Burnout! An Excuse for Laziness?
We’ve all heard it from others, maybe even said it ourselves: I’m so done! I just can’t think anymore. If I do any more work I am going to keel over. But is burnout an excuse for laziness? I’m sure someone somewhere has used it as an excuse, but if you are genuinely feeling burnout, it is definitely not an excuse, but a bona fide reason. In my experience, and what I’ve gathered, burnout is a state of physical, mental, or emotional exhaustion by constantly feeling overwhelmed. It's a result of excessive and prolonged emotional, physical, and mental stress that also involves a sense of reduced accomplishment and/or loss of personal identity. Burnout happens when you're swamped, emotionally drained, and unable to keep up with life's incessant demands. If you have ever felt anxious, detached, listless, have difficulty concentrating, fatigue, or a lack of creativity all at once, or many at a time, you were probably burnt out to some degree.
Burnout is your body and mind’s way of telling you that it is time for rest. A break. To interrupt the flow of motion. That a serious change is needed. But here is the problem… People, including myself, often feel guilty about resting or not being productive. Especially in a world full of fast paced content, hard deadlines, pressure, and higher than high expectations. Also, where instant gratification, wanting everything at the moment, and wherever evolving technology is at a constant growth. This type of environment is not conducive for a healthy lifestyle. Sorry if this surprises or disappoints anyone, but it’s simply not the way our minds should be fueled. Patience, slow, and steady, like the fabled turtle, is the healthiest method to go about our work or passions. I know it’s challenging to curb that zeal, but just as we accelerate when we feel driven to, we also must lower the gear, and sometimes come to a complete stop when the time comes. Remember with enough heat and pressure even metal breaks.
I don’t know about you all, but I was taught that hard work and perseverance would be the key to success in everything. And this is indeed true, at least an ingredient of the recipe. However, there are limits. And these limits are not generally taught to us by our parents. Why? Because, I at least assume, that no one figured we needed a lesson in taking breaks. Think back to your younger years, especially those awkward and perhaps rebellious teenage years. The last thing we really wanted to do was chores or other things that we categorized as ‘work’. We only wanted to do what we wanted to do. We were always given lists of chores to knock out and if those were not done, there would be a consequence. An extrinsic force driving us to do the task we didn’t want to do. And to get it done as soon as possible to return to our regularly scheduled program of being lazy perhaps or hanging out with friends was paramount. So it is safe to say that we already knew how to relax or do the things that made us happy. There was no real need to have a serious sit down conversation about taking care of ourselves and finding that work/life balance we are always hearing about. Ahhh, work/life balance, an elusive creature that some believe is about as common as finding a unicorn at the end of the rainbow on February 30th…
Anyway, here is an example of how burnout might dig its sneaky teeth into you. A long time ago, I thought that giving 110% of your efforts at everything was the way to succeed. Work the most hours you could. Climb the ladder quickly. Make the most money possible. Pushing yourself as hard and as fast as you could, even at jobs that in the long run didn’t even matter was the way to do it. Maybe that was just me. I was young, naïve, and let's face it, I had the energy to do it. When you’re in your teens and twenties, you believe yourself to be capable of handling anything. Well…the world taught me over the course of three years, that there was a limit. I sadly was not going to learn that lesson easily. I had to feel it, not just hear it.
During those three years, I worked two to three jobs, trying to figure out what I wanted to do with my life. I was teaching public school, held a job in sales, and worked a shipping job. All three of these I could have seen taking to retirement. I did my best to balance my family life and the insane amount of hours I worked, sometimes as much as 100 hours/week. At the time, my wife and I had been married barely a year, and we were expecting our first child. So with the news of baby number one on the horizon, I figured I had to work as hard as I could to bring home the bacon, as they say. Eventually, instead of bacon, I would be bringing home, work stress, exhaustion, and even physical ailments, including a bad back, weakening knees, and ever growing sicknesses brought on by detrimental lack of sleep, sometimes two hours per night, and a poor diet. I found myself only thinking and even talking about work. It began to consume my identity. I couldn’t even remember the last time I had taken a day just for me. It wasn’t uncommon for me to work seven days a week for months. At one point, I had driven myself so hard that one morning I literally could not get out of bed, my body had said, “No more, buckaroo.” And I would stay there for nearly a week as I recovered from my ridiculously demanding schedule.
It was at this point where I came to my senses. Finally, I realized that I could not keep this up. And in fact, when I finally had a moment to reflect on everything, I discovered I was not happy, the money really wasn’t making a HUGE difference in my life, and the ends did NOT justify the means. So I changed the way I did things. It took some doing, but I began to look for a job, one job, that could sustain me and my family. One that I could grow into, and eventually not be working ungodly hours for little to show for it afterwards. Thankfully, that day finally came, where I could leave the insane hours and high stress. I left teaching and my shipping job and went to work for the shipyard here in Kitsap County. Bangor Base. Astonishingly, I learned a completely new set of skills as an electrician. It was way out of my element, but I learned and grew. Eventually, I found my way back to education as an Occupational Safety and Health Training Instructor. A nice hybrid of what I went to school for and my industrial job.
During this transition to where I am now, I was given the gift of steady hours and time. The demand on me was lessened considerably, going through the burnout taught me quite a bit about myself. I learned what I definitely did not want to do with my life, and I learned what I was capable of. I literally pushed myself to the brink. It hurt, but I learned from it. That’s what we have to do with obstacles like burnout. When the pain and agony finally make us stop, and we can’t go on anymore, just ask yourself, is what I am doing worth it? Am I happy? Can I sustain this? Is there a better way? And oftentimes, there is a way out. An escape from the chaos. Just look to those around you, be open, be honest, make adjustments, and begin your journey to more balanced less burnt out you. At the end of it all, during our last years, are you going to be thinking about all the days you could have been working, or are you going to be thankful for the wonderful times you had with those you care about?