word is burned out. And for me, it's a word that was normalized, for me was normal. "Oh, it's normal. We're of an industry, you know, if you're not burned out, then why are you in the event industry?" Right? That was for me. And so, I thought that after the pandemic, people would kind of like shake up and open up to, "Okay, wait, I'm burned out. This is not normal. What's happening?" But the more and more I see it, it's becoming more and more normalized, which is strange.
And so, I feel that that part of the industry, it's hurting, because everybody's talking about the new AI, the technology, the new ways and new forms to do events, the new trends. Everything, right? But nobody's talking about the planner. Nobody is talking about them. And there will been nobody's talking about the amount of load work that has doubled or tripled since the pandemic because it's gotten even busier than it was before.
And so, I believe that it's time for us to shake things up a little and really start raising our voices to corporations, organizations and saying, "Hold on. This is not the norm. This is not our industry. We're not here to be working 24/7. We are not here to not have boundaries, you know?" What do you think?
Yes, we do. We do need a life, that's for sure. And I completely agree with you that I think burnout culture is very much embedded within the role of a meeting professional, specifically a planner.
Who do you think normalizes that burnout? Do you think it's on the planners to denormalize this or do you think It's more on the leadership of these organizations that are, you know, arguably responsible for the culture of their people?"
Who's at the crux of this burnout crisis?
Carla Cobos Hull
So, I believe, wholeheartedly, that everything starts from within. So, if I allow myself to be treated, to be not compensated, to be talked to...whatever it is, just for the fear of that, I am the first offender that I'm allowing for normalization of the burn out, right, because I'm not valuing myself. I'm burning myself out because I don't know how to say no, right? And I'm really burning out myself, because I am like, I can't keep my eyes off of the phone, because, "Oh, my gosh, what if the client, or what if they turn a client or the CEO, right?
So, I do believe it's the professional itself first, that needs to shift this. And then once that happens, what's going to happen is, there's going to be a shake within the organization going like, "Whoa, whoa, whoa, what's happening here!" Right? And that's when leaders are going to start realizing that, "Hey, there's a change here, something needs to change." Right? But it comes first from within.
Do you think that leaders, generally speaking, are receptive to feedback, especially when it comes to setting boundaries?
Carla Cobos Hull
My belief about leadership is because themselves are not within themselves, also. So, it's like a trickle effect, right? I believe that they always focus on the bottom line, and wellbeing of the meeting professional or the employee, it's not in the bottom line. How much work pressure or workload in a person for this amount of XYZ dollars, right? That it can in the end, give me that bottom line, XYZ-dollar profit. That's how I see it. But when you have a person that says, "Whoa, one second, no, this is my work. This is my boundaries," they're going to start like pushing, pushing, pushing, pushing, right?
But the more we unite, the more people start doing that, the more professionals start doing that, then there's going to start being a shift upwards.
So, it's possibly a power/numbers situation where the more people who speak up, the more change will potentially be made from the top down,
Carla Cobos Hull
Correct. Right. And as CEOs, owners of your organization, my organization, if I'm hiring somebody, I'm not going to treat them like a bottom line, I'm going to treat them consciously and say, "Okay, you want to go to the gym during the hours of work, go to the gym. It's part of we're going to be more productive by you going during the work hours to exercise or to start a little bit later, to start sleeping or go to your kids, recital, or whatever. Then me saying, "No, you work nine to five, and then you have your personal life afterwards."
Mm hmm. And we know that people struggle to set boundaries. That's not a mystery. And I think most people can relate to that. I think there are a few people who it may come a bit easier to for them to say no, for them to push back, for them to self-advocate. But the majority of people, especially if they're operating in a culture where setting boundaries may not be the norm, do struggle to speak up for themselves.
What would your advice be to encourage them or to even give them a step-by-step process for them to start flexing those communication and those self-advocacy muscles?
Carla Cobos Hull
The first thing that comes to mind is start with yourself. Little bits and pieces, right? You always say, "Oh, I want to stop drinking," let's say, for example, right? So, let's say you drink five days a week. And you're like, you know what, I want to start setting boundaries with myself. I'm only going to drink two days a week. And so, you come and you're like, "Oh, I'm so tired and I had a really bad day at work, or heavy work. I am going to pour a glass of..."
Are you saying no to yourself or saying yes to yourself? Start there--small, right? Once you start getting used to saying no to you, it will come naturally to say no. To your spouse, to your children, to your family. To your neighbor, your community, To your church, right? And then expand to your work. So, it starts with you and opens up and expands. As you practice with yourself.
