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How I Recovered From Burnout: 12 Keys to Getting Back

I had never been through anything quite as deep, or frankly, personally frightening as my burnout 10 years ago.

Burnout moves fatigue and the darkness from a place where it was in your control to place where you can simply no longer control either.

I’ve heard from more than a few of you who have let me know that you’re in the midst of burnout right now.

Gary summarized how many leaders feel when he wrote in this comment:

So I’m there now. If I were honest I would say my life and ministry are in shambles. Still going, but no one really knows except my wife, I am ready to quit.

Oh man.

All I can say is I understand, and I’m pulling for you and praying for you.

I told part of my story in this post along with sharing 9 signs you might be burning out.

So how do you recover from burnout?

Let me share my journey. While everyone’s recovery will be different, there were 12 keys that, in retrospect, were essential to my recovery.

burnout

Not an Instant Cure

And as far as time goes, for me there was no instant cure.

It took about 6 months for me to move from ‘crisis’ (20% of normal) to operational (maybe 60%)

It took another year to get from 60% to 80% of ‘normal’.

Finally, it took another three or four years to finally feel 100% again – like myself. Even a new self.

12 Keys To Getting Back from Burnout

Along the way, these 12 things helped me immensely. And while your story might be different, I offer them in the hope they might help you even in some small way:

1. Tell someone

This was hard. I think it is for most leaders, especially guys. My guess is you will resist because of pride. But pride is probably what made you burn out. Don’t miss this: Only humility will get you out of what pride got you into. Swallow your pride and tell someone safe that you have a problem. It’s tough, but it’s the first step toward wellness. When you admit it to others, you also finally end up admitting to yourself.

2. Get help

You can’t do this alone. Really, you can’t. I went to a trained counselor and had a circle of friends who walked the walk with me. You need to talk to your doctor and to a trained Christian counselor. And you need others. I had people pray over me. My wife, Toni, was an incredible and exceptional rock. I’m not sure I would have made it without them. I’m a guy and I prefer to work through my own problems. This one was so much bigger than me. But not bigger than God or the community of love and support he provides. So get help.

3. Lean into your friends

Yes this could have been included in Point 2 but the guys would have missed it. Friends. You need them. Guys – word here. We tend not to have a lot of friends and we tend not to open up. Mistake. Lean into your friendships. Friends came to house and prayed for me. They called me. One day a friend called and simply said “I know you can’t feel it today, but the sun will rise again. It will.” I can’t tell you how much those words meant to me that day. Your friends care about you. Lean into them.

4. Keep leaning into God

Just because he seems silent doesn’t mean he’s absent. I did not feel God for months. Not when I prayed or read the bible or worshipped. But I didn’t give myself permission to quit. In these pivotal moments you will either lean away from God or into him. Lean in, hard. Even if you feel nothing. I did, and eventually, the feelings of intimacy return. Just because you can’t feel God’s love doesn’t mean he doesn’t love you. Your emotions will eventually catch up to your obedience.

5. Rest

I was so physically and emotionally tired when I burnt out. I slept for about 10 hours a day for a month straight, adding naps to my daily diet on top of that. I think sleep is like money; deficits become debt. And debt needs to be paid off. I paid off my sleep debt that month and I always try now to make sure I am not running a deficit. If I do for a week or two, I pay it off with more sleep. You were designed to rest, and to rest in God. While I personally didn’t take a sabbatical or medical leave (our board offered me one), some may need to. I was too scared I’d never come back. So I took three weeks vacation and came back slowly.

6. Find something else to take your attention away from your pain

The problem with pain (or at least my pain) is when you do nothing you only have your pain to focus on. Distraction is a powerful tool to get your mind thinking about other things. Watch a movie. Go out for dinner. Go for a hike. Go to a party. Go to a concert. It’s not easy. At my worst, I would go to social settings and not want to talk to anyone, sometimes even ‘hiding’ from people behind my wife who is a foot shorter than me and 100 lbs lighter. But at least I went. One night we hosted a dinner party and I left the table early and ended up crying in my bedroom for the rest of the night. But at least we threw the party. It got my mind off the constant cycle of depression.

