Enough is enough: how to identify and manage burnout

Photo by Lechon Kirb on Unsplash

Everyone was where they were supposed to be: in class, in an office, in bed. But, I sat in my 2014 Toyota Corolla with the air conditioner blasting and gospel music filling me up. 

If I got out of my car and walked quickly to the office, I’d get to the staff meeting in time. But I didn’t want to attend another meeting that could have been an email.

I didn’t want to see my coworker’s faces or hear my boss give updates. My workplace was toxic. You could feel the disappointment when you walked into the office. Some people job searched during meetings, openly, unashamed. 

We had a reputation around campus. 

How is it in your department?

I heard Jack is leaving soon. Wow! He just got here.

You guys aren’t able to keep anyone for long, huh? 

They weren’t wrong. Our office had more turnover than a hipster bakery. It was bad. I was getting sick. The kind of sick Urgent Care couldn’t do anything about. It was the kind of sick that made it hard for me to breathe, to actually show up and do my best work.

Quitting felt like the only option, and that wasn’t an option because I needed that job. 

I was burnt out. Have you ever been there? Are you there now? 

Burnout is you when you are: 

  • Snapping at people more often than usual
  • Very easily frustrated by others
  • Tired of showing up 
  • Lacking any shred of motivation 
  • Overly sensitive to anything that’s said to you 
  • Ready to call it quits 
  • Inclined to settle for less
  • Far from being aligned with your values
  • Repeatedly making a lot of avoidable mistakes
  • Feeling isolated in your distress

And it’s not just at work. You can be burnt out with the significant other who keeps disappointing you and breaking promises, with the friend who seems to intentionally go against any sound advice, with a project you’re working on, with being a parent or guardian, with unreliable members of your church small group, with your government, with your life.

All of us hit a wall at times. Burnout is like hitting that same wall over and over again and feeling like you’ll never get around it, over it, under it, or through it.

It’s when you’re at the end of your rope, you’ve lost all hope, and you’ve said enough is enough for the last time. 

Step one: Get clear on your goals.

So, what can you do about burnout? Well, first you need to get clear on your goals and you need to be realistic. 

Keep in mind, stress is at the center of burnout. You can’t breathe and you’ve told yourself that you don’t have time to even figure things out.

Your goal might be to have more head space. It might be to have better boundaries in place. Maybe you want to be reassigned to a new team or group. Perhaps you want more help with the kids and it’s time to actually ask for help.

It’s going to look different for everyone.

The question to ask yourself is: If I had a magic wand, what would all this look like? 

Step two: Identify what’s in your control.

Who can you work with to give you leverage at your job? Have you been clear with your partner about your needs and frustrations? Are you continuing to pile too much on your plate, thus getting in your own way again and again? Are you playing therapist with your friends when it’s really you that needs to book an appointment?

Be honest with yourself. 

Step three: Take action.

I suggest taking one small action, then another, and building momentum. When you’re stressed out, it’s overwhelming to make big changes. Remember the last time you wanted to clean your house, but didn’t because it all felt like too much.

Don’t try to fix it all at once. Instead, pick one thing to tackle first. 

Whenever my computer desktop is cluttered with files, I create a folder titled Old Stuff and a folder titled Current Stuff. Then I sort everything into the two folders.

My desktop is now clear and I feel better.

Your small step might be to put up an away message and close your office door. It might be requesting a few days off in the next month. It could be cancelling a meet up with a friend who can be extra draining.

The key here is to take a small, simple, and effective step. It needs to be something you can get done in less than 10 minutes. If not, you’re just adding more to your plate and falling even deeper in to burnout. 

Final step: Get accountability and support. 

If you’re overwhelmed or feeling over it, you might be keeping all this in your head. It’s time to vent and share your frustrations with someone you trust.

It’s also wise to let this person know what you plan to do and to ask them to hold you accountable. If your plan is to set up a meeting with your boss to have a difficult discussion about how you’re doing all the work on your team, your accountability buddy should be following up with you to make sure you’ve actually had said meeting. 