That's a really interesting way to look at it. And I don't think I've heard anybody express boundaries-setting that way where it aligns perfectly with every message that you've really been driving home in this conversation, which is that it starts with self. And I think that's really fascinating to consider what boundaries you break within your own routine.
So, things like not drinking, things like exercising, getting enough sleep, limiting screen time, getting outside, like, because, you know, I've heard people use the expression, "Stop ghosting on yourself."
So, stop letting yourself down, Stop, you know, bailing on the plans that you had made for yourself. But I think it's really interesting to frame it in the conversation of boundaries, where you ask yourself the question, What boundaries have I set for myself that I have also broken? And can I work harder and more intentionally to honor my own boundaries first, before I start trying to set and honor and reset boundaries with those around me?
That's really fascinating. What inspired you to really adopt this philosophy?
Carla Cobos Hull
So, interesting enough, I was learning about civilization, and civilization in a new way. And as I was looking on, sort of like, it's like, history, spirituality, mixture of civilization. And as I'm learning this, something resonated in the fact that you want to make changes to the way you eat the agriculture, what's coming through, if you wanted to make changes to the education, if you want to make changes to the finances, or the politics, right, in civilization? How are you doing it to yourself? And that clicked for me. How are you putting food in? What are you eating? Their agriculture part? How are you managing your own finances? Meaning, how you're managing your energy? Because that's financial in your body, right?
So, how you manage those finances, your energy, how you're managing education, how are you talking to yourself? How are you educating how the words that are coming through in your mind--it's connected to your mind? Then you talk about politics? How are you leading yourself, right? And so, all in the same thing comes with spirituality, right? So how are you connecting first yourself?
First, before you even look on the outside, within yourself, right; how you talk to your inner child. And you know, I could go a little bit brighter, right, like, broader. Your inner child, we all have it right? Sometimes we want to go out and play in the snow, like we had snow here in D.C. Like, we want to go play in the snow--oh but I have to work, and your inner child gets mad. And then you get aggravated for no reason. And you're like, why? Right? And so those things come first, for yourself. And that's where everything clicked for me. And then I was like, "Wait a second. I'm complaining about what's happening in the world. I'm complaining about what's happening in my community, I'm complaining about what's happening in my home, right with my children and my husband and stuff."
Because if you think about it, it starts within self with your inner child, inner teen, inner young adults, right? That's a community within you. And then your home. If you have a husband, children, it's a community there. And then your community of your community. How are you managing that? But everybody's pointing outside, but nobody's pointing inside first.
That's how everything came about.
I really loved what you said, "How are you leading yourself?" I think that's so interesting. And I think that fits into this conversation beautifully in thinking about, let's say we've done the work internally. And now we're trying to set boundaries and say no more to the leaders of our organizations. And that question of how you’re are leading yourself, I think is really interesting.
But I do want to address a challenge that I think a lot of people face. So, let's say you've done the work. You're getting better at setting boundaries for yourself and for your family members, maybe friends. However, you're running into roadblocks and attempting to set boundaries with the people that you're working with, let's say your manager, your leader, and they're not receptive to it. What then?
Carla Cobos Hull
So, what's the fear? Where did you talk about, "Oh, I can't get to them. The fear is, what am I going to do? I can't leave? Well, the truth is you can. There's lots of opportunities out there. And again, who you're choosing? Are you choosing to stay in a place that is like, eating you inside? Are you choosing you? Right? There's tons of opportunities out there for meeting professionals for anyone, for anything, right? Yet, we are afraid not to take them.
I was afraid to start speaking about this, right, and kind of talk about conscious planner and talk about and open Unleash International. But then, if I don't do this, then I won't be able to do the thing that I love, which is helping others and share my message. Right? And am I afraid ... are people gonna think this and yeah, but again, I'm working on myself to make sure that I am confident enough.
And I know there's a reason behind this, right? So, when you're not having that going through, make a plan, make a plan and say, "Okay, this is not getting through, I want my boundaries, I'm going to find a place where they're going to accept my boundaries..." It may take me a couple months, it may take six months, it may take a year, but you have a plan in place. Don't just settle. And that's what we do; we tend to just settle and say, "Well, I couldn't push my boundaries. So, I'm just gonna settle." No.