7. Do what you can

Again, you may need a long sabbatical. But I took three weeks off and went back to work. On my first week back in the office, it took my longer to write a three line email than it took me to write this entire blog post, but I focused on doing what I could. The first weekend I preached, those who knew the shape I was in all told me “We would have had no idea you were feeling so bad. You were amazing.” I knew how I felt inside, but it was good to know I could still be helpful to others in some way. I think for me it was important to discover what I could still do.

8. Don’t do anything drastic or stupid

Underline this. Because my illness involved my mind, I was tempted to do all kinds of things that could have ruined my life. I felt like abandoning my calling, running away from everyone I knew and everything I knew, even my wife and kids. In my worst moments, thoughts of ending it all crossed my mind. I am so thankful I didn’t succumb to any of those impulses. Some days I just said to myself “don’t do anything stupid today.” And if I didn’t, that was progress. I’m so thankful I didn’t do anything rash or irresponsible.

9. Trust again

One of the contributing factors to my crash was a few relationships (not my family) in which trust was broken. As hurt as I felt and as cynical as I was at points, I made a conscious decision to trust again. And the wonderful thing is: so many people are trustworthy. And God always is. Trusting again after your trust has been breached keeps your heart fresh and alive and – ultimately – hopeful again.

10. Closely monitor balance

I used to pride myself in being able to go at whatever I was doing longer and harder than anyone else. Pride’s not a good thing. I now closely monitor how I’m feeling, my rest and my balance between time with people and time alone. I’m hyper focused on it. Because I can’t afford not to be. I build margin into my schedule because without it, the edge of the next cliff is right around the corner.

11. Watch for the warning signs

I watch these 9 signs of burnout diligently. About a month ago I saw over half the warning signs creep back in. I told our elders immediately. I was two days into what I thought was a ‘mini burnout’, but I sounded the alarm bells. In the end, it turned out to be my frustration over a leadership issue that was producing the symptoms. As soon as I cracked the leadership issue, the symptoms disappeared almost overnight. But that kind of monitoring is for me central to staying healthy.

12. Take full responsibility for the health of your soul

Nobody else is responsible for your health. You are.  Pray, read your bible, seek life giving friendships, replenish your energy, eat right, work out, love deeply. These things nourish your soul. If you don’t do them, nobody will.

Okay, I promised 12. But here’s a bonus tip. This one’s huge and you’ll be tempted to skip it.

13. Believe there’s hope

It took me almost 5 years to feel like ‘myself’ again (a new self for that matter). It was a long road back for me personally and I had to keep believing that God wasn’t done with me. 7 years later I’m so thankful. Our church has never been healthier or more effective. I am enjoying what I’m doing more than ever. And the opportunities before me have never been greater. How much of that could I see or imagine 7 years ago? Exactly 0%. But I had to not give up despite that. In those moments and days where I still don’t feel good, I cling to the hope that the sun will rise again. And it does.

So that’s my story.

I’m praying for you today and I hope that in some small way this helps those of you who are defeated, discouraged or believe it’s over.

It’s not. Our God still lives. And He loves you.

Want more?

I included a full chapter about personal health and team health in my new book, Lasting Impact. You can pick up a copy for you and your team here.

In addition, listen in on my interview with Perry Noble, Lead Pastor of NewSpring Church who burned out while leading a church that reaches tens of thousands of people. Perry tells you not only why he burned out, but how he came back.

If you prefer, you can listen to the podcast on your phone or other device by subscribing here. Once you’ve subscribed, just look for Episode 2, which is my interview with Perry.

Additionally, don’t miss the free resource page Perry and I put together to help leaders who are burning out. You can access it here for free.

Get a fresh leadership podcast episode delivered to your devices every week by subscribing for free.

You can subscribe to my podcast for free here on iTunesStitcher or Tune In Radio.

What’s helped you move through your toughest seasons?

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  • Winston Dehaney

    Thanks for sharing. I’m happy about number 4 point 🙂

  • Jonathan Nta

    Hello Everyone, who still care about his/her ex-lover/husband or wife. I am Mrs kamogelo from South Africa I never though my husband will come back to me again, I am very happy at last that my husband came back to me after i was acquise of been barren of not been able to bring front children,Then i came across Prince Ebos who help me in bring back my husband to his sense with a prayer and now i have a baby girl to show to the world that i am fruitful. i am grateful and happier than never before, Thank You Doctor for helping me, e mail: princeomoebos@gmail.com, if you still love or want your ex-lover and happy marriage with children

  • Horst Wrabetz

    “Keep leaning into God” – aaaaand I’m gone.

