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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