There’s Nothing Casual About Burnout

Over the holiday break, I got a chance to meet up with my cousin. We were both swapping stories, sipping coffee and talking about how burnt out we were feeling. It struck me as odd, because this phrase, “burned out” just transformed into one of those things you just say – kind of like people who automatically say there house is a mess as soon as you walk through the door. After hearing this information, you start peering into the corners of the room looking for cobwebs and "the mess" only to find beautifully placed, healthy potted plants.

There’s nothing casual about burnout. We’re not meant to feel this way. My cousin and I both related over the fact that our parents seem to have a different opinion. At a family gathering, my dad asked me how work was going. I replied, “Well work has been really hard lately...” He just replied so matter of factly, “Well, baby, that’s why it’s called work.” (Then, promptly walked away!) I was waiting for some empathy, and instead I got a handful of: Work is supposed to be hard. Work is supposed to be the thing you complain about. Work is the reason six packs were invented. Work is what keeps you from doing what you love.

It’s a beautiful thing that we refuse to accept that. Our work should be life giving, not a life suck.

Our generation is very sensitive to the burnout feeling. After all, we saw what it did to our parents, so the minute we start to feel that sensation, we panic. We automatically label it burnout. However, there’s a big difference between burnout, and something that looks much like it – work-life imbalance.

Burnout is when you just can’t make your self get up out of bed. You won’t let your feet touch the floor until you know something will change. Like a candle with no flame, stagnant.

Imbalance is different. I think of work and life both having linked checking accounts. When your work account started getting low, overdraft protection kicks in and you start writing checks from your life account. This sucks. Now you are sapping energy meant for the personal things that give you energy for work.

Burnout is not reversible, however imbalances can be corrected. Here are some tactics I’ve used, that help bring back work-life balance.

1. Make a list of things that are important to your mental and spiritual well being. Share that list. Make time for that list. This is so text book, and so important. If you don’t know what’s good for your well-being, you won’t be able to protect it. For me it’s yoga. I’ve had to adjust some things to make yoga fit in my schedule, but now that it’s there, I protect it. Please do not have an all or nothing approach to this. I was going to yoga 6 days a week and loving it, but it just wasn’t right for my family. I felt that going less would be a failure. It’s not. I now go 3 times a week and it’s still great.

2. Work the hours you’re supposed to work. Are you on salary or scheduled for 40 hours a week? Then work those 40 hours to the best of your abilities. This may require some communication with your boss. There is a slight chance that you’ve been doing the work of more than one person. You are not doing the company any favors by buckling down and working for two.* There’s someone out there who would love to work where you do. Maybe it’s time for the company to make some hires. [*This does not include busy seasons, or when a coworker is on vacation or before or after you’ve been on vacation. Expect to work a little harder/longer some of the time. But if some of the time has become all of the time, it’s time to speak up.]

3. Take a week off from “extras.” Take a week off from all those little extra things you do for others. It’s not selfish. You’re simply replenishing your “Life” account.

4. Record the process. It’s going to be really tough to see how things are, without seeing how things were. So track your progress. List your defeats. Revisit often and see if you’re on course to becoming a better balanced and happier being.