    • Yeah…. I wish there was something atop this website to say it was for Christians only :/ I don’t need God in my life, I’ve been better off without it. I think for myself, I care for the people around me, try to be happy for myself so it can shine onto others… and I’m glad to know this strength comes from me. I came here hoping to find advice because I’m workaholic, but figured out a lot of it was rather unhealthy. I mean. Good if the author thought it worked for him, but most of it (especially the religious stuff) doesn’t apply to everybody.

      I got quite worried over that part: “One night we hosted a dinner party and I left the table early and ended up crying in my bedroom for the rest of the night. But at least we threw the party.”

      I wouldn’t call that a victory at all, really. Ending up crying in the bedroom is really bad (and I do hope that someone went to comfort him and hold him rather than leave him alone with this distress). I have a sister-in-law who’s in depression and easily triggered by social contact, so we try to take baby steps about it. I really don’t think that throwing a party for the sake of it would do her any good if she’s not ready for it that day. Adding breakdowns is just not helping in any way…

      • Luke “The Fluke”

        I agree, but I also understand that we have to make attempts to do something otherwise we will get nowhere.

        • Attempts of course, yes, but it’s all a matter of setting reasonable expectations, and also being able to draw back if comes a realization that it won’t work. Getting burnout often comes from pushing yourself too much, so learning to say “no, I can’t do this; not now at least” is part of the healing process too.

          I do have those days when I feel like I can do anything and everything again, but I know it doesn’t mean in anyway that I should let myself go for it too much. I always pay it with days of depressed exhaustion, low self-esteem and incapability to do the least thing. Those can be really damaging, so it’s all about finding the balance between extremes, and because we’re all different, the answer to what suits us can only be found within us.

  • Samuel Jervis

    Hi Carey, Thank you for this post. It has helped me stay focused on recovery. I’ve been in ministry since I was 14. I’m now 30 and have hit Burnout. As someone who has always trusted myself and others, to be in position of Burnout where that trust has been broken and I can neither trust my emotions or my own judgement, has been very difficult to cope with. I feel like a zombie some days walking around void of emotion, other days my emotions are raging, exaggerated and I can’t keep them quiet. Reading the Bible and crying out to God everyday has provided me a safe place, a place of refuge, comfort and rest from my storm. Most days God feels distant, but I press on.
    I feel like nearly every interaction with people (particularly at Church) drains me back to zero. Do you have any tips on how you cope with those interactions? I’m already isolating myself a fair amount to avoid interactions. Thanks again! I also really enjoyed the podcast with Perry Noble. Sam.

    • Sam…thanks for the connection. I’m thankful you’re on the road to recovery. My advice would be to keep counselling and continue to drill down on the source of the issues. Also, as best you can, try to find the few things that energize you and do more of them to give you fuel for the few things you need to do that drain you. Hope this helps Sam. Keep going.

      • Samuel Jervis

        Thanks for your reply! I’ll keep moving forward. God Bless!

    • If social interaction exhausts you, it may be good to find out if you might not be more introvert or ambivert. If you have issues with managing emotions, it can also be part of the problem, because social interactions involve emotions, so they can be very draining. You could try having online contact with your friends so to get their support without having to deal with the social aspect that is exhausting you. We’re all different so it might be hard to find what helps us most, but indeed, if something is exhausting, physically, mentally or emotionally, you should try to avoid it as much as you can at least until you’ve recovered, and then be more cautious about it. Never do anything for the sake of it if you think you’re not ready.

  • shella

    Hi there…
    I am in severe.burn out.. Like the other comment.. I am also had all those.symptoms.. I notice the signs of burn out too late.. You are right.. I feel distant from Him since this happened.. I’m a medical student.. I believe God put our calling in our heart.. I want to become a doctor since i was a little.. But then i saw how people can be so mean or how sad life can be.. I got to see a mom lose their 2 y.o child.. It hits me then.. I feel exhausted with all this.. I’m taking a leave right now.. I feel like i want to quit.. But i’m.afraid i will regret my decision… I don’t know what’s right anymore..It’s almost 6 months.. And i still can’t figured things out should i quit or not.. Some elders prayed for me and they all said doctor is my first path that God provide for me but it is okay to quit if i want to..

