I once gave a talk on the subject of “burnout”, and afterwards one of the participants indicated that what she had really been hoping for was a quick fix. I thought about this, and the only quick fixes I could come up with were winning a lottery, or a frontal lobotomy.
Burnout is a little like the process of gaining weight. It happens little by little, over time. Crash diets don’t work, and what is really required is a change in dietary habits and lifestyle. Sure, you might lose some weight by starving yourself for a few weeks, but unless you have made major changes, the weight will come back. Well, think about burnout as the result of “bingeing” on work, or stressful situations. Yes, you could escape to an island getaway for a time. But unless you do something about the day to day stress in your real life, you can feel burned out again only weeks after your vacation.
The quick fix mentality may actually make burnout worse, just as the crash diet exacerbates the weight problem. If we are satisfied with quick fixes, we may never address the real issues. And often the quick fixes we want involve changes in other people or situations. So I suppose I must settle for being an advocate of the slow, steady fix.
Life, for most, is a long term proposition. It’s worth the effort to learn to live it in a way that feels good, and that honors both ourselves and others. However, doing so involves many challenges. The biggest challenge just might be self-honesty. It can be hard to discern how we really feel in the face of a lifetime of conditioning as to how we should feel. It can be difficult to face up to the fact that our views are very different from those of our parents, our partners, our friends or our children. Even more difficult is expressing those differences, particularly if we fear that expressing them will create discomfort in those relationships. Burnout is ignited in that space between what we really want, and what we feel is expected of us. The bigger the space, and the longer it exists, the more we get burned.
This is the level at which burnout must be addressed, and not at the level of its symptoms. Massaging those tense muscles is wonderful. Meditating to find inner peace is beautiful. But consider the possibility of being peaceful and relaxed as a way of life. Can you imagine signing up for trip where a “cope kit” was included to help you survive, and to deal with all of the unpleasantness? Perhaps if you had a burning desire to climb Mt. Everest, then the discomfort might be worth it. You certainly would not choose that otherwise.
If we are merely “coping” with life, if we are living at the emotional “survival” level, then perhaps we are on a wrong path. Or on the right path, but doing it the wrong way. If our house were burning down, we would call for help to douse the flames. If our energy, our life, laughter and spirit are burning out, there is a tendency to suffer in silence. We must remember though, there are always choices. Doing nothing is a choice. Going for a quick fix is a choice. Dipping into the deep wisdom of your own Soul is also a choice. Choose carefully; the quality of your life depends upon it.
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