Putting it all together.

Get clear on your goal, identify what’s in your control, take action, then seek accountability and support. You might find that it’s time for you to change jobs or leave a relationship, and if that’s where you land that’s okay.

But, sometimes, we’ve just got to a point where we don’t know which way is up. Where leaving isn’t the only option, and where things can be reconcilded and improved.

There aren’t always easy answers. 

You can do this. 

You don’t have to let burnout win. You can dig yourself out of this no matter the size of your shovel. Stepping back and getting a different perspective can make all the difference. It can give you a chance to see what’s been stressing you out. 

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To The Person Who Wants to Give Up Because Their Work Is Undervalued

So, no one is showing up. The retweets aren’t coming. Your inbox is empty. The callback never came. No one seems to notice what you’re sharing with the world. You feel like you’re wasting your time.

Only a few people have seen your work and said: “Well done.”  Others were confused or uninterested.

You seek more validation, but you’re seemingly insatiable. You await the moment when all that you do is considered credible.

What do your friends say? What do your co-workers say? What do your toughest critics say?

Somehow, what you believe about yourself doesn’t matter as much. It doesn’t hold much weight.

This process leaves you feeling isolated. Some of this is a result of you pushing away those who actually matter. Some of this is the sadness that comes with you concluding that you don’t measure up.

When you’re fed up

Let’s be clear about this. You’ve been working your absolute hardest for a long time. You’ve cried from the exhaustion.

There are stacks of dusty rough drafts no one is allowed to see. Some ideas are tucked away because they’re too outrageous, outlandish, impractical.

“This won’t work. And it if does, no one will like it.” Bitterness and hopelessness taken up residence. They appear to be permanent tenants.

You’re giving up.

You think back to that time someone told you that your work sucked. Maybe they laughed at you. Maybe they minimized everything you brought forth. Maybe they promised they’d show up, but they didn’t. It was just an audience of one: Disappointment.

Disappointment has been hovering over every single one of your creations. It muddies things. It renders you incapable of seeing all those other good and needed parts of you.

Because you are needed. Your work is needed. What you have to give is what you have to give. No one can take that away from you.

Alas, the most formidable threat to your work, the most challenging adversary to all that you will ever do or create, is you. Every time you pull back and keep your gifts, skills, talents, products, projects, music, cuisine, teaching, love, dancing, writing, anything from the the world, someone loses.

This is not to say that everything you do is ground-breaking or awe-inspiring. It is to say that the thing which you’ve put a lot into matters.

You have no idea of who is better off because you’re here. And, you don’t get to say all of what your positive impact has been on others.

You’d surely miss something.

You don’t truly get to say what your work can and can’t do, because you will never be able to read the heart and mind of everyone whose path you’ve crossed.

While you’re permitted to give up, quit, run away, hide, or shrink someone misses out on their blessing.

Every time you hide your light, someone loses. 

Things that don’t belong

All of your fears, feelings, and reluctance is valid because hurt is real and harm is sometimes everlasting. Guilt nor shame have any place here.

This is simply a reminder: what you have to give matters so much.

I say all this with grace and love and openness, knowing that everyone doesn’t have the access and privilege and space to do all they wish to do. This is about all that you can give right where you are right now. Whether it be glamorous, or unassuming. Require funding or none at all.


Every time you hide your light, someone loses. 

I say this from the deepest parts of me because I too have wanted to give up so many times (and have) because I didn’t get the feedback I wanted. I didn’t get the response I thought I needed. I created and created and no one came. There have been times when I’ve set things up and no one showed up.

I can easily call back those feelings. At times, I still feel afraid of launching something new, sharing something I care about, or showing others my work. I’ve faced rejection countless times.

What’s often hurt most is feeling misunderstood and convincing myself that what I do isn’t actually useful to anyone. But, today, I’m sure that my values have been misplaced when it comes to this. My assumptions have been inaccurate.