    If i quit i kinda feel like i disobey Him eventhough i know He won’t mad and still love me and simply give me another path…so.. I was wondering.. Is this including to your point number 8..? Am i in the stupid decision mode because i’m in burnt out..? Or even after recovering i will still feel the same??

    • Shella…so sorry to hear this. I can empathize with how you feel. I think one of the best things I did was NOT to make any major decisions when I burned out. My emotions were off and couldn’t be trusted. I would encourage you to get some wise, level headed people around you who love Jesus and trust their view until you feel better.

      • shella

        Thank you for your reply.. God bless you 🙂

  • Danielle Hinkle

    Thanks for this article. I have a question! I am, for certain, suffering from severe burnout. I have every symptom and now the final one which I managed to escape has reared it’s head- I can’t eat hardly at all. My issue is that most burnout help suggests retreating for a bit to home for rest. My burnout originates at home. From stay at home mom, home schooling, daughters in time consuming competitive sports and a husband who travels on average 5 days a week for work (he is gone 5 days straight, including overnights), my marriage is causing stress and it is not a healthy marriage and not emotionally supportive, and my parents need a lot of help right now due to illness and injuries. I am at wits end. I spoke to a counselor in the past and I discovered that my choices as a parent leave me stuck between a rock and a hard place. I have tried various sleeping medicines natural and prescription. They work for a day and then I’m awake literally for days. My catch 22 lies with my kids. If they do regular school they lose their competitive sports and if they stay as they are I am going to be a loon in a week. Husband is not too helpful. What can I do? Either way my kids are going to be disrupted and negatively affected.

    • Danielle, this is a heartbreaking story. I’m so sorry. I wish I had specific advise for you but not knowing a complex situation personally makes it hard. I would suggest you continue to use the local resources around you (counsellors, pastors, friends) and drill down deeply until you find the source. For me, it was realizing that the problems that were happening around me was because of things that were within me. Once I dealt with me, I got better. I’d encourage you to drill down with people who love you. And naturally, keep praying for God’s deep guidance and healing.

  • Anke Effey

    Hello and thank you for your story!
    Your information will help me a great deal in more then one way: For one thing I’m not alone and I have to continue to read the signs + be very patient with myself and realistic than it will take more then the 3 1/2 month that I’m on my road to recovery.
    I had to quite my job – I could not go back there into that toxic environment that has brought this on me.
    Still need a lot of sleep, but starting back with meditation and praying continues to help me clear my mind.
    My concentration span get’s better but is not what it was, less headaches …. guess that’s where I need patience 😉
    Again thanks for helping me to get a better perspective on my journey!
    All the best for your path in life with God at your side!

  • Raul

    Hi, very nice to read your story, it takes a lot to make it back safetly. I had been spiraling down for two years and saw the signs a year ago, couldn’t stop then. Our personal and profesional ego is strong and dificult to control. Finnaly quit my job and will try to be focused on health. Will be using your article as a guide. There is one thing I wanted to ask, did you experienced memory problems? I noticed that many people with burnout mention it, mine is completely exausted. Hope that with a lot of theraphy and your key point could improve it…

  • Matt Beeman

    Its interesting to see your timeline at the beginning of the article, because that is almost exactly the timeline that I had with my burnout at what is now my previous church. When I finally realized it, it took me 6 months until I could step back into ministry again, and for a few other reasons, I also had to change churches in the process. It was 6 months before I stepped back into ministry and all, and another 6 months later when I got back into fully functional ministry (helped along by God providing an amazing revelation of his sovereignty), and I have continued to develop, and it has now been 4 full years, and thinking about that timeline, it has only been the last few months where I felt like I was operating at 100%, now 4 years later. I am a volunteer, and in my previous church, I felt as though it was a job, and with the help of a great staff here, it has become a calling, and that creates a different perspective and mindset on any obstacles or challenges that occur in ministry.

