Yesterday I attended probably what was my last academic meeting. It may surprise you to know that I went because I wanted to, not because I was supposed to. 😉 I enjoy these particular meetings because they are cross-disciplinary and the professor who leads them is one of my favorites. He’s in the Business School and I got real insight yesterday from something he said. (BTW, he’s tenured.) In discussing career strategies for junior scholars he remarked something to the effect that, "If you do everything the university asks you to do, you will find yourself unemployable because you will not have time to research and therefore you lose all your negotiating power." In other words, if you devote yourself to the institution, the reward is burnout and loss of options. Some relationships are just like that.
It’s something that I address in depth in my e-courses because burnout is an easy trap to fall into for those of us who want to make a real difference in the world.
It’s a classic "heads you win, tails I lose" situation. Do everything your spouse, children, employer wants you to you, and pretty soon there’s not much left of you. Have you been there?
Burnout keeps people in jobs they dislike, relationships that drain them and overcommitted. Usually it’s a perpetual cycle. Take the example of a client, we’ll call her Beth. Beth wants to serve and for years she has said "yes" whenever she was asked to help out. She feels appreciated when people thank her for her many contributions, and ultimately, she wants to serve her community. So, she does significant work for her church, a political party, and multiple activities for her children, like coaching sports and teaching crafts. Money is short so she takes odd jobs here and there. Plus there’s the house, and her husband. The list of commitments and activities grows until one day, she literally collapses. Finally she rests, recovers, and begins the cycle once again.
Beth is not unusual. I’ve been there, and maybe you have, too.
The antidote to burnout is clarity. Here’s how it works:
With clarity you know that to serve others you must take extremely good care of yourself FIRST.
With clarity you see how to prioritize the infinite (literally) number of demands on your time and energy.
With clarity you say "no" frequently and easily, and people still love you.
Clarity shows you your true mission in life.
Leaders with clarity know the incredible value of simply sitting down to reflect on what’s going on.
Clarity is power to shut the door to your office.
On the other side, the hidden benefit of burnout is freedom from responsibility. Burnout keeps you in survival (aka reactive) mode and you simply don’t have the energy to set intention, create new outcomes and be an extreme encourager to yourself and others. It’s easy to play the role of victim when you’re too exhausted to consider other possibilities.
How do you deal with burnout? What keeps you proactive?