I’m not here to share my light in order to receive validation. I’m not here to be the biggest change this world has ever seen. I wasn’t purposed to create just so others can show up and say: “Wow, that was just what I needed.”

To be honest, I don’t fully know why I’m here. But, what I do know is that there’s power in continuing to create, show up, and put out the best work that I can. Consistency got me to today.

Consistency had me up at night writing this message to you. Consistency is what has made me a better husband, friend, writer, performer, supervisor, colleague, practitioner, speaker, Christian, human.

Not perfection. I’m wholly imperfect. Not fame. It’s fleeting.


Consistency is showing up again and again because all of this means something to someone, and it’s all so much bigger than me, and so much bigger than you. 


It’s worth it because at least one person will come across what I’ve made, what I’ve let flow through me, and will benefit from it. All that you’ve been given, all that you’ve worked for, and all that you have, isn’t just for you.

If you’ve been hiding the parts of you that could potentially be a gift to someone else, I encourage to set aside a few minutes and consider the following prompts:

  • What if my work – though rough, unfinished, incomplete – could help someone else?
  • What if all the bad that was said about what I create was only part of the story? What if there’s some good they missed?
  • What if I’m keeping a blessing/gift/invitation from someone else who needs it by holding back what I have to give?
  • Am I waiting too long for this thing to be perfect? 
  • What permission do I need to just push this out and see where it lands, fail, and try again? 

Never alone

If you want to process this with someone, you know I’m here. Let’s hop on a life coaching discovery call. It’s free, and it’s all about you for 30 minutes. I’m here to listen and see how I can work with you on your liberation.

I also encourage you to reach out to someone who does the work you do or makes the thing you make or is on the path you’re on. See what they have to say. Challenge yourself to open your heart a little and share something real. Then, actually listen.

This is what was on my heart today. I’m glad I didn’t hide it.

For Anyone Else Desperately Trying to Figure Out Their Purpose in Life

According to Google, the definition of purpose is: “the reason for which something is done or created or for which something exists.”

So, when someone asks us: “Hey, uhhh, what’s your purpose in life?” They’re asking us why we exist?

Whew.

When I was a child, I had a close family member who’d repeatedly confront me with similar questions but from a place of anger and intimidation. They’d ask 9-year-old me: “Why are you even here? What do you do around here? Nothing. You do nothing!” They knew how to break me down. I felt like I was always making mistakes and feeling I wasn’t good enough. I internalized those thoughts, and part of me is still struggling to come up with a good response.

But I’m healing.

And, I’ve come a long long way. I bet you have too.

Maybe you’ve had some bullies in your life. Maybe someone has made you feel like less without even meaning to, but you still question your impact, your meaning, your reason for being. Am I doing enough?

Maybe you saw a groundbreaking TED talk, or you heard the news about an amazing child prodigy, or your friend told you about someone who has this really cool start-up. What am I even doing with my life?

Perhaps, you’ve found yourself scrolling on social media late at a night and feeling like everyone but you is living their best lives.

Or maybe you go deeper with it and ask yourself: “Is there even a reason for me to be here? Do I even have a purpose? And if I don’t, what’s that mean about my existence.”

A lot of us end up here. You’re not alone. 

We spiral and find ourselves viewing our lives as meaningless and worthless because we aren’t doing what others are doing. We internally berate ourselves for not accomplishing what we could be accomplishing based on our qualifications, ability, privilege, network, or training.

We convince ourselves that we don’t measure up.

We tell ourselves that we’ll matter more when we get the job, the spouse, the money, the degree, the _____.

Sadly, our self-worth can often be completely tied up in everything we don’t have and everything we feel like we’re not.

We can find ourselves in the happiest experiences of our lives (like truly thriving), only to be swept under the waves of self-doubt and misery moments later, when we realize we don’t have ourselves all figured out yet. Or when we hastily push ahead and set another goal to accomplish. Or when we realize that some parts of us are still broken.

