What is “burnout”? It’s a term that gets thrown around a lot, but usually when it comes down to making life changes people often forget it’s a factor. What do I mean?
You’ve seen it. I know you have. It’s the merry-go-round of professionals, spinning from one position to the next. They put a good smile on it–they’re moving upwards! But the truth is that if you get them alone for a heart-to-heart lots of times they are burnt out and seeking a change. Or it’s the snarky lifer who everyone is just waiting to retire so that they can take their negativity with them.
So first of all, what exactly does burnout look like? We can’t treat it unless we know what to identify. Take this quick quiz to find out:
- Do you find yourself checking out more and more, using easy buttons (consuming lots of video games, TV, comfort food, alcohol, exercise, social media) even though you feel yucky afterwards?
- Do you find yourself avoiding your work or volunteering? Even though you were once excited about it?
- Do you feel irritable or cranky? Does that crankiness come out at family members? Or perhaps in your workplace?
- Are you feeling apathetic or pessimistic about things?
- Do you feel unexplainably exhausted all the time?
- Are you more forgetful lately? Have you forgotten major details that before you wouldn’t have let slip?
- Are you having a hard time relaxing? Maybe you are taking on even more work, even though you feel tired?
- Have you been getting sick a lot lately?
I’d say that if you checked off four of these items, and DEFINITELY if you checked off five or more then you’ve got some classic burnout going on.
So back to those professionals merrily hopping from job to job…
The Game of Activism Musical Chairs
What I’ve seen is that people often feel those burnout symptoms and bail instinctively on the workplace or volunteering without even realizing what they’re doing. They feel uncomfortable and crappy and so they start looking for an escape. This is A HEALTHY REACTION, by the way. It is a healthy thing to want to leave a toxic situation. Problem is that they haven’t learned what got them in that situation in the first place. So what often happens is that they move on to the next place, go through the exact same patterns of overwork and lack of self-care and in four years they’re looking for yet another job.
I saw it happen enough times that I started calling it activism-musical-chairs (also known as the social-work-merry-go-round; it happens in both fields). I’ve even seen it among volunteers, skipping from organization to organization. Every so often, everyone gets up, trades jobs, and sits back down again.
Or even worse, they hang out in the SAME job and they snark and criticize everyone for not dedicating their entire existence to the work like they have. And they, in turn, exacerbate the burnout in others.
Being the World We Want to Build
What we need is a discussion about how to develop lasting self-care practices. What we need is a discussion about how to help people doing social justice work to get the support they deserve. Not only is it necessary to do the work, it is the work. If we dismantle bad systems, only to sacrifice ourselves in the process, how for the love of God are we going to build a better world afterwards?
Saving the world ain’t easy, you guys. It’s not meant to be done alone. I’d even argue that it’s impossible to do it all in our lifetimes. As a wise coworker once said to a much younger-me: “It’s an ocean, baby. You’re never going to bail it all. You just have to learn how to ride the storm.”
That’s what Activism Joy Studio is all about: talking about how we can build a pro-active self-care practice to ride out the storm. Talking about how we can build the better world under our feet so that we can stand stronger.
Then you can take that new job because it’s really the right thing for your growth, not because you’re jumping ship. Or maybe you can stay where you are and all that institutional knowledge won’t be lost.
So what about you? Have you ever been in a situation where you felt the above emotions? Did it blind-side you? Or did you see it coming? Let us know in the comments what is the hardest thing for YOU to cope with…