One theme that showed up in my work in the past two weeks is that one of the major issues about burnout is that people heading for it are not aware of their condition – they simply don’t know what is happening. Sure, they heard for burnout, they know what it is, but they think it’s something that happens to others. So they continue to ignore the signs, going project after project after project, case after case, until they break down.
Burnout happens when we are challenged and stretched over limits, and when, according to Christina Maslach, we experience some of the six mismatches with our work over an extended period: work overload, lack of control, insufficient reward, breakdown in community, absence of fairness, and conflicting values.
From the individual perspective, however, people who end up in burnout push themselves over the edge, by agreeing to harmful conditions out of different reasons; whether it’s loyalty, responsibility, or their own psychological conditioning, often thinking that taking time off to take care of their health would be a sign of their weakness, incompetence or insufficiency.
It’s not weakness, quite contrary. Knowing when is enough is a sign of a healthy relationship with yourself and your surrounding (work included). To pull that well-known airplane analogy – putting the oxygen mask first to yourself and only then to your children in a situation of an oxygen drop on an airplane is a must, not a selfish act. When you think of it, what exactly can you give to your work, employer, clients, family, and friends when you are chronically exhausted, cynical, constantly irritated, and overall miserable?
If you are employed, your burnout is not just an individual but an organizational problem too. The question is, are you going to wait until someone else notices that you are not well and gives you what you need, or are you going to put your mask oxygen on by yourself? You and your experience can be the force that changes things for others in the organization. To do that, you need to be well first.
If you are an entrepreneur or a freelancer, you already know that all starts and ends with you, and there is no one else to give this power to.
So if you feel this way, maybe it’s time to check with yourself how you feel, where your priorities lie, what contribution to your work and community are you giving and what is your “why”. Are you currently able to give that contribution? Where on your list of priorities are you? Is there a boundary you should have been setting, and you are missing it?
No, this is not a “you are responsible for your burnout” post. This is a “take charge and place your mental and physical health first, and then open the dialogue with your employer” post.
This moment of self-awareness and admitting to yourself that perhaps there is too much on your plate and willingness to first help yourself is a crucial first step to any change. Make it the first step on a path of recovery, contentment, and a real contribution.
Reach out if you need help in this process.
*Photo by Maksim Goncharenok @Pexel