Many working people today suffer burnout. Burnout is a debilitating condition that seems to rob one of one’s joy of life and vitality. The symptoms of this condition could include headaches, tiredness or lethargy, muscle pains, sleeping problems, memory problems, a lack of concentration, and weight gain or loss. The emotional attributes of this experience could include depressed moods, a feeling of worthlessness, a loss of interest or pleasure, and suicidal ideation.
Burnout in Relation to Maturation
Burnout normally affects people in mid-career. In addition to that, it is useful to understand where people are in their own maturation at that time. And furthermore, what that implies for their vulnerability to the condition. The process of maturation is an incremental move from being immature to mature. This movement is also consistent with the movement from birth to death. From the point of view of intent, these two moments of birth and death are the only truly unconditional moments that we face in our lives. At birth we’re here to get unconditionally. And when we die we can’t take anything with us, which means when we die we give everything unconditionally.
This suggests that the process of maturation is consistent with the process of the maturation of the intent to give unconditionally. This process is incremental. Which suggests that as we mature, we incrementally change the proportion of our the mix of intent. That is, from being predominantly there to get open dominantly there to give.
The Journey of Maturation
This journey can be described as a journey through 4 epochs.
Im here to get
The patterning of intent in the first epoch is “I’m here to get“. This is the patterning of the intent of the infant. He or she has no doubt that the world exists for no reason but to serve him. Because at some point, adults in the infant’s life no longer tolerate the brazen demands from the infant. They then start to exercise some resistance to those demands. At some point the infant realizes that it has to be nice to get what it wants. It’s intent shifts from being here to get to giving in order to get.
Im here to give, in order to get
This “being here to give, in order to get” is the second phase of the maturation of our intent. It starts off with the naive charm of the child. Who knows that if they’re sweet enough, they’ll be liked, and graduates to the resentment of the adolescent. Who is of the view that life is a competition and the purpose of life is to be significant.
The competitiveness of the adolescent produces a desire to turn every engagement into a win lose engagement. In which the adolescent has to win. However, at some point the adolescent realizes that the problem with competition is that it produces exactly the opposite of what one wants.
When I want to win, I am seeking to win your admiration and favour. But I do that by making you lose. When you make people lose they don’t admire you, they despise you. In other words, you get exactly the opposite of what you want. This creates a crisis at the end of adolescence, where the adolescent has to broker a genuine rapprochement with the other. They have to really try and find win-win solutions. This desire to find win-win solutions introduces us to the third phase of our maturation the structure.
I get in order to give
In this state of being the project of life is to provide for others and all endeavours it seemed to be subordinate to that end. One has to work hard to pay the mortgage and put the kids through school. The problem with getting to give, is that one’s happiness is defined by achieving the outcomes that would make others happy. Which is clearly a far more challenging prospect than purely pursuing outcomes that would make the self happy. The outcome of this epoch it’s very often the equivalent of a midlife crisis.
The insight that comes from this crisis is that to base your happiness on the happiness of others is to pursue a fool’s errand. To base your happiness on outcomes concerned with the happiness of others makes you the victim of the whim of others. The insight that you cannot be accountable for anybody else’s happiness, but only for having done your best, shifts your intention from doing things to produce outcomes to do things to do them well. This produces the final epoch of our intent, I am here to give, unconditionally, with regard to outcomes.
The period in our lives we are most likely to suffer burnout is in this third epoch of intent which is concerned which says I’ll get to give. There are several reasons for this.
Happiness is far away
In the first instance when I do things purely to achieve a result, my intent is still concerned with outcomes. And outcomes are really still concerned with what comes from the world to me. However, I have no power over what comes from the world to me, because that sits in the hands of the other. This creates a feeling of helplessness. On the other hand, when I’m here to give, I’m putting my attention on what I’m personally doing. Which should mean that I’m putting attention on the process of what I’m doing.
When you get to give, your happiness is based on outcomes. Which, most of the time, are not aren’t necessarily even concerned with your own personal happiness. These outcomes have to do with the happiness of others. This creates the condition where one always feels that your happiness is a step removed from you. It is small wonder that one can often experience this as producing a sense of depressed hopelessness.
Becoming a resource
The second problem with giving in order to get, is that if I give in order to produce some kind of an outcome or result, then I become the resource that gets consumed in the pursuit of outcomes (I’m trying to achieve). The result of any resource that is used or consumed. It is therefore not surprising that I should experience myself as being exhausted and depleted by my day-to-day life. This experience of depletion one can call burnout.
This is not to say that there’s a problem with having a vision or a purpose to one’s life which is about giving. One cannot even begin to cultivate the intent to give if there isn’t a purpose which is bigger than your immediate self-interest that you’re willing to suspend yourself interest for. So having a vision or a purpose to one’s life which is a grand and transcendent is entirely appropriate.
That vision, however, is not adequate to produce happiness. It is also important to be very deliberate about the process that you will follow (in order to achieve that grand purpose). The more granular the process is defined, the more useful it’s going to be. This is because it provides one the opportunity to build small goals into one’s day-to-day activity. This focus on process is also concerned with a spirit of mindfulness. It is concerned with taking pleasure in doing things to do them well, not just to achieve outcomes.
The Burnout Antidote
The antidote to burnout is therefore building the kind of personal resilience that is consistent with the 4th epoch of intention. This move from the 3rd to the 4th epoch of intention is also consistent with committing to do fewer things because you have to, and rather doing them because you want to.
It is important to recognize the difference between doing something because you have to and doing something because you want to, is not so much in the thing itself. But in the decision that you make about it. Just like you can turn any pleasurable activity into a chore by defining it as a duty, so you can turn any challenging activity into a joy by defining it as interesting.
Shift your attention
Some signs that you’re doing things because you have to rather than doing things because you want to, would be that your attention is an outcome when you do things because you have to, and your attention is on process when you do things because you want to. When you do things because you have to you do things in order to get them done, while when you do things because you want to you do things to do them well.
When you do things because you have to, you will find what you’re doing to be onerous. Whereas, when you do things because you want to, you will find what you’re doing pleasurable. Doing things because you have to, you will easily get impatient. Whereas doing things because you want to, you’ll find being patient easy. When you do things because you have to, you will be depleted by what you do. Rather, when you do things because you want to, you’ll be nourished by what you do. Furthermore, when you do things because you have to, you often will judge yourself for being inadequate. Whereas doing things because you want to, you’ll remain curious about what you’re learning.
There are six things one can do to enable this shift to a 4th concern approach to your life and therefore counteract burnout.
- Firstly you can develop a sense of purpose by considering what noble vision you can dedicate your life to. This noble purpose provides an anchor and a guiding star for all other activities in your life, but isn’t sufficient to account for a sense of control.
- The second element is to cultivate a feeling of control by being very deliberate about what the day-to-day requirements are for you to be able to achieve that outcome, and to consistently concern yourself with doing those things well.
- The third element is to be very deliberate about treasuring the relationships in your life and to cultivate your bonds with other people. Incrementally cultivate an unconditional interest in the people in your life. See them as important in their own right, not just because they help you pursue your goals.
- This leads to the 4th element which is about cultivating emotional ability to be able to deal with daily disappointments. To have relationships that are not just expedient, but are based on genuine care, is to develop the network of support to help carry you through difficult times.
- The fifth element is to cultivate your physical condition so that doing what you need to do well is not physically onerous or depleting.
- The 6th element is to commit to some daily mindful or meditation practice which will help to shift your attention from outcome into process.