Burnout is the topic of the moment, and yet also misunderstood. Here’s what everyone gets wrong about burnout.
Earlier this year, I faced a time unlike I had felt in at least a decade. Every day was an immense struggle to get out of bed. I allowed myself permission to sleep as much as possible. I still went to the gym, but some days that was about all I had in me. I couldn’t work. I had no motivation to make calls, to check up on clients, to do anything. I didn’t even have motivation to work on my passion projects. My life force was depleted. I was drained. Tapped out.
Even the most simple request felt like a huge burden.
I had nothing more to give.
I told myself that I was just tired. It was just my typical February: getting sick and feeling tired. Winter hibernation.
But I knew this wasn’t true. I have had mononucleosis four times in my life. In my lawyer days I was diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome. I knew that what I was experiencing was not merely fatigue, or exhaustion, but something far more serious.
Burnout is Not Exhaustion
Discussion of burnout is popping up in the zeitgeist more frequently, and it’s often described as exhaustion. But burnout is more than physical exhaustion. Working yourself until you’re sick or tired or both is a fool’s errand, and can even be deadly, but that’s not burnout.
Burnout happens when the activities of your day-to-day life are not aligned with your values. In burnout, you disengage on all levels. It can feel like depression, but there’s no sadness. There’s merely emptiness. Disengagement.
I’ve watched 34 seasons of Survivor, and Jeff Probst says it best:
Fire represents your life in this game. When your fire is out, so are you.
In burnout, the fire that ignites your soul dies. You are disconnected from your purpose and power. You are depleted. Physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually.
The spiritual depletion is the hallmark of burnout. It’s what separates burnout from mere exhaustion or being sick.
The Shame in Burnout
I knew that I was experiencing burnout, but I didn’t want to admit it to myself, let alone to anyone else.
For a mission-based entrepreneur who is motivated by service to others, burnout comes with a hefty side helping of shame and guilt.
This was especially the case for me earlier this year. For years, I’ve been developing daily rituals that create space for my best work. I have been taking clients through this work. They, and I, have seen great results from these practices. I was finally gearing up to create a group program and that would allow me to share this work on a bigger scale.
What would it say about my work if I admitted that I was burned out?
I had created structures to give myself the space to rest, recover and recharge. Did it mean they weren’t working?
What I Learned from Burnout
Eventually I realized that it didn’t mean that at all. I burned out because I was holding space for too many people and things. I was scattering my life force into too many projects that were draining my energy. What I learned was that the physical space I gave myself wasn’t enough. I had to find a deeper level of internal space. I had to release many of the projects floating in my world.
My burnout episode was a necessary piece of my journey. It opened a new portal to my understanding. And my daily rituals supported my recovery.
I’m not perfect. I don’t have all the answers. I learn new things every day. It doesn’t mean that I am unqualified to teach others what I’ve already learned.
How My Rituals Supported Me
A fire requires oxygen to breathe. Without that oxygen — without the space to grow — a fire smothers. Similarly, our internal flame requires space. When we deprive our inner flame of space, by crowding it with too many projects, inputs, and too much busy, burnout is inevitable.
My rituals have given me the space in which the fire can breathe. They give me space to cultivate the awareness of where I want to direct my most precious resource: my life force energy.
I now know what I need to avoid another episode of burnout in the future. It doesn’t mean I’ll be perfect from here on out. I’m not a robot. I’m a human being. We fall. We fail. We get back up.
I’ve become more vigilant about protecting my space. Even when that means bringing my vision to form more slowly. I’m committed to building a fire that will last, because I don’t want to burn out again.
Every Rational Thought Tells Me Not To Share This Story
As I sit down to write this, every rational part of me tells me that sharing this story is a bad idea, especially now, on the cusp of finally opening enrollment in my program. I hear the voices of the critics who ask: What will your clients think? What will your potential clients think?
You know what? I can’t control what you think. So I’m not going to think about it.
Here’s what I know: I can’t step forward to offer my work to the world unless I feel totally congruent. And I can’t feel congruent if I’m hiding parts of my experience.
There are no easy answers, and there is no miracle cure. So there is no shame.
There is only awareness and understanding. And through that, there is growth.
When I speak about burnout and its effects, I speak from a place of experience. I have greater insight into what led me to burnout and how to prevent it. That doesn’t mean it won’t happen again, but I will be better prepared to stave it off.
I’ve learned what structures I need to give my inner flame the space it needs to thrive.
Now on the other side of burnout, the calling to share my work with others is stronger than ever. I have reignited my inner flame, and it is burning strong and steady with a desire to help you avoid the pain of burnout. This is my gift to bring to the world. I experienced this pain so that I can help you avoid it.
My mission is to help you bring your passions and gifts to the world in a sustainable way, so that you can effect the change that you are here to make.
I can’t do that if I’m hiding who I am and what I’ve experienced. So that’s why I am sharing this.
As for what you might think? That’s out of my control. But I would like for you to think, this is someone I can relate to. She is real. She’s not preaching from some high horse. She’s been in the trenches and came out the other side. She can help me.
Because you know what?
I absolutely can.