But, here’s the truth of it: all of us have brokenness. All of us have doubt. All of us have shame. And still, our lives have meaning.

Each of us has the capacity to add something to the communities we live in, the churches we’re a part of, the families we care for, the schools we attend, and the strangers we meet. We can make all those places a little better. Often we’re doing this by simply showing up and being ourselves – our clumsy, unsure, brilliant, zestful, intelligent selves.

Yes, I’m still talking about you and me.

Photo of person of color standing near wall. Grafiti is on wall. Person of color is wearing a blue jacket.
Photo by Michael Afonso on Unsplash

I think we get to break up the concept of purpose into smaller and more realistic pieces. Instead of asking: “Why am I here?” ask yourself about what you enjoy, what breaks your heart, who has thanked you recently about something you did for them, what you’re good at – like naturally good at, or what you work hard at even though you don’t get paid for it.

Ask yourself about what you’ve made it through. Ask yourself about how resilient you’ve been. Ask yourself about the things no one can ever take from you.

What excites you – or what used to? What do you care about – even if others don’t find it the least bit interesting.

I’ve done a lot of thinking about these questions, and here’s what I came up with.

Pieces of my purpose: To be a kind, good, and caring husband. To be a supportive older brother and supportive to others in my family. To be a solid and dependable friend. It breaks my heart to know that others are struggling in silence with mental illness. I find myself thinking of ways to help others take better care of themselves – this keeps me up at night.  I also find myself thinking of ways to create community with other black men around issues of health and wellness, because so many of us are dying and suffering from preventable issues. I enjoy doing improv, writing, connecting with people, dancing, and bringing people together. If I wasn’t afraid, I would go all in on my dreams – I’m getting closer. Even at my lowest points, my worst moments, my biggest failures, I am still loved. I wholeheartedly believe part of my reason for being on this earth is to share God’s light with others through my work. I’ve often struggled to communicate this, because I feel like saying I’m a Christian and I love doing the work of the Lord turns others off, but it’s who I am. So here it is: I love Jesus. And if you don’t, I’m cool with that, and I still love you and celebrate you and think you get to have the big wondrous life you want to live. I find that leading and living from my heart makes all the different. It’s about love for me. That’s the big picture. Lastly, I believe I’ve had a positive impact on the lives of many just by showing up and being kind.

And, there’s so much more to me.

There’s so much more to you.

If you’re struggling to get unstuck from feeling like you have to have your entire life figured out today, I encourage you to pause, take a deep breath, and find some time to reflect on the topic of purpose in a different way. Remember to break it up.

Here are some questions to ask yourself this week, as you dig into this topic a little more. 
I don’t suggest trying to respond to every one, it’s not a test. See which question tugs at you the most, kicks up stuff for you the most, or just feels most salient for you right now.

  • What issue or idea has been keeping me up at night?
  • What’s been breaking my heart?
  • What am I already doing that has a positive impact on the lives of others – if only a little?
  • What have my friends, family, or strangers thanked me for lately? 
  • What would I create, add to, join, or show up for if I had the resources and wasn’t afraid?
  • What have I been hesitant to tell others about who I am and what I believe? 

Oh, and I just gotta say this. Sometimes, we need to put down the journal, and get out, do something, and shake things up. I’ve personally found that taking action is a healthy way to move through the anxiety of trying to figure out ALL THE THINGS. This means signing up to volunteer service, joining a book club, attending a free lecture at a nearby college campus, or signing up for a workshop gets you out of your comfort zone. Thinking and reflection are necessary, and so is getting lost in experiences, meeting people you’ve never met, and doing things you never thought you could do.

Perhaps you won’t find the entire meaning for your life by doing this (you don’t need to), but you will learn something about yourself. You will take memories with you, and you will hopefully feel a little more alive.

You do not have to know your purpose in life to have meaning on this earth.

You don’t even have to be living on purpose to be belong here.

You already belong, and you’re already enough just because of the fact that you’re living and breathing. Those are the prerequisites. Live. Breathe.

