Lessons From a Burnout

If you’ve stopped to read this, chances are you are either headed for or in the middle of burnout.   Burnout of any kind can be brutal, can't it? You can read a bit of my story with burnout here.  Burnout is not too terribly selective, but those who have bought into a crazy, driven, performance worldview are often burnouts easy prey.   The problem is, many of the causes of burnout are the very things that are celebrated as a virtue, excellent work ethic and over-achieving. Sometimes, we have problems maintaining healthy boundaries when we are driven towards “success,” recognition, prominence, and the approval of people in authority.  It would be easier if we could get an accurate perspective of what we were doing was hurting us, but sometimes, those of us who burn the candles at both ends do so for really good things, some very noble, wonderful things and because we see the value in what we do, and sometimes the urgency - we tend to abuse ourselves.

What is Burnout?

Burnout is the place of exhaustion.  Exhausted mentally, physically and emotionally, and is caused by prolonged excessive stress.  The stress mercilessly pummels you, and you feel overwhelmed and unable to keep up with everything going on in life and not really sure if you really care.  Burnout inhibits your ability to work well.  You find any obligatory task increasingly draining and this impacts your motivation.  As this progresses, you begin to feel a deepening sense of futility as you feel helpless and like you just can’t keep up the pace.  This often takes one to a place where one feels like they have nothing left to offer, and this leads to feelings of resentment, hopelessness, and helplessness.

Is there Hope for Recovery?

Earlier this year I went hiking with my family in Waterton Lakes National Park.  The park was ravaged by a forest fire in 2017,  reducing a lovely time red, majestic landscape to a scorched wasteland.  It was a devastating sight.  Heart-breaking.

What a difference a year makes!   While the reminders of a catastrophic fire remain, imagine the thrill of discovering beauty among the ashes.  Our hike revealed a hidden beauty, a new landscape, and as a part of it is the new growth bursting forth among the charred forest remains. Fresh berry crops abounding.   Wildflowers bursting in adornment, the spent pine cones, their seed released by the flames full of promise for a new beginning.  A picture of resurrection hope.

The good news is many do emerge to new life on the other side.  With new healthy boundaries and self-care, the healing begins, and new life begins to emerge.  As it does we let go of the deadfall and tend to our new life emerging - fruitful and vibrant.  There is hope.

Take Aways

Here are just a few things I discovered through my season of burnout. There are certainly more, but these are at the top of mind:

  1. I am not irreplaceable. Lots of great people out there.
  2. My trying to do it all (and maybe not necessarily well) fills a space that others with the right gifts could fill and do well.
  3. I can’t save the world. I can help make it better, but it doesn’t all depend on me.
  4. Anger is not good fuel - burns hot, fast but not for long and leaves you spent.
  5. You cannot be MORE invested in the work than those you are advocating for.
  6. You can lead a horse to water, but unless you’re prepared to suck on its ass, you can’t make it drink. God knows I used up a lot of Chapstick ...
  7. Sometimes all you can do is stand by and watch people/organizations make poor decisions. (See #3)
  8. Saying ‘no’ can be an essential gift to BOTH ourselves and those we serve.

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