By: Brian Harris
There’s no doubt about it, burnout is a real problem, and large numbers of people have pulled back from aspirational careers, putting new boundaries in place, and taking clear and tangible steps to make sure they never land up in the same place of over stretch and exhaustion again.
And fair enough. But even as we self protect, I wonder if we are not running the risk of over compensation. It could be that we enter a new year not at risk of burning out, but running a serious chance of boring ourselves out – with only the safest of challenges accepted and only the teeniest of goals on our hopes and dreams list.
It became very clear to me when I was in a conversation with a few wonderful people. When asked about their goals for the new year the majority answered in the “surviving the year would be good” category. Hmmm, ok, if that’s where you are at, that’s where you at, but personally I have to stifle a yawn when I’m around views like that for long.
So how do we get the balance right? How do we go into the year with a healthy stretch that won’t backfire into a dysfunctional snap?
A start is to recognise the tension. Aim at nothing, and you will achieve it… and you will also lose confidence and become frustrated along the way. Aim at too much, and you will either give it all away (effectively defaulting into the aim at nothing category), or you will frenetically keep at it until you crash and burn, hurting others and damaging yourself in the process.
How then do we find ourselves in the magical Goldilocks zone of just right?
Socrates’ insight: “To know thyself is the beginning of wisdom” is a good starting point. How has it been in other years? Did you aim for too much and then back away in discouragement? Did you not even try, and then ask in bewilderment, “So where did that year go?” How satisfied are you with the year that has just been?
If very satisfied, why not repeat with a mild formula change to raise the bar just a little. After all, the tortoise usually wins (to quote the title of an amazing book), so let’s remember, a slow and steady journey in the same direction can achieve a huge amount over time, especially if the original course chosen is a good and healthy one. Sometimes the goal to faithfully keep on doing what we have been doing, while thoughtfully making minor adjustments to ensure we are relevant, is just what is needed. Do remember the need for some changes, for without a little pruning and tending, most things slowly drift towards decay.
If the passing year leaves you with a sense of disquiet or unhappiness, ask what is needed to make sure this one will be different. After all, to assume a different outcome will result from doing exactly the same things is usually an act of self delusion, so let’s accurately and validly read what is. Facts are friends, and if you aren’t satisfied with what has been, what needs to change to make it different?
Guard against coming up with a long list of things that must change in others. Realistically, we have little control over other people, so making our happiness dependant upon change in others is likely to frustrate and disappoint us. It also leaves us with a cheap excuse, “Well, everything would have been great if it hadn’t been for (insert the name of the dreaded villain here)”. I have often played that game, but over the years have come to realise that there will always be a (name of dreaded villain inserted here).
We succeed not because we have no difficult or stretching people in our orbit, but because we assume responsibility for our own actions in the face of the particular difficulties we face. And everyone faces challenges. Please hear that… everyone faces challenges, even the people you think are endlessly lucky and have everything going their way. It is not the absence of obstacles that makes us, but our response to them. Instead of asking “why me?” to a difficult situation, why not morph the questions into “why not me?” And why not reframe it, commenting to yourself, “Actually it’s rather a privilege to be entrusted with this difficulty. God must assume I am capable of meeting it (or that we are capable of meeting it together), even though I don’t.”
No, I am not wanting to trivialise difficulties. Embrace the Ecclesiastes 3 principle: There is a time and season for everything. Is there a time to sit in quiet despair, licking our wounds? Yes, there is. Should that time last forever? No it shouldn’t. If it’s been a rough ride for a long time, gently ask yourself, “Is this the year to now move along?” If not, so be it – but do at least ask the question.
Oh, and what about the original question. Are you more at risk of burnout or bore out? Just ask the question bluntly – are you bored and uninspired. If so, can I encourage you to step out with courage, faith and determination into the new year.
And don’t be afraid to take hold of some of wonderful Bible verses that people have claimed in years past. Like Joshua 1:9: “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” Or what about Jesus’ own promise in Matt 28:20: “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” We enter a new year promised that Jesus enters it with us. That doesn’t sound like an invitation to boredom to me.