Burnout is something that is talked about often, especially among those in leadership. In fact, if you go to leadership conferences, then you will commonly find a session that speaks on how to avoid burnout. You can also find plenty of leadership books and articles that speak on the issue of burnout. These conferences, books, and articles give very sound advice and I do not want to repeat them here. However, I would like to bring up just a couple points that may not be completely unique to me, but I do believe they are not normally present in conversations about burnout.
Even though I would like to skip right to my two main points, I cannot go further without agreeing with most people who write on burnout and say that probably the #1 reason we burnout is because we take on too much. We try to carry more than we can handle. We think “delegation” is a dirty word. We overload ourselves. We bite off more than we can chew. We put our nose to the grindstone for too long. We spread ourselves too thin. We burn the candle at both ends. We do not know how to say “No.” We put too much stuffing in the turkey. We overfill the pie. We have too many dishes spinning.
Get the picture? Stop Doing That. Okay. Let us move on.
Point 1: We burn out when we get focused on the force against us rather than the force that is for us.
As many of you can relate with, it does not take much negative criticism to completely outweigh all the positive feedback we receive. I know this experientially. I have written several blogs that have been somewhat – or very – controversial. The amazing thing about my controversial blogs is that they are the most liked blogs that I have written … and the most hated. (By the way, I have written blogs that I thought were way better than my controversial ones, yet they get hardly any views and no one comments on the obvious brilliance of them … thank you for allowing me to be a little sarcastic).
But the thing is even when I get dozens of people who say they really appreciate the blog, do you know what takes up most of my thinking in regards to the feedback? You guessed it: the vastly outnumbered negative comments.
Think about it for a second. When you make an opinionated social media post, to whom do you spend most of your time replying? Those who disagree with your post. Those who agree with your post simply “like” it or make a quick comment. But those who disagree with you will take up several lines letting you know what they think. Even if far more people were positively impacted by your shared thought, those negative responses stick in your craw (good southern idiom). We dwell on the force against us.
There is a great proverbial saying by the wisest mortal to ever walk the earth. Solomon said, “Wisdom is better than weapons of war, but one sinner destroys much good. Dead flies make a perfumer’s oil stink, so a little foolishness is weightier than wisdom and honor.” (Ecclesiastes 9:18-10:1) Do you see what Solomon points out? He observes that just a little evil, or for our purposes, just a little negativity, can counter a whole lot of good or positivity. It does not take much does it?
Well, now that we know this, let us not fall prey to this natural instinct in us. Let us rise above the smog and into the fresh air. You do not have to breathe in the smog. Just get to a higher level. Leave the smog behind. Breathe in the fresh air.
One of more recent blogs caused a good friend of mine to respond quite negatively to me. My wife asked me if it bothered me. I said, “Well, it would if I let it. But I am not going to think about it. I am going to dwell on the fact that I have had many more people tell me that they really appreciated it.” I chose to focus on the force that was for me.
One more quick example before we move to the second point.
Jeremiah was dealt a bad hand. Jeremiah was a prophet who was told to give a very unpopular but truthful message to a very unreceptive audience. This dude had almost no one on his side. But the force that was for him was stronger than the force that was against him. What was the force that was for him? Two things: God and truth.
Jeremiah wanted to give up because of how much he was being physically and emotionally persecuted. But God had to remind him of the force that was for him. God told Jeremiah during a very difficult time for him (Jeremiah 15:19-21):
If you return to me, I will restore you
so you can continue to serve me.
If you speak good words rather than worthless ones,
you will be my spokesman.
You must influence them;
do not let them influence you!
They will fight against you like an attacking army,
but I will make you as secure as a fortified wall of bronze.
They will not conquer you,
for I am with you to protect and rescue you.
I, the Lord, have spoken!
Yes, I will certainly keep you safe from these wicked men.
I will rescue you from their cruel hands.
If you have the force of God and truth for you, then there is never a time when you do not have the wind in your sails – no matter how many people are against you.
Point 2: We burn ourselves out when we focus more on the results than the value of the work.
As much as I appreciate the many leadership conferences, books, and articles, they are part of the problem! They shoot the expectations of the individuals viewing them into the stratosphere. By the time the individual is done with the leadership material, they expect so much of themselves that when they get back to the real world their dreams are shattered and eventually they burn out.
Today’s leadership material ruins lives one pithy, inspirational quote at a time. (Okay, that is hyperbole, but you get the point.) Today’s leadership or inspirational material insinuates that everyone can be the next Bill Gates, Steven Furtick, Tom Hanks, or my goodness, even Justin Beiber or Taylor Swift. We are sold the idea that if we just work a little harder, cast a little more vision, fix just a few blind spots, that we will experience growth that cannot be denied. And extremely unfortunately, this is a cycle that never ends, so if leaders are not consistently experiencing growth or rebounding, then they are tempted to think they are failures.
Leadership material inspires us to reach to new heights and uses the very rare exceptions as the rule. Why do we so often use the exception as the rule? I know why we use the exception as the rule: because we do not want to sell anyone short, and I get that. But that can be dangerous in the long run.
In our attempts to push people to the heights they could possibly reach, we should add a disclaimer along the way. A disclaimer that says something like: Look, I know we are using some of the most successful people in the industry as an example, but the simple fact is that only very few people get to that level due to a variety of unknown and mysterious reasons. You may have to be content with trying your best and accepting the results whatever they may be.
There is so much focus on results, results, results, that the value of the work itself is sometimes forgotten. We try so hard to be great that when we do not reach the millions of people we want to reach, we get frustrated and burn out. Always let the value of the work be your primary motivation, not the results.
I have a piece of advice for you: Stop trying to be great!
Just be you. Of course be the best you you can possibly be. But understand that the best you may never be considered great by the world’s standards. And that is okay because you should not be trying to be great by the world’s standards. You should be trying to be great by God’s standard. God’s standard is to simply love the person next to you, one person at a time. The good news is that you are capable of doing that while doing anything.
Believe it or not, God’s standard is actually quite simple (I did not say easy, but simple). God’s standard is to love Him with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself.
Let us end this section with another quote from Solomon. Solomon said, “Whatever you put your hand to accomplish, do it with all your might.” (Ecclesiastes 9:10) Notice how results are never mentioned, only the value of the work.
How do we measure the value of the work without taking into consideration the results? Well, let me ask you a question. If I were to tell you that I feed the homeless, would you consider that valuable? I would imagine you would. Notice how I did not say how many homeless I fed. Let us try that again. If I were to tell you that I stock groceries