“I just wanted myself back, and then to create something more. After what I’ve been through, I am not going to settle for an average life. I want to have created and lived an extraordinary life.” — Lorca Smetana
Some of us are hard-wired to help and to serve, to make a difference in someone else’s life at exactly the minute that it’s most needed.
No one goes into any of the giving professions with the belief that they will be one to burn out. But while in our country we are amazing at providing world-class professional training, we are less effective in training how to support ourselves into maintaining a long, sustainable life doing the work that we love.
So what does this failure look like on the ground?“I am losing my desire and energy to work.”“I don’t feel compassionate the way I used to.”“I don’t feel connected to my co-workers as I did. To my family.”“I feel impatient a lot. I care less. I’m resentful. And a lot of my difficulties are someone else’s fault.”“I’m not inspired by the reasons I began this work.”“There is a particular difficult incident or several weighing heavily on me.”
When these elements become real, some decide that their chosen work is not for them, and turn away. Some take it as a judgment on themselves as a person, and move forward silenced and shackled by shame. And some follow the tendency to brush repetitive or traumatic stresses aside and pretend that they are not going to matter, and then feel the impact of that closure in other areas in their lives. When these elements are in play, and even if you don’t want to, you know who you are. Your co-workers know who you are, too.
My own story has held some of all of these. At the age of sixteen I walked off a mountain that took the lives of nine of my friends and teachers. At 35 I had founded a regional organization that supported cancer patients and their families. When I came to pass on that baton of leadership I was exhausted, sad, and disconnecting from my own life on many fronts, even knowing the extraordinary difference we were making. I had not been re-filling the pitcher that I was pouring out of so lavishly. I know first-hand the grief not just of loss, but of having emptied all my resources of creativity and joy and my ability to give and receive, to contribute, to make a difference. Each time I lost and missed my understood self and everything I had hoped to become.
But what I decided, and what I teach and know first hand, is that there are real techniques to deal with the symptoms of burnout and trauma stress and grief, to process emotions and to clarify boundaries. Some of us need these more than others. When you use these techniques to build both body strength and mind strength you can create not only a return to your passionate, compassionate and effective self, but these same methods are used to prevent going down deep again. They’re pre-emptive and proactive. These are the life skills of resilience — the ability to take the hits that life gives us and to bounce back and keep giving in the places that need us most, without sacrificing ourselves to do it. This is to be the standard.
True strength comes in recognizing that you need to create support on all fronts, and doing it. This is not weakness. There is no shame here. We ask of ourselves Olympian feats and then charge forth alone. This is not what effective athletes of life do.
The results of mastering resilience rest in the arenas of reduced stress, alignment with a awesome purpose, integrated professional, physical, spiritual and emotional lives, deeper connections, supported business objectives, and creativity and innovation in the face of all of the challenges that your life and work offer. These are not small things. This is not small work. Neither is your work, and you need to be loving doing it, and for as long as you want to do it. I am not willing to settle for anything less for myself. I am not willing to settle for anything less for you. Take it on.
If you know someone who needs to hear this, share.