10 Things I Learned About Burnout & Missing Out
Editor’s Note: I’m a chronic “yeah I can do that!” girl. Saying ‘no’ is not in my natural vocabulary, and I can vouch for Kera. I too, used to look down on people who played the “I don’t want to get burned out” card. But burnout is real, even when you’re young. I’d argue particularly when you’re young. Taking care of yourself is more important than not letting people down. Today’s post is written by Kera, who blogs at www.kerapackage.com and tweets at @kera_package. – Lauren
“You know they say it’s better to burn out than rust out, but either way you’re out.”
When this adage is shared, I usually scoff at the hypocrisy or ignorance of the statement. “You are telling me about time management? Mr. Over-Commitment himself is suddenly an expert on this topic.” Or I think, “Really? You always play it safe; you rusted out before you even started.”
It’s easy to mock others for fearing burnout when you feel like you are invincible. “I’m different than them. I’m young. I’m innovative. I’m resilient.”
But the tide turns when you realize that you are only twenty-two and you’ve already had a complete burnout. Twice. In one year.
My career as a missionary officially started in August 2010. I was getting paid to share God’s love with college students. Life couldn’t get much better.
By May 2011, I found myself completely burnt-out. I became rather indifferent towards my job. I wanted nothing to do with my friends. I struggled to spend time with God. My body was rebelling against me in a constant stream of illness. I was battling insomnia, forgetting to eat, and hadn’t consciously exercised in months. Some days, I found myself too worn out to even leave my apartment. I had no energy to do any of the things that I loved and no motivation to change my circumstances.
Thankfully, summer brings a welcomed change of pace in campus ministry. The break began with a confrontation with my roommate. She was concerned that I was falling apart and frustrated that our ministry was suffering because I wasn’t fully present. I knew she was right, but I didn’t want to hear it.
Fast forward through three weeks of me attempting to pull things together. At the end of May, I boarded a plane and headed to Spain for the summer. There I worked with an awesome team of missionaries focused on prayer and street outreach. My teammates confronted my over-commitment issues, forced me to learn to rest, and taught me how to live life with a healthy rhythm of work, play, and prayer.
When I arrived back on campus in early August, everything I learned about rhythm was quickly forgotten in the busyness of a new semester. Long days, sleepless nights, forgotten devotionals, and the resurfacing of all my bad habits. By early October, my boss noticed an onset of fatigue again and confronted me because I was seemingly withdrawn. Later the same week, I found myself spending the night in the emergency room because the combination of a virus, anxiety, dehydration, and exhaustion had left my body completely wrecked.
The last three months have been a slow recovery, but in the meantime, I’ve missed out on a lot of opportunities. By time my body forced me to reevaluate my schedule, I had to put myself on the bench for much of the game just to ensure that I could continue to be a part of the team in the future.
Burnout isn’t just a word that older folk use to scare and contain the younger generation – as I had previously thought. It’s a psychological term used to describe exhaustion and diminished interested.
Here are a few facts, verifiable by good ‘ole Wikipedia and more reputable sources:
- Surveys show that about one third of young adults struggle with burnout.
- The most committed, enthusiastic employees are the most likely to burn out.
- Burnout is a vicious cycle rooted in the compulsion to prove oneself.
For much of 2011, I tried to prove to myself and to others that I was making a difference. I worked harder, took on too much, and was fueled by a competitive desire to succeed. In doing so, I wrongfully attempted to take control of things in my life and simultaneously quenched God’s ability to work through my life.
As the new year rolls around and I prepare for another semester, I know that something needs to change. This time I’ve learned my lesson. Restoring a rhythm of work, play, and prayer is nonnegotiable.
I’m either an expert on this topic or a hypocrite for attempting to discuss it. Either way, I won’t try to prove myself to you. I’ll simply share some things that I know I need to keep in mind in this new year.
- Get the rhythm right. It’s actually prayer, play, and work. – Did you notice I inverted the order? Priorities make all the difference.
- Put God first and foremost in everything. – If I continually invited Him into every aspect of my life, I would have no reason to stress.
- Allow God to defend you. – God is my defender. I don’t need to justify myself to anyone. He’ll do it for me or kindly correct me depending on the circumstances.
- People who believe they can sleep when they’re dead never really get to fully experience life. – Sleep is so important. I can function on four hours of sleep, but what’s permissible isn’t always beneficial.
- Rest is a form of worship. – Over the summer, I had to retrain myself to enjoy free time. I’ve never been so thankful for opportunities to exercise, appreciate nature, play my guitar, write, hang out with friends, read, and just explore the awesomeness of the world. Rest is about trusting God enough to take the time to appreciate His blessings.
- Turn off the technology. – Let’s be honest, I don’t need my Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and three email accounts pushed to my iPhone every five minutes. I tend to idolize technology as in I spend more time with it than I do with God and with people God has placed in my life.
- It’s okay to say ‘no’. – There is freedom in admitting that you can’t do everything.
- Be honest with yourself and your friends. – To guard against burnout, I’m inviting more accountability into my life.
- When you miss out, others are missing out too. – God placed me in my circle of influence to leave an impact. When I’m not fully present, I’m robbing people of what God wants to do in their lives through me.
- God is God. I am not. – If I remembered who God is and who I am in Him, I would be less likely to work myself to the point of burnout. He is in control, and as long as I follow Him, I’ll be okay.
In 2011, I tried really hard to be the best person I could be in my position. Obviously, I failed. I attempted to succeed through my own strength, and it quickly ran out.
I’m sharing this experience rather light-heartedly because I am truly grateful for the lessons I’ve learned this year. It’s much better to burn out in year one than to face the possibility of a vicious cycle of fatigue in the future.
Overall, I’ve learned that I’m simply supposed to love God, to love people, and to laugh whenever possible. This year, I’m going to just focus on following Jesus and my guess is that His strength will get me much farther than my own.
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