I think that's great advice for anybody who's in a place where they feel like they've been just frustrated and unheard. I think that's probably one of the primary frustrations of people who do end up leaving their organization is that they feel that they're unheard. But they also feel that they are unvalued.
And I know something that you and I have spoken about prior to this conversation was the possibility that corporations maybe don't place as much value on meeting and event professionals. Because they don't, you know, well may not always be seen as them driving revenue directly into the organization, even though I have definitely worked on plenty of event marketing campaigns to know that that is not true.
But there is a conversation that's been happening in the industry for the past handful of years about the business of meetings, the business of events, the value of meetings, the value of events. And we keep having these talking points created by associations, industry leaders, of how do you prove your value as a meeting planner to the bottom line of a business?
Yet, we're still hearing these conversations about meeting professionals not being seen as directly tied to revenue drivers. So, what are your thoughts on that? Where are we today?
Carla Cobos Hull
So, I believe that the conversation is sometimes too broad on the conversation. So, a CEO, CFOs or whatever, sit on those chairs and be like, "Yeah, we're making the change. You know, meetings and events really are important." But the truth is, it's just words. And there's no follow-through. There's no follow-up on that, right?
If there's compensation with no action, it means nothing.
What would that follow-through look like?
Carla Cobos Hull
I believe that there's no company out there that has stood up and said, "This is what we're doing. We have changed the way that we manage and the planners and values and stuff. And this, it's working." Why? Because they're afraid that is not going to hit their bottom line.
And so, there's nobody out there in the meetings and event industry and the corporations, the bigger associations, corporations, that are going to stand up, because they have a modality and a mentality that that's not important. That is not there.
No matter how many times you're going to talk about it, it's never going to be the priority for the organization.
Why do you think that is, Carla?
Carla Cobos Hull
Because they value other things more than what we bring to the table. We are like, "I believe that we as meeting and event professionals are like the co-hosts of the organization, yet we're treated like an administrative assistant. No offense to administrative assistants--we love you guys out there. But we are treated like that.
And I believe that one, it has been created because of history, right? How did we evolve into the industry itself, right? And I don't believe that, when you sit around CEOs, their topic of importance is talking about how much a meeting professional can bring to the table. They're more focused on what's happened in politics, because what, if they're a public company, they have to go up and down right on their stocks.
If they're a smaller company, they have to make sure their clients and the bottom line, how much they're making at the end, or they're profitable, right? There's other more important things.
So, would you say that the responsibility of communicating the value of events falls on the meeting planner?
Carla Cobos Hull
We have to show our worth and our value. And how we do that is when we stand up to the CEO of the organization, and we say, "Hey, you know, this is what I bring to the table. This is what events bring to the table." There's so much you can meet at the table.
I remember working for an association, and I was bringing 65% of the association's revenue. That's a lot for meeting professionals, for a meetings department, to bring, right? Yet, when I went to the board, they thought it was not important. So, that's where my journey started.
Really, I was, like, mad at the board. And I was like, I can't work with the board because it's too political, right? Everybody's looking for their own interests, right? And for me, I was looking for the interests of the organization, because that's what we do.
We planners, we immerse ourselves into it, we want the best out of the organization, because we live it, we breathe it, and we want it to make it a habit, right? And so that's where everything started. They don't, they're not interested. They were like, "Oh, yeah, you bring 65%. But we have members; they are the most important ones." Really? Membership only brings 35%. Let's say, "Okay, let's not have events, or.... no, no, we have to have events. Ah, we do. right?" So, it's education, right?
We gather together in meetings and events and we talk about it, we teach each other, but we don't go to other conventions or other conferences and talk about it. We don't go to conventions of CEOs, we don't go to conventions for CFOs. We don't go to conventions and talk about how important meetings and events are.
You know, we see it around us. And we're like "hooray", us and us. And we all get it. And we're like, "Yeah, but nothing's changing, because we're just us. We don't go to other, you know, organizations and talk about how important events are. They are attending an event, they know how important it is, but they don't want to talk about it.
And we don't bring it up and we don't go talk about it. We don't expand ourselves and go talk about it there. That's one thing that for me, I want to focus on that and do that.
Go out there to other organizations and see how I can talk about this in our industry to other industries. Because they're using an event to generate profit, yet they don't want to talk about meetings or give it the value that it deserves?
Hmm. That's so interesting to me that the board, in your experience, the story that you shared that the board had such a negative response, or kind of a laissez-faire response? When you know, when I think of a board, I certainly think of the financial health of the organization. That seems to be, you know, top priority for most boards. So, it's so unusual that you went into the room, you gave them the numbers, and they turned around and said, "Okay," and it's so strange to me.
