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Let’s finally talk about it: Burnout

Ana Polanco

girlwritingMore than ever before, I am concerned about burnout. I’ve been coaching women all week on burnout and I’m not sure what else to say except: Next Stop on this train: Burnout City which starts to look like this: 

  • Take more responsibility at work. Stay late. Lead the new project.
  • Lead that board committee so you get noticed.
  • Do more activities to fill your resume.
  • Make your children’s after school activities.
  • Make time for your partner. Your mom. Your friends…
  • Clean the house. Make the gym. Cook. Get it done in the next 60 hours.

It goes on and on and then it happens … You’ve leaned in so far you have now fallen over and are officially BURNED OUT.

So what does burnout look and feel like? 

You’re cranky, agitated, cut people off mid-sentence, lack patience, drowsy, bored, winy and uninterested in what’s going on. The list is long. You get the picture. There are many reasons why we let ourselves get burned out. Sometimes we are avoiding facing the problems at home. Other times we think we need to prove something at work. And sometimes we are even avoiding facing our selves. Whatever your reason, it’s important to discover it. Burnout does not just happen overnight. It is a series of justifications and actions that build up over time. If you look back to the earlier days when you were on the road to burnout, you may notice some of it has to do with how we perceive choice.

Thanks to Robert Gass from the Social Transformation Project, for the last two weeks I have been observing how often I tell myself I have to do something versus I choose to do something. It was a real shock to observe my mind go off all day like a broken record. It sounds something like this:

  • I need to get that client the file on time.
  • I have to get to the store by 5pm
  • I have to get to the gym today.
  • I have to call my business partner about this project.  

As someone who has been burned out before, I can tell you I was surprised at how often I framed projects I enjoy as necessary mandates during a time when I was not burned out. So what is the maldito cuento we keep telling ourselves that makes us feel like we have to accomplish a task instead of choosing to do so? Let’s explore a few:

Because my boss asked me too. My bosses always loved to ask me to do things. In fact, if you’re even remotely competent at your job, your boss will love to ask you to do projects too. As women we are often taught to put ourselves second in order to “get the job done,” whether that’s something at home or at work. If you have a problem saying No, maybe this is part of your cuento.

Because It’s my duty. Some of us feel that because we were born into particular circumstances (poverty, race, ethnicity, migration status, sexual orientation) that we must now carry those experiences as a burden. We overextend ourselves out of some sense of duty to meet and solve our collective community’s needs. This sense of duty begins to extend to every aspect of our lives and before we know it, we want to save the world and make right the wrongs that have been done to our entire community.

This is the hardest one. As a biracial Latina and the first generation to be born and raised in the US, there are many things I have experienced. Having a sense of civic and community duty are good and I wish to contribute to social change in this country. However when I disregard my own individual healing for the sake of the movement, I am doing a disservice to both. Everyone deserves to heal and it is not selfish to take the time to self-care. Your first job in life is to self-care. No one else in the universe has this job, not your boss, not your partner. Heal and sustain yourself first. That in and of itself is an offering to collective social change.

They can’t hear/see me. I’m invisible: How many times did mama, papa or your tías tell you “Children are seen and not heard.” If I had a dime for this, well, my entire old neighborhood could buy their own Caribbean island and retire. The truth is sometimes we think we are invisible even when we are not. Just because your boss didn't call on you in the team meeting to share your project, doesn't mean he has ignored your work. And it certainly is not a signal that you should throw in another 60 hours at work so you can show him “how committed” you are.  FYI – your boss is asleep at home and he’s not going to see your “extra commitment.” Maybe it’s time to look at whether you think you are enough.

Say it, but don’t say it? I have met so many Latinas who love to say things without saying them –referring to other people’s situations or sending innuendos about something they desperately want to talk about. Why not take a courageous step and actually talk about what’s bothering you to the person you need to connect with. If you speak your truth compassionately, you might actually move from being a victim to tasting freedom.

These are just a few examples. There are hundreds of stories we tell ourselves to justify our actions or need to behave a certain way.  So what is the solution to the burnout problem? Only you know. The truth is everyone’s journey is different. What we do have in common is this “need to” mentality.

Becoming aware of how often we frame need v. want is important. The more aware we are that there is freedom in choosing to do something v. making it a chore, the more we own our thoughts and actions.

Your Turn: Are you on the road to burnout? Take a look at the stories you tell yourself to see if you can choose a different path.