Burning out and dropping out have become a trend, a sexy one at that.
Burnout, quit your corporate job, travel, move to Asia. I’ve done all that (many times), so my message on the other side is clear: this is not the way forward.
This is not sustainable or meaningful.
We don’t need a world of people swinging from one extreme to another, lost on either end of the spectrum. We need a world of people who are grounded and clear about who they are and who they aren’t—living from a heart-driven center of doing impactful work and walking a path of mindfulness, self-inquiry, and evolving consciousness for themselves and others.
In order to be that breed of person, you need to prevent yourself from burning out at all costs. You need to cultivate, respect, and utilize your energy and creativity so your true genius can come forth.
First, if you’re on the verge of burning out, one of two scenarios is happening:
1. You’re not meant to be doing what you’re doing, and your body, mind, and spirit are telling you exactly that.
You’re just not listening and need to move in a different direction, but you haven’t stopped for long enough to hear yourself think to know what that direction is. Life has simply dropped a wall in front of you and said, “Please turn around and go somewhere else.”
2. You are meant to be doing what you’re doing, but you’re running yourself into the ground physically, mentally, and emotionally. You’re in danger here of losing what you love because you aren’t staying grounded in yourself as you do it.
In either scenario, the pattern of burning out is just that, a pattern, and regardless of what you do, it will continue to show up in how you do everything in life.
You might move from scenario one to scenario two, and while it might seem like an “upgrade” to find work you love, if you continue feeling chronically stressed, depressed, or exhausted, you’re not addressing the core issue of how you relate to yourself and life.
So how do you stop from burning out?
You cultivate the four pillars and stop making trade-offs. The four pillars are health, relationships and intimacy, purposeful work, and spiritual practice.
Most people get focused on one of these pillars and ignore the rest, or unconsciously decide one or two need to be sacrificed for the growth of the others. Burnout happens when the other pillars crumble and the house collapses.
If you’d like to avoid or reverse burnout, we need to stop making trade-offs (self versus work, relationships versus self, work versus health, health versus relationships).
Have you ever said, “I can’t have a relationship right now because I need to focus on my career”?
Has your work cost you a relationship you love? Has your health suffered because you disappeared into a career or relationship? And, how often have you wanted to deepen your spiritual practice but don’t have the time because of work or family?
We can’t continue to make these trade-offs if we want to stop burnout. We must cultivate our whole self, even the parts society implicates are less important.
You probably feel conscious or unconscious guilt about the idea of deciding to put yourself at the top of your own to-do list, or a little worried about saying no to some commitments—slowing down, taking on less responsibility, and reallocating time to other areas of your life. All of these are changes that need to happen in order to tackle burnout.
The deeper-level issue for most people isn’t knowing what to do or even making changes. The issue is the emotional conditioning we have about doing these things—putting ourself first.
Possible emotional responses to making these changes include:
Guilt: What will other people say? Is this selfish of me?
Fear: What will happen if I do less? Will I be less valuable? Less safe? Less loved?
Anger/Sadness: Why did I do this to myself? Why didn’t I do this all sooner?
Notice, I didn’t say “stop feeling scared” or “don’t feel guilty about putting yourself first.” Those are valid emotions to experience.
In reality, we have to do two different pieces of work to avoid burnout:
- Change our behaviors and reestablish the four pillars; and
- Allow the emotional response that comes when you make new choices and show up differently in a familiar setting. Expect that you’ll feel guilt, fear, anger, and sadness and make the changes anyway.
Pursue the path of self-mastery.
Self-mastery isn’t a final destination. It’s a path you’re committed to walking for your whole life.
Self-mastery is knowing who you are and who you aren’t. It’s knowing what you stand for, what your purpose is, and what this whole cosmic game of life is about—from your perspective.
Once you know what life is all about (hint: whatever meaning you assign to it), you then face the task of accepting that meaning and living aligned to your chosen values.
When you become self-mastered, you do the work to accept yourself fully. Not once, but again and again.
Because once you fully accept yourself, you remedy the “I’m not good enough” story that was running underneath the surface your whole life, which is precisely the story that caused you to burnout in the first place.
Self-acceptance and self-respect stop the false “I’m not good enough so I need to do more and outperform and compete and win” cycle that causes the burnout pattern, and replaces it with “I know who I am and why I’m here.”
When you get there, you don’t burnout.
You’re so connected to your mission that you allow nothing to compromise it. It’s not about just you and your survival anymore, it’s about something bigger than you that’s also a dearly held part of you. It becomes sacred and solid, and you love and respect yourself because you’re the one carrying it out.
That version of you, that self-mastered you, radiates love and peace in work, health, relationships, and spiritual practice.
And that version of you helps guide others home to the same place in themselves.