I once had a therapist who, in one particularly memorable session, threw some psycho-techno jargon at me about my coping skills. “When you are trying to figure something out, you’re what we call a [insert sounds the adults in the Charlie Brown cartoons make]. Your first instinct is to consult a book and read about it.”
He didn’t mean it in a bad way, I know. He was just trying to explain it to me. When I have a question, and I don’t know the answer, I look it up.
And lately the question that has been smacking me in the face is burnout recovery. How do I reclaim the passion I had for my job – that I know is still there somewhere – without screaming “I quit!” at the top of my lungs, storming out of my office, and running away to the Serengeti to live with the giraffes?
Easy enough to find the answer, or at least some suggestions for an answer. Call up the All-Powerful Google.
I did come across a few great articles, and I have been pulling suggestions here and there to formulate my own personalized recovery plan. Which has been enlightening in a few different ways. A) A lot of these suggestions are ones that can help with more than just burnout recovery; they can help with stress management, life centering, goal achievement, etc… In other words, they are tools to help with many different situations, and I can see myself using them (hopefully) for many eons to come with other challenges. And, B) they really do help with focus. I tend to attack personal baggage with a general outlook. Yep, my life is good, so I’m going to stop feeling sad about stuff, and Okay, I’m going to shift my focus at work, are often the extent of my emotional explorations.
Implementing some burnout recovery suggestions has been a godsend in taking these thoughts and drilling down. My life is good – why? I’m going to shift my focus at work – to what? I know the drilling down questions should be obvious, but I am the type that needs to get slapped in the face before obvious becomes… well, obvious.
Burnout Recovery Suggestion 1:
Write down three good things that happen to you every day, and why they happened, in a journal.
This was the first suggestion I decided to try, and now a week and a half in, what a difference! It is a fun challenge to think about “good” things that are part of my day… and to analyze them with an inquisitive eye. Why is the “good thing” I’m writing about a good thing? Furthermore, the mere practice of focusing on “good things” has been cathartic. Even when I would classify a day as a not-great day, the fact I still identify three good things that happened shifts how I feel about the day. I mean, if Good Things 1, 2, and 3 happened, it couldn’t have been a bad day, right?
But best of all is how I am trying to focus on some of the smaller things to identify as “good things.” Like time spent snuggling with Charlie. A conversation I had with J. Flowers I saw on a walk to Kitten Rescue. A thought or comment that made me laugh. Writing these moments down is helping me appreciate them even more. And to me, that is not just a key to burnout recovery, but a key to happiness in general.
Take pleasure in the small things since they come around often. The big things are few and far between, and if you reserve happiness only for them, you’ll spend most of your life waiting.
Burnout Recovery Suggestion 2:
Ease into your day.
This suggestion recommends taking 15 to 20 minutes when you first wake up to … well, ease into your day. Spend that time reading, writing in a journal, stretching, meditating, or any other activity that you find relaxing so that you start each day on a relaxed and positive note. I didn’t have to ponder that one long at all. A relaxing and positive way to start my day? Charlie snuggling!
Charlie doesn’t trust that my alarm wakes me up in the morning. So, when he hears the gentle sssshhhhh of the ocean waves (yes, that is my alarm, and yes, it does wake me up), he immediately crawls up from under the bed covers and plasters himself across my neck and face. Sometimes, I get Charlie kisses too, but mostly it’s his belly pressing down on my throat. I always reach up and start scratching him on his back, and this will often lead to snuggling and rassling… and Charlie kisses. And it always makes me smile. Always. I know I’m biased, but my dog is so damn cute. I can’t help but smile when I look at him.
So, I figure I’ll hit snooze a couple of times, and snuggle with Charlie in the interim. Not a bad way to start the day… at all.
Burnout Recovery Suggestion 3:
Eat healthy and exercise.
Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Burnout Recovery Suggestion 4:
Try something creative.
Yep. I’ll, uh, get back to this one.
Burnout Recovery Suggestion 5:
Re-assess your goals and priorities.
This was another suggestion I tackled with a little more temerity than I did numbers 3 and 4. I wanted to think about this one. I wanted to give myself the time and the space to ask myself those questions: what do I want from my life? If I’m not happy now, what would make me happy? And everyone’s favorite: where do I see myself in five years?
And one thing I realized after turning these questions over and over and over and over and yeah, you get it, in my mind, is that I am happy. I know it seems ludicrous to say that if I’m asking myself the question, but it took asking the question to find that answer. I am happy. In five years, I hope I am still working in museum education. I hope I am happily married to J. I hope I am still living in this apartment in LA. I hope I am still involved with Kitten Rescue, and with animal welfare. I hope I am still blogging, and writing. I hope I am still reading. Everything I am doing right now is what I want to keep doing. Yes, I am feeling burned out on certain aspects of my job, but not because I no longer want to do the job. Because I am not handling the stress of the job well. When I am in front of a group, especially kids, I am in my zone. I have held jobs in other social service fields in the past – mostly in healthcare – but I have never felt fulfilled until I started working for the museum. I never felt complete. I enjoyed my previous jobs, but this one is the only one where I have hit that zone, that place where the only things in the universe at that moment are me and the group in front of me. I know, deep down, if I left my job, I would regret it. I would miss it. And I would hate myself for it.
So, my new goals are not things like find a new job, move to New York, lose 2,000 pounds, or make any other major life change. My goals are taking steps to focus on the great things I have in my life, and relishing in the amazing journey that is my life right now. Keeping track of how I spend my days, organizing my time so I am devoting it to things important to me, bringing in new projects to keep me challenged (more writing!), and spending more time on appreciation. Those are my goals. And spending lots of times with animals. In fact, if I could combine education with animals…. anyway!
Burnout, consider yourself burned… out!
Yeah, I know… lame.