Balance vs Burnout - Bringing good from burnout
“No, not now.” The red light came on the dash board in synchronicity with the ensuing chugging of the engine. His hand thumped the dashboard in frustration. “Not now. No, No. No.” he repeated again as if the words would have some magic power and inject fuel back into the tank and save him from his own stupidity and now impending lateness for his important tendering meeting. He’d been busy, rushing from meeting to meeting. He knew the orange light 50 miles ago was his last reminder of the need to refuel his tank, but he’d not filled up the night before and he was already running tight on time for this meeting. He’d missed the warning signs and now it was too late. One thing he did know, as he guided the car to the hard shoulder, he would never let this happen again.
Running out of fuel and being late for the important meeting, is an easy one to learn from, especially when it costs you. But this series of blogs has delved into the much more important topic of balance vs burnout. Learning to bring balance to the issues that threaten high imbalance and the possibility of emotional, mental, physical, spiritual or moral burnout means that we avoid them. But, what if, despite your best efforts at the time, you end up in burnout. Whichever burnout you end up with, it is never nice. Emotional burnout can leave us feeling exhausted, drained and a sense of hopelessness. Moral burnout can result in departure of friends and colleagues and loneliness. Physical burnout can leave us feeling exhausted, washed out and unable to shake off the constant poorliness. Spiritual burnout can leave us questioning all you believed in, your very identity, existence and purpose and a sense of hopelessness. And as you try to work each one out, a huge range of emotions such as anxiety, shame, fear, self-disappointment can surface. For some, even the simple trip to the supermarket is something to be feared and avoided. Wanting to hide, to not want to be seen, to not want the pity or maybe the awkward conversation. So, when in the midst of that, it seems incredibly hard to see any way for any good to come out of it.
Burnout can take so much from us, and has the power to break us if we let it. However, like a Harry Potter scar, it can be the mark that can help us define ourselves and something we can choose to use for good. Matthew Syed, in his seminal book, Black Box Thinking, can be helpful here. One of the core principles of this is to not see failure as failure, but as a learning opportunity. We would never choose burnout, but if we have had one then we can choose to use it for good. So, how can you?
One of the lessons that I have learnt is ‘Reason for Change has to be greater that reason not to’. Once you have been close to or experienced burnout, the pain of this can help you have strong drivers to put guardrails in place to stop that experience happening again. You will have learnt what doesn’t work, the warning signs missed or ignored that lead you to burn out. You choose to take a different path in the future. You can choose to put things in place to stop you going there again. Changing how you approach things protects you from the pain of burnout again.
Prophet of protection
When you have experienced deep change in your life, you are likely to want to help others achieve the same. As someone who has lost 5 stone in weight in the last two years, my family are quick to point out how I am keen to tell people of the problems of too much sugar and ‘bad carbs’. When you have experienced a burnout, you know its pain and so telling others of the pitfalls and warning signs can help others from going there.
Wise Sage - A help to others
A wise person that I spoke to recently, told me that when he experienced burnout, the people who were able to help him the most were those who had been through it. Their experience was rich and therefore their advice had a wisdom, an understanding and a compassion that was reassuring to the person going through burnout and seeking a way forward. There is hope for them as they see someone who has worked through it.
Every burnout is individual and therefore any growth from it will be so also. In my experience and close friends that I have spoken to, experiencing forms of burnout enables the person to help others who experience similar or to help others to avoid the experience. Your pain can help others.
Part of your story that shapes you
Like all bad experiences, burnout doesn’t have to be the thing that defines you for bad. We can choose for it to be something that gives us wisdom and understanding. When you go through the ‘dark night of the soul’ we learn new things about ourselves. We learn a resilience. We learn about our character under pressure. We learn how to work through adversity. We learn who are our faithful friends.
If you are in the midst of burnout, it may be hard to see any of these things at the time. But as you work through it, I hope that you can learn from the experience to equip you and empower you to develop yourself and others.