Photo Credit: Christian Erfurt, Unsplash.com

Written by Luke Iorio, President of One Idea Away and iPEC
May 22, 2019

Burnt Out, But Not Believing It

How much of this is a little too familiar?

You’ve committed time, energy, and serious effort to get to this point. You’re either nearing the cusp of it paying off, or maybe you’ve even reached the place you were working for and are looking to really reap the benefits. In either instance, it’s like you’re trying to show those around you (and the one in the mirror) that their faith in you was worth it.

From the outside looking in, the checklist for the good life looks really strong—a rewarding job, relatively meaningful work, good income, the support of loved ones, and generally a positive outlook and pleasure to be around.

And yet something feels off . . .

What used to excite you or bring you joy, now seems like just another task and it’s becoming more arduous with each repetition. The things that lit you up are almost annoyances or distractions on your busy schedule. You find yourself more irritable and moody for no real good reason, and you even find yourself snapping quickly at family and friendly coworkers.

You wake up in the morning and aren’t sure if it’s the first cup of caffeine, adrenaline, or the second cup of caffeine that finally gets your energy going.

And then, slowly, what you’ve worked for begins slipping away. The pieces just aren’t lining up like they used to. You try to hold them in place or coax them back together, but each time you do, something else gives way.

“Why is this happening now?”

You hope no one really notices that you’re tired, disengaged, and even aggravated.

“This is supposed to be my time. This is supposed to be when I get to enjoy all this effort. This is what I wanted . . .” That last thought trails off and you can’t figure out if it’s a statement or a lingering question that simply won’t fade.

This was me a little more than five years ago.

In one sense, I think of the several-year period leading up to this evaluation as my “mask of happiness”—meaning I’d done all this work for goals, accomplishments, meaning, and purpose and to align my strengths, values, vision, and more. I was taking care of myself physically, emotionally, socially, and mentally.

And it was a facade. I just hadn’t realized it yet.

The Masks We Wear

I wanted to believe all was fine. I wanted to believe that it would get better. It was just a phase, an adjustment period. Wow, was it ever an adjustment period?!

It’s difficult to see, and even more difficult to finally admit to ourselves: we wear masks.

  • We wear the mask of “fine” for those around us to whom we don’t want to look vulnerable or weak.
  • We wear the mask ofhappy” for our friends and loved ones because we don’t want them to worry or think we’re not strong enough.
  • We wear the mask ofbusy” so that we appear to have worth and seem important to keep up appearances.
  • And we wear all of these masks when we look at ourselves in the mirror, pleading to hold it together for just a little while longer . . . until we can’t.

Again, this was me as well. I didn’t want to see, let alone believe any of this. And I didn’t want to admit it–above all–to myself.

Through all the years of feeling like I needed to shoulder responsibility, keep the brave face, live up and conform to what was expected of me, and show strength, it never dawned on me that Atlas could shrug.

And I hadn’t yet realized that what I was holding up wasn’t even real (it was all just a bundle of thoughts, expectations, and assumptions). Instead, I kept on gritting it out until it flattened me . . . I was burnt out.

What I’d worked so hard for, now felt misaligned and meaningless. I was growing isolated and lonely regardless of who was around me and who I knew loved me.

But was this actually a bad thing?

What I also didn’t know was this was the single greatest blessing that could have occurred at that time.

It was a painful struggle. I grasped for old goals and clung to my identity—how I saw myself and how I thought others saw me. This person I’d become was decades in the making—and then poof, it wasn’t me. I hadn’t yet seen that it never really was. (I’ll explore this further in the follow up to this article.)

Today, I feel like I’ve become a better, more genuine version of me. I have more compassion–starting first with my family, then friends, then people I haven’t ever even met. I have more patience. I’m slower to upset. I’m quicker to help and to love.

I no longer fear missing out (that was a big thing!). If anything, I fear missing THIS—this moment, this experience, this connection, this emotion, this life.

By no means do I advocate hitting full-on burnout. It can have major consequences to your physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual wellbeing. I share what I share so that if you’re heading towards burn out, you might pick your head up and see what signs might be there; and wherever you may be in the burnout cycle, know it’s a phase and there are ways through it.

Remnants Remain, But Now You’re Awake

I still have shards of the masks I’ve worn that I’m still trying to take off. It’s so easy to hide or withdraw, but I’m more aware, more mindful, and more willing to stay in that awkward void of not withdrawing and not yet knowing what I’m supposed to do. But I will stay. I’ll keep my eyes open—as wide and as clearly as I can.

I’ll try to remember what I consider essential, truly at the core of my life and how I’m living it. I’ll remember nothing about life is static—it’s about the verb, “living”

Embrace the Whole of Life

Living’s the entanglement of being and doing; knowing and not knowing; leaning in and sitting still, and many more blended conundrums and seeming paradoxes–but I’ll be present to them and see where they flow.

I choose to live in a way that I can see, experience, hurt, love, accept, embrace, and uncover all that I can that keeps me from being free; free to do all of this and free from all within me that’s ever held this back and prevented me or others from seeing me this way.

There’s life after burnout. And it’s magnificent.

Navigating burnout will be published as part II of this article next week. Click here to subscribe to our periodic newsletter so you don’t miss out on any updates and articles like this one.

In the meantime, begin with this exercise:

  • Sit quietly or go for a long walk (in nature, if possible). As you sit or walk, breathe deeply in through your nose and out through your mouth. See if you can relax any tension in your body (in your neck, shoulders, and chest. Let your hands open, and your jaw go slack, and release any other possible pockets of tension).
  • After a few minutes, when you feel a little of that relaxation creeping in further and further, ask yourself this question: “What is it that my heart wishes to express?”
  • Listen to the messages and insights that arise from your heart or core, and try not to get caught up in the thoughts that seem to be coming from your head. Listen deeper and more deeply. Messages from the heart and core have a more powerful resonance and feeling associated with them. Try to tune into those feelings and sensations as any messages emerge. It may take some time before you drop into connection with this deeper part of yourself. Be patient.
  • After a few messages or a key insight emerges, continue in connection with your heart and body with slow, gentle breathing, and explore what’s coming up. You can treat it as if you’re having a curious conversation with your inner self and ask questions or just talk it out as if with a friend. Consider questions such as “why might this be coming up now?” and “what does this help me see differently in my life or career?” Be patient. Be curious, be gentle and compassionate with yourself. Be open to what emerges.
  • Whatever emerges doesn’t mean you take action immediately. It simply means you’re opening your eyes and heart to what’s going on within you. Usually, you want to take some time to explore these insights, to sit with them more, and see which are the ones that are truly deep and most honestly aligned with who you are and where you wish to lead your life.
Photo Credit: Christian Erfurt, Unsplash.com