If You’re Feeling Like You’re Going Nowhere

I get this feeling deep down in my gut that something is wrong.

I down a glass of water and do some breathing exercises, but nothing helps.

It’s not a panic attack. It’s me feeling unsettled. Yes, I absolutely love my job and the work I do. I work with and for incredible people. But, if we’re being honest here: I get fed up with myself from time to time. Many of us do.

My career is not enough, my professional network is not enough, and do not even ask to see my resume and portfolio.

Some might attribute this to me being an over-driven and over-zealous millennial. I don’t know. I am not here to present any groundbreaking research discoveries or realizations.

I am just here to let you know that I am with you.

You, the person who is never satisfied with the promotion you get. Your job titles just get in the way of all the unrecognized and hard work you do (it’s recognized by your supervisor and others, but you would not dare give yourself too much credit). You, with a mind full of so many ideas, ambitions, and goals only to be told to slow down and enjoy the journey.

I get it. I want success. I want to be happy. I want to be respected by my peers. In the quiet of my private moments, I conclude that this really is taking too long. I’m not where I want to be. EVERYONE ELSE  is getting there faster. Much faster. Should I be doing more? Should I go bigger? Something tells me this thinking is all wrong. This thinking is dangerous.

If you feel like you’re going nowhere, you’re wrong.The ship is still moving, you’re just unaware of it.

If you’re like me, you can easily trick yourself into thinking that you’re going nowhere. You might even attempt to convince others that you don’t measure up.We don’t have to be okay with this. We can do better.

A mentor recently told me: Sinclair, you’re already the man. You just need to believe it. Those are powerful words to say to someone, and you’d have thought it shook up my world. I just pushed it aside. If I was the man, I’d feel like it and everyone would know it. That’s where I went wrong.

Truly realizing how competent, talented, and skilled we are is not something that anyone can convince us of. We have to believe it for ourselves, examine the realization, and continually come back to it. Knowing that you’re a bad motha-shut-yo-mouth isn’t about being over-confident or cocky. It’s about being self-aware, committing to your professional and personal development, and striving to be a person of virtue and values.

If you’re like me, you can easily trick yourself into thinking that you’re going nowhere.

What can we do in the moments when we feel stuck? I am not referring to moments of needed respite, or we have acquiesced to the pressures of life and our jobs. This is about the times where we can see our next step, and it’s only a few feet away.

This particular next step calls us to be more.

It beckons us to take time to improve ourselves. We realize that we need to challenge ourselves to go inward and take an honest at who we are and who we want to become. We need to set this process on repeat.

So, I’d like to invite you into my personal process, and I will begin by asking myself the following questions:

  1. Are you bringing your best self to the people and projects in front of you each day? There’s nothing wrong with being forward thinking and results driven, but that can’t be all you are. If you’re like me, you constantly daydream about the future, and about when your organization and team will advance. All the while, you have ample opportunities to improve the processes and functions you see your same team and organization struggling with. We have to be cautious, so that we don’t end up chasing the high of leveling up. We need to be able to be present to the boring, mundane, and uninteresting aspects of any long-term processes and tasks. It will make us better team players.
  2. Are you trying to be someone else’s version of you? When I was younger, my father told me I had the potential to make millions by being a businessman. Maybe I do. If I am being real, having a big bank account is not something I care about. I want to be financially sound and secure. Other than that, I am an educator and a servant leader. I am content with striving to help others live better stories. My line of work requires far more sacrifice than I will ever be compensated for. Yet, the past has had an impact on all of us, and sometimes thoughts sneak in that tell me I need to be doing more and earning more. When I identify these thoughts for what they are – thoughts -I refocus my attention on what I care about. I become less frustrated with myself and I get clear on the progress I have made in my career.
  3. Are you taking time to reflect on what you have done well? Some people innocently – but annoyingly – call me Mr. Positivity. They do it because I’m intentional about adding positivity into any environment I find myself in. But, I don’t do it because I’m naturally happy. I’m exceedingly sarcastic and negative in my own mind. Sometimes it’s not healthy. So you can see how when I do my daily reflection, I make an extensive account of all the things I did incorrectly. I can’t tell you how many people I made smile, but I can recall all the times someone was upset with me, ignored me, or when I dropped the ball. It’s necessary to take an honest look at your shortcomings, but they’re not everything. And, if all you’re doing is cutting yourself down everyday, you’re always going to feel like less than. I know because I’m an expert at putting myself down. The solution? I think a good place to start is by thinking of two positive things you did, for every negative piece of feedback you give yourself. Try it. When I have done this in the past, it’s worked. Now it’s time to get back to being more fair to myself. I hope you will too.

