Don't Burn Out - Burn Bright!

By Christopher Phoenix

Honey light filters through the windscreen and warms Mary’s white knuckles that cling to the steering wheel. Sitting out front of the centre where she has worked for the past six years, a familiar unease rests in her belly. It is the same knot in her stomach she feels every morning lately as she pulls up into her parking space.

‘Why do I even work here?’ she thinks to herself, gazing at the red brick in front of her. ‘I mean, what am I doing with my life? Every day I live the same old routine, and every day it gets harder and harder.”

Just like an elusive dream, the more Mary tries to recall how excited she once was about this role, the further it seems to go. She has only a vague recollection of the accomplishment and joy she once felt. She can’t even remember what it feels like now to wake up in the morning and not dread getting out of bed.

Mary is clearly burning out.

Often when we suffer burnout, we blame the job. Although this can be the case, often, however, it isn’t the job so much that has changed, it is our perspective which has. Like a new outfit that we once adored, and now sits idle in our closet.

Around two thousand years ago a slave named Epictetus said, “People are disturbed not by things, but by the views they take on them.” What he is saying is that it is rarely a thing itself which upsets us, but our judgements of that thing. For example, if your co-worker left the milk out and you were having a great day you wouldn’t be as upset as you would be if you were having a crappy day. Therefore, it is not the milk being left out which upsets you but your own judgements of the situation.

We must realise then that it is not external things which make us feel a certain way, it is our thoughts about those things. Therefore, the way we think about things changes the way we feel about things.So how do we change our thoughts and judgments about the workplace?

To begin with, we need to think more realistically. We often have unreal expectations about what work is supposed to be like. Ever heard that old saying “Do what you love, and you’ll never have to work a day in your life.”? In my opinion, this is utter BS, and sets us up for dissatisfaction. Even Ernest Hemmingway, the famous American novelist once said “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.

I think it is foolish to think that you can love every aspect of your job or any other part of your life. Over time we start to pay more attention to the parts that annoy us, even mentally tallying them up, whilst simultaneously not giving enough attention and respect to the parts we admire. Our judgements then are formed around what we choose to focus on.

What we also need to realise is that happiness, sadness, frustration, these are all normal emotions that make us human. More than likely we have many fond memories of times which had frustrated us in the moment. Think of it as a movie. We don’t skip all the drama scenes just to get to the happy ending, we experience the whole ride to have it all make sense. Therefore, we need to adjust our focus over to the parts of our roles that we do actually enjoy and are grateful for.

FINDING MEANING

Sometimes we burn out because we cease to see meaning in our roles anymore.

Viktor Frankl was a holocaust survivor whose book ‘Man’s Search for Meaning’ details the importance of finding purpose. Frankl said that once he found purpose he didn’t even bother to alleviate the suffering of the concentration camps. Frankl often used to quote Nietzsche’s statement “He who has a Why to live can bear almost any How.”

I am fortunate enough to have been able to present my wellbeing workshop to numerous industries and sectors. If I am to leave you with just one thing let it be this; without a doubt I find the childcare sector to have the largest ‘Why’ of any other area I have presented in. Forget what your salary says, or what some ridicules politician quoted on social media; you have one of the most important roles of all. You are shaping the next generation of human beings.

Did you know that on average we have just over 27,000 days upon this earth? We could spend our limited days living in the past, and be imagining some unrealistic future. Or, we could ground ourselves in the present, and be mindful of what we do have. Remember, there is no dress rehearsal. This is it. Right now. Each moment that passes is gone forever. Shakespeare so famously proclaimed through a despairing Macbeth, “Out, out brief candle.”. Worrying and complaining doesn’t stop the undesirable, it just prevents you from enjoying the moments that do matter. You can either take control of yourself and what you want, or you can be a victim of circumstance. No matter what you chose that candle wick continues to burn. Indeed, one day that candle must go out, so until then I say, burn bright.

Christopher Phoenix