  • Morine Mario hong

    i am Paula Hall, i am hear to give testimony of how i got back my husband, we got married for more than 2 years and we have two kids. thing were going well with us and we are always happy. until one day my husband started to behave in a way i could not understand, i was very confused by the way he treat me and the kids. later that month he did not come again and he called me that he want a divorce, I asked him what have i done wrong to deserve this from him, all he was saying that he want a divorce and that he hates me and do not want to see me again in his life, i was mad and also frustrated do not know what to do, i was sick for more than 2 weeks because of the divorce. i love him so much he was everything to me without him my life is incomplete. i told my sister and she told me to contact a spell caster, i never believe in all this spell casting of a thing. i just want to try if something will come out of it. I contacted Dr. Iyere, at (dr.iyere@hotmail.com) for the return of my husband to me, they told me that my husband have been taken by another woman that she cast a spell on him that is why he hates me and also want us to divorce. then they told me that they have to cast a spell on him that will make him return to me and the kids, they cast the spell and after 3 days my husband called me and he told me that i should forgive him, he started to apologize on phone and said that he still love me that he did not know what happen to him that he left me. it was the spell that the Dr. Iyere, casted out on him that made him come back to me, today me and my family are now happy again today. thank you Dr. Iyere, for what you have done for me i would have been nothing today if not for your great help. i want you my friends who are passing through this kind of love problem of getting back their husband, wife , or ex boyfriend and girlfriend to contact (dr.iyere@hotmail.com) and you will see that your problem will be solved

  • Susana

    Hello from Brazil! I found this post so inspirational and I wanted to thank you for sharing what you lived and learned. I read it for the first time more than one year ago, when I was starting to feel like myself again after some 2 years of a burnout. It helped me a lot. During my journey to recover I did lots of things and searched for the answers in lots of places, but I think everything started to make sense when I started to pray in the middle of the night while I simply couldn’t sleep anymore. It was hard in the beginning, but now I see that trying to talk to God moved me little by little into the Christian values again. And it is really amazing what I’m starting to feel now. I feel like myself again, but really a new self, like you wrote, and seeing I can do really more than I imagined before all this happened.

    Thank you again!

  • kristine

    Hi. I am so happy I read this, and also read the comments on it. I have been going through a break-up after a long toxic relationship that ended almost 3 years ago. Last year I also had the experience of betrayal in the workplace, from the very person I was exhausting myself to help. This has been followed by another betrayal of trust by my closest family-member, and now everything just seems to fall totally apart. I have not been happy in my job the last 4 years (because of the job function),but now it has worsened as I have a new boss, who is a nightmare and has managed to turn a very good working climate into a place of stress and frustration in less than a year.
    Since I ended my relationship 3 years ago I have felt like my life was over and that I failed at everything and lost myself and everything good in me. I have felt numb and have hardly cried at all (which is very strange for me). I am in my late thirties and feel like life has passed by, because the 30´s are so crucial for women. I guess I could still find someone and create a family, but I think the biggest problem is that I don’t have hope or trust or self-esteem anymore. I just don´t believe that I will be able to make this life work. Maybe because I´m too much alone in all of it. I am trying hard to reach out to friends, but it still doesn´t seem to get me out of this numb place, because I lost the two most important relationships in my life, these past years. I have no clue how to fix this..
    I have called in sick these couple of weeks from my work, but my boss will not leave me alone (even though he knows he is the reason why I don´t function right now). So the stress increases..
    I have the opportunity to quit my job, but for some reason I keep stalling. It´s like I can´t make good decisions for myself anymore. Also dreading the instability in building something new after quitting the job.
    It was quite a relief to read your post and understand that these things take time. And that maybe I´m not feeling this low because I have failed as a person. I live alone and I feel that really makes it harder to remain realistic about these things. I end up blaming myself for everything.
    Phew! Life is surely confusing. I have no clue what it´s trying to tell me..
    But thank you for being honest and opening up. It helped me 🙂