And, you know, because the initial question I was going to ask as a follow up to this was, "Well, how do we change the conversation? What conversations should a meeting professional be having with a board of directors or with key stakeholders to ensure that the value is made clear? But it's unusual to have had a conversation about the financial benefit of a meeting and to have it just kind of, you know, shrugged off a little bit. Do you feel like that's typical?
Carla Cobos Hull
That has happened to me in all of the corporations and the entities that I worked for, and I would go to the CEO for this corporation I worked for. And I was like, "Okay, you know, we're having these events--events are so important." Yet the first thing they cut were the events. It was a tech company. So, they're like, "Oh, no, our system or technologies or company... I'm like, "Okay, great. But who's going to sell it if you don't have an event? How are they going to know about it?
I definitely have seen that a handful of times in our space. I mean, we all saw it during the pandemic, you know, that was the first budget item that was cut were, you know, meetings and events. And of course, you know, obviously, meeting in person was not possible for a long time, and we eventually switch to virtual, but I think the business case for having and hosting expensive in-person conferences became more difficult to argue after the pandemic, when businesses saw, we're actually doing okay, and do we really need to bring them back?
And so, if you were to suggest, if somebody were to make the case for, we need to have meetings and events, because XYZ, what do you think are the most important variables to include in that conversation?
Carla Cobos Hull
So, before I would go to talk to anyone, I will talk to myself and say, "Do I believe that what I do is worth me going and fighting for? Do I truly believe that what I do is passionate, I am committed, I live and breathe it, too? I believe that this is something that I can stand behind and really stand behind it. That would be the first thing. And if the answer is yes, then go to the CEO. I've never been--I'm gonna be honest--I've been very honest and transparent here. I've never had a problem with hierarchy. I don't believe in hierarchy, really.
So, I can talk to anyone and everything. I just like talk to them. You know, and sometimes I had trouble because I will overpass my manager, because my process is you go to the change-maker, who is the change-maker? My managers are the change-maker, the CEO is the change-maker.
So, I will go directly to the CEO, right? You have to go to the changemakers, the ones that have the power to make that change. Be prepared, of course--that's a main thing, be prepared. Be prepared to put your case forward and show the heart and the passion you have not only for the organization, but also for what you do. And then see what happens, because you might be surprised, that things could change.
But also, don't have expectations, because you might be surprised that nothing will change.
And of course, we can't forget data. I feel like data is key in these conversations, too. You know, the passion is important. Self-belief is important, but also the numbers.
Carla Cobos Hull
The numbers--what have you brought in? How much you saved the company, how much money you brought in? How much money you've saved, the company, your department. Let's say if you're a department head, right? That is valuable for the organization, because while they focus on the bottom line, if you enter there, through numbers and data, and then hit them with the other side as well. Hey, you might have a case and also be prepared for them to just oversee it, because sometimes it's going to happen.
Well, I think this was so helpful, Carla, and I love that, again, this whole conversation has gone back to starting with self. I think in every micro-chat we had in this conversation; everything comes back to self-empowerment and really a belief in what you're saying.
Whether it is advocating for the value of the department that you're running or your role, or it's advocating for the importance of setting boundaries and taking care of yourself so that you can function and operate and do the job you want to do in a way that feels healthy.
It really does all start with you. So, I want to, of course, thank you for being here, but I want to give you a little bit more airspace to share any final words of wisdom or pieces of advice that, as we go into this new year, people listening to this podcast and I can take with them.
Carla Cobos Hull
One piece of advice that I would love to share with everyone is start really being aware of how you are in your life and how not happy, because happiness is a state of mind, right? How did you perceive your life to be, and if you're not content, if you're not in harmony with it, then start to make changes, small changes to it. You don't need to go big, start small.
Because I want you to remember, I want you to know that you're worth it, that you're loved. That what you do matters and what you do really changes the world. And so, I really want to empower everyone to go within, be aware, be aware of your mind, your body, your energy, and take time for you. You deserve it. You work hard for it.
Wise words, Carla, and I will definitely be taking those with me and I want to say thank you so much for kicking off our fifth season of Dare to Interrupt with a great conversation, so many takeaways, so many things for us to think about. And for just sharing your wisdom with us, and of course audience, thank you all for listening.
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Create balance, advocate for yourselves and keep daring to interrupt, my friends. Until next time.