Why we Burn Out

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“Burnout” is a term for which we all have familiarity. I think it’s much more than tired, or fed up. The definition I give for burnout is as follows: disruptive existential pain at the intersection of our doing and our being. While burnout is a horrible feeling, in the end it’s a tool that allows us to gain a much needed fresh perspective and it’s a gift that ultimately has the potential of massive life transformation.

If you research this topic, you’ll discover that most coaching and pastoring says we can avoid burnout by finding “balance” in our life. I don’t subscribe to this. If burnout is imbalance by running our life’s engine in the red zone for far too long, then it can be cured with a simple vacation. While a distraction FROM work may allow some people to go back to the distraction OF work, I’ve never found this to be truly helpful. The ratio of work to leisure is never in balance. One or two days off seems like an imbalance toward work. Spending eight hours or 1/3 of each day at work seems like an imbalance toward leisure.

Here is some free un-coaching for you: Don’t seek balance, seek presence.

This is why my definition includes the existential angst of our sense of being (ontology) at the point of our doing. Burnout emerges as unanswered existential questions bubble to the surface of life. Have you ever said any of the following?

  1. “What is the point of what I’m doing?”
  2. “How did I get to this place anyway?”
  3. “Am I supposed to do this the rest of my life?”
  4. “Why am I so confused, unhappy, depressed, unmotivated?”
  5. “There has got to be more to life than this…”
  6. “I don’t feel like my life counts for much right now…”
  7. “I’m tired of barely existing… I’m tired of being tired…I’m tired of struggle…”

Can you see why I said burnout is the intersection of our life’s productivity and our sense of who we are (doing and being)? Now that we know what it is, let’s explore what causes it.

Again 95% of life coaches believe burnout stems from working too hard or “not having balance.” Life is not about balance. I believe pursuing balance is another distraction and form of anesthesia which inoculates us to the existential birth trying to emerge within our life. Yes, that feeling of angst is sort of invisible pregnancy. That “something more” we’ve always wondered about is trying to wake us out of our slumber but we foolishly fear its disruption and work to suppress it. Thus our life of “balance” is really a futile effort of compressing a giant spring. The flow of energy is going in the wrong direction.

From my experience, the cause of burnout is the experience of the true self being overrun by a false life. The fake ID we have carried around no longer looks like the emerging true self within us and it causes existential “labor” pains which evoke disruptive questions. Balance distracts us into the next thing we will do while pursuing presence allows us to step into THIS moment with who we are. This is impossible if we are confused about who we are.

Burnout allows us to see our life from a new perspective by revealing that we are no longer passengers to our life but the co-creator of it. It can be either empowering or debilitating to bear responsibility for the effect we have upon our life. Sometimes the pain of life is such that desperation drives us to new envoys. Many times, gaining a glimpse of our potential scares us so much that we talk ourselves back into the slumber from which we just emerged. “I can’t do anything about my life right now…” ” As much as I want a change, I’m stuck, I’m a victim, I see no way out of this…” And just like that we double down on our fake ID and find every reason not to step into our true life. This only makes us press harder on the spring.

Burnout is beautiful transition space. It’s the extra fuel that is needed to take the additional action required to experience liberation. Ninety-seven percent of your energy today will be spent maintaining the life you had yesterday. Our life battery is primarily consumed by our existence. Without the pain and perspective of burnout, we may never use the last three percent to climb out of our hole and find authenticity.

So what are we to do? It seems those carrying any responsibility cannot simply abandon their lives or posts. Furthermore, the dreamer within us fantasizes about leaving it all behind for some inner pursuit. While this may seem like a noble thing, its just another distraction or avoidance technique. Nonetheless, we can each make small incremental changes that gradually free us into a new sense of self. This “more true” (authentic) self has an increased capacity to move into greater conformity to the truth, thus liberating us into our divine impulse to create. This is when we begin to experience FLOW.

Burnout is a loss of FLOW. Flow is execution from presence rather than pretense.

If we believe that our title, career, religion, political affiliation, relationships, accomplishments, etc… are the real us, then we have lost our true self. If we discover our true self, found in our Maker, then we will be content to let the fake ID die. Jesus put it this way:

“For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.  For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself?” Luke 9:25

We burn out because deep down we know our time is not spent on the work for which we have been purposed. Our default mode is to live a flawed dis-integrated life which pits work and life against each other in an eternal search for balance. Healing is the discovery of our true self found in God, followed by the emptying of that self into the work required of us each moment. It is impossible to discover our big purpose in life until we discover the big purpose within the work required of us right now. Dreamers take note. No amount of spiritual progress will get you out of your life now. We are all tasked to redeem our life and transform it into what it can be. Let go of your “one-day” disease and joining the Moment by forgiving reality for being what it is.

It’s possible to find complete joy in our toil: “…to accept his lot and rejoice in his toil—this is the gift of God.” Ecclesiastes 5:19. This is amazing when this happens. It’s a reversal of the curse which was to toil by the sweat of our brow. Believe it or not, I learned this lesson by pumping out portable toilets. Humility taught me to FLOW. Once in flow, there are no derailments, detours, setbacks, or hurdles to life. There is only the next moment in which everything belongs and to which we give ourselves in faith, while listening to the voice of Inspiration that prods us on to try new things.

The best advice I can offer is to listen to your burn out and join it, don’t quench it. Flow with it. Ask the questions as they arrive in your soul. Find someone with whom you can reflect these feelings. Feel free to contact me or someone you trust. Burnout is a portal to a new, bigger, truer you and a life which you would never trade for all the world. Burnout is an open door that closes,so do all you can to enter through it when it opens to you.

My un-coaching formula is life changing: Seek presence, not balance. Work from presence, not pretense.

Burnout is not a detour. It’s an invitation to the real you.

2 thoughts on “Why we Burn Out

  1. And how common do you suppose it is it to use money woes as another excuse to remain in burnout?

    Best Regards,

    Rick Kahler, MSFP, ChFC, CFP®
    A NAPFA Registered Financial Advisor

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    • Burn out due to financial stress is no doubt a major contributor. I actually see this as the very flow of poverty. Poverty is not lacking money, poverty is the emotional and cognitive bankruptcy that prevents a person from seeing and thus taking advantage of the abundant opportunities that surround us. A burned out person is thus blind (often just unwilling) to make the change they know they need to make because they prefer poverty to the diligence and long road of transformation. Financial burn-out is the person (living in poverty of mind) who views their own liberation as out of reach and lives within the confines of short-term problem solving. It’s real. It’s everywhere.

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