About 6 months ago as I suffered from this common ailment called burnout, I examined some of the differences I’d noticed between burning out and flaming out. I had a list of 19 different actions I might to take to slow the burn, avoid flameout, and spark something new in myself.
This is a progress checkup – no stethoscope required –  just a dose of self-awareness and a mirror. Where am I now? How did I get here? What next?
Reviewing the List
For this to be a real checkup, I need to refer to the original list I made and see if I took any of my own advice. If I did, did it work? If not, well what’s up with that? So here it is, in its original, non-prioritized order:
  1. Quit my job. Well that’s a bold statement. Rather than quit my job, I decided to take some of the other actions on this list instead. While walking away from a job might work for others, for me, quitting seems like a last resort and more about treating the symptom than the cause. The tendency to work to the point of burnout always resurfaces at the next job if the root is untreated.
  2. Don’t quit my job. I didn’t quit my job. Through various people I met in the last few months, I learned some creative shades of grey that fall between #1 and #2 to consider.
  3. Change habits that contribute to burnout. This turned out to be harder than I thought. Back to the drawing board to learn more about how habits form and change to see where I’m missing the mark.
  4. Meditate. I learned some new techniques this past winter and practice them with some regularity. The trouble is that I’m trying to do them during my commute. Meditating while driving might help me get to work in a more peaceful state, but my lack of commitment to dedicated time for meditation probably contributes to my issues with #3.
  5. Go on vacation. Hmm. The time I took off work since I made this list last September looks like this: Visit family; Take a 5-day, 10 hr-a-day class; Visit family – (intended to be a partial retreat but was so exhausted by the time I got there, I ended up at a doc in the box); Visit family. I need to find a beach.
  6. Change vocation. As in #2, I learned some creative approaches to this idea that don’t involve throwing away more than 25 years of experience and education.
  7. Stop caring so much. First of all, I need to find way to phrase this idea as a positive action. Care less? I did decide to let go of some responsibility and status and work, which is intended to spark my not caring so much about everything at work. I will admit that this action item is slightly embarrassing. I see that over a year ago in my very first post, I suggested ways I might learn to adjust my activity level and thus level of caring. Obviously this issue persists as a root cause.
  8. Find something else to care about. This one is kind of working. In addition to writing posts for this blog, which is incredibly fun for me, I got some good advice that helped me shift my thinking and find something else to care about. More on this in #10.
  9. Move. Sometimes I crack myself up. I didn’t move, but I set a deadline to move within three years. I have no idea why I decided on that deadline. I have an affinity for the number 3. While I didn’t move, I did set out on remodeling some of my house to get it ready to sell.
  10. Create something new. In process….
  11. Schedule Fun with friends or family. Two words: Gary Gulman. Two more words: Jazz brunch. One word: Hamilton! Good job, me!
  12. Don’t schedule work into weekends. I’m very inconsistent on this one. One month I might work 3 weekends in a row, another I might have 3 weekends I don’t. I can feel trouble brewing on Monday or Tuesday when I start planning to use the upcoming weekend to catch up on email or a project. And dread starts creeping into my gut knowing I’m doing it to myself again.
  13. Read a novel for a change. Well that was sarcastic. I got as far as bringing a novel home from the library but didn’t read it. I kind of set myself up to fail with a 625 page book. Sorry Nathan. It got great buzz.
  14. Go back to school. Signed up and took that 5 days class I mentioned in #5.
  15. Earn a certification. See #14. And then I learned that the continuing ed units only got me 1/2 way there. Existential crisis in progress.
  16. Take a sabbatical. Funny that I don’t even remember that I had this idea, probably because I used the wrong word. Sabbatical implies paid time off to learn. I’m neither a professor nor a pastor. A better term would be Leave of Absence. Either way, I didn’t do this.
  17. Leave early on a weekday without a plan. Why is this so hard for me? I have high hopes for a random Wednesday afternoon this summer. Maybe a Colorado Rockies game. Shoot. Now I’m making a plan.
  18. Connect with people who’ve made interesting career choices or changes. This one works well for me because it’s fun disguised as work. The class I mentioned in #14 exposed me to 2 dozen people who fit this description. And it continues to pay dividends as those connections deepen and widen beyond the cohort. I also met with a revolutionary librarian who knocked me on my ear. More to come on both of these actions in future musings.
  19. Stop obsessing about work. I have to admit that this one is still a moderate failure. Just when I think I’m making progress, an email or incident sets me back. I feel the burn. This also feels like I’m just restating #7 and #8. Which kind of feels obsessive.
That was an interesting exercise.  Anyone else got their stethoscope out? I was expecting to have taken more actions or for the ones I did take to have had more impact on my “condition.”
What next?
I use these posts to share insights about my own behavior and also to share (disguised) coaching tips and techniques based on the research of others and my own experience. Since this particular behavior continues to stump me, I obviously have more work to do.
Back to this book:
Better than Before: Mastering the Habits of our Everyday Lives/Gretchen Rubin (2015)
There was a section on when/then that I want to go back and explore. For example, when I get up, then I will put on my running gear. If I have my running gear on, I’m more likely to go for a run than to make waffles.
And time to read this one:
The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business/Charles Duhigg (2012)