We have to be cautious, so that we don’t end up chasing the high of leveling up.

If you feel like you are going nowhere, you are wrong. The ship is still moving, you are just unaware of it. Take time to refocus, ask yourself different questions, and see if you don’t start enjoying the journey a little more. Take small steps. We can do this.

Actually, You Aren’t Enough

You Are Enough.

Those three words frustrate me. I don’t always believe in them. For some of us, the goal of perfection has been a burden for quite some time. Some of us jokingly say things like I’m just a perfectionist or I just like to do it right the first time.

Okay. I actually say those things all the time. But, when I fail, I kick myself and sulk. I restart the self-loathing process:

Step 1: Doubt my skills.

Step 2: Envy others who do what I do – seemingly better.

Step 3: Repeat.

Thanks to Twitter, I find myself scrolling through update after update from others who appear to be the champions and celebrities of Student Affairs. Heck, maybe some feel the same way when they peruse my statuses. My self-worth gets tied up into everything I haven’t done, and into every year of experience I don’t have in my field.

I end up not feeling like enough. As if there’s a course on adding more to my personality and my character. Honestly, I wouldn’t want to be someone else, but feeling like I don’t measure up is unsettling. 

I tell all this to my support system. They remind me of my strengths, they challenge me to think about my accomplishments, and they push back on my negative thought patterns.

My hope is that each of us has had at least one moment when someone affirmed that what we do/who we are is a good fit for life, let alone our jobs. We haven’t all written an e-book, taught a course, researched/discovered a theory, or presented on a national scale. Do we have to?

When it comes down to it, it might be worth something to ask: “What do I actually want to do” rather than “What should I be doing because x.  (x can equal: “it sounds good” ; “others have done it”; “it will get me to the next step”)” I say all this and yet I struggle with feeling like less on some days. It’s part negative thoughts, part my own lived history, and part misguided perspectives on what matters.

On good days, I know I am enough. I feel great doing what I do best: connecting, motivating, and inspiring others. There’s a pep in my step and tiny blue cartoon birds sit on my shoulder. I like the person I see in the mirror and I know I am enough. I’m not sure if it’s because I’m doing what I enjoy without comparing myself others, or if it’s because people-time gives me an endorphin rush, but I like myself in those moments.

I feel like enough when a student opens up to me and confides in me after being reserved for several months. It happens when a co-worker invites me over for dinner. I’m reassured I am enough when I am able to contribute in important meetings, help develop curriculum, successfully run a staff selection, or inspire someone to accept just a little bit about themselves because they listened to my story.

We have done more and are more than we’ll ever know. It’s the grandiose acts, the prolific writings, the innovative ideas generated, and the chart topping accomplishments. It’s the small things and it’s that which exist in the in-between that matters as well. We get to decide what and who defines us.

We get to live a better story for ourselves and others. And on the good days, because there are good days, we get to note that we are enough. Sometimes self-acceptance only exist in a few hiccups of hope at a time.

My hope is that we take hold to those moments, gather them, and tuck them away. Eventually, they will override all the lies we’ve been told about being less than. Sometimes, hiccups will have to do. I’m going to reflect more on being okay with the enough that I am.

What’s your story?

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