  • Joëlle JP

    Pastor Carey, thank you so much and God bless you for writing this article and sharing with us online <3 I found this article just yesterday. I'm a disciple of Christ and American working and living in South Korea for the past 6 years as an English teacher. I didn't realize I was burnt out until a a week or so ago. I just felt I needed to leave Korea, but that was four years ago, I didn't imagine it was because I was burnt out. It was difficult finding good friends overseas whom I could find fellowship. I began to not be able to enjoy the work I was doing and in my 3rd year, I had a major breaking of trust and even more, I believe I got further burnt out after I studied online for MA in TESOL. I now realized that nothing in that MA I enjoyed studying, however I assumed it was a means to sustain myself, forgetting in leaning on God in how He would provide. So, I completely agree, remaining solitary majority of the time, distrust, over doing it or overworked and no sabbatical and no way in relieving daily stress was inevitably going to make something big and bad happen. After seeing all these typed out, I can see why God let me get even physically injured over and over again, so I had some kind of opportunity to slow down and hopefully realize I needed rest, a lot of it and time of healing. I'm praying God show me in what I should do next year (contract finishes in April 2016), though I want to continue to have a way to sustaining myself with some kind of employment, however after reading your article, and knowing now I'm burnt out, that I may need a much more help and longer time to heal and rest. God bless you Pastor Carey! In Christ

  • Thank you from New Zealand

    Thank you so much for that frank interview ! I’ve been burnt out for the past 6 months and have had to quit my job in the past few months. Over this time I have been working hard to identify what single issue caused this but you have reaffirmed that actually it’s a number of things over the years which look like lack of balance, disappointments, lack of sleep and a plenty more that has led me here. I’m not Christian but I am so impressed with the level of honesty and care shown on your podcast that I found myself saying ‘praise god and thank you god’ a few times during the show. I also found the opinion that anti depressants/anxiety drugs can be viewed with the same positive health management as another organ also amazingly frank and I only wish the rest of the world talked more openly about this. Thank you for this gift and please know that it has helped me.

  • Anonymous & Burned Out?

    Hello and thank you for this encouraging article. I found it by Googling the subject. Trusting again is the very hardest for me. My ex-partner called me the ‘ultimate entrepeneur’ or somesuch….hard-driving, kicking down doors, putting together the concept, selling…social media..you name it…never take ‘no’ for an answer. Always ready, always willing…and then ‘serial betrayals’, by friend/partner, family members. If I told the story you probably would believe it anyway. We had over 800 credit scores, paid cash most of our lives even for homes and autos…then ended up in personal bankruptcy and that to me was hitting bottom. After a year God has restored us financially but I feel absolutely ‘numb’ as you said in every imagineable way, my energy levels have gone to zilch, thinking tires me, everything tires me emotionally and physically I’m just exhausted to the core. I never cried, not the crying type, but can go into tears in a moment now. Felt hopeless for about 2 years and now start to feeling tiny spots of hope, then they will fade and come and go. Can’t collect my thoughts like I used to. Feel as tired when I wake up as when I go to bed. Went from working 65-80 hours a week to doing nothing the last month. Hard to feel that things will be okay much of the time. Always had faith and stamina…well, you know. Thanks for helping. I was thinking this was taking longer than I thought it would. Snap out of it! Well, I haven’t been able to snap out of it. Now I look over my shoulder. If my husband gets involved with anyone in business, I tell him to be careful the person doesn’t hurt us. Don’t want to bore you but am glad to know with God’s help I will one day feel ‘normal’ again. He’s healed me and helped us so many times….this is just a tough time. Thanks again.

    • AliVia

      It really really really does take time, and you are worth every bit of time it takes to heal and recover. Take life one moment at a time, remind yourself how precious and valuable you are, and take deep breaths. You will get through this.

  • MONICA MORGAN

    After being in relationship with him for 3 years, he broke up with me, I did everything possible to bring him back but all was in vain, I wanted him back so much because of the love I have for him, I begged him with everything, I made promises but he refused. I explained my problem to someone online and she suggested that I should rather contact a spell caster that could help me cast a spell to bring him back but I am the type that never believed in spell, I had no choice than to try it, I mailed the spell caster, and he told me there was no problem that everything will be okay before three days, that my ex will return to me before three days, he cast the spell and surprisingly in the second day, it was around 4pm. My ex called me, I was so surprised, I answered the call and all he said was that he was so sorry for everything that happened, that he wanted me to return to him, that he loves me so much. I was so happy and went to him, that was how we started living together happily again. Since then, I have made promise that anybody I know that have a relationship problem, I would be of help to such person by referring him or her to the only real and powerful spell caster who helped me with my own problem and who is different from all the other ones out there. Anybody could need the help of the spell caster, lotto, his email is DRAISEDIONSPELLCASTER@OUTLOOK.COM you can email him if you need his assistance in your relationship or any other problem like wining lottery.