“If you want something done, ask a busy person to do it.
The more things you do, the more you can do.”
– Lucille Ball
If I’d ever thought about burnout, it was in a dismissive way. Burnout was something that happened to weak people. Half of my family ran a business and the other half were farmers. What business owners and farmers have in common is work – morning, noon, and night for the most part. The adults around me didn’t use words like “burnout”. They just kept working; that was my normal.
It could have gone either way for me. I was an artistic, creative kid, enjoying time alone to think and write and reflect. The adults around me were over-achievers, stuffing as much production into one day as possible. Would I become a dreamer or a doer? For whatever reason – I don’t place any blame – I mimicked the behaviours of the adults around me, to the eventual detriment of my creative soul.
“Burnout” implies that it happens in a single moment. But for me it was a slow, slow burn. I was tireless, I was strong, I was healthy. I kept working at it.
Friends recently suggested that burnout happens to strong people – people who to push too hard, stick it out for too long.
Tenacity, consistency, problem solving, and getting things done were my mantras. For decades, my fuel was doing. I was the busy person you’d give more tasks to because I’d get it all done. One day, I ran out of fuel and wasn’t sure who I was any more. If I couldn’t do all the things all the time, what was my purpose?
Two years after running out of fuel, I’ve started using the word burnout to describe what happened. At first it felt like admitting failure, but it’s given me permission to be gentle to myself. I’m cutting myself some slack and giving myself space to refuel and time to learn how to generate and spend my energy better.
Slowly, I’m learning what fuels my soul – and guess what? It’s not hyper productivity. Deep connections, the ability to use my intuition, and helping others grow and develop is part of it. I’m still learning the rest. Burnout is the most beautiful thing to happen to me.
What fuels you?
- When do you feel happiest – what are you doing and who are you with?
- What gives you energy – does it come from external sources or internal?
- When do you feel empty, alone, or without purpose?
- Do you know the difference between what you’re good at doing, and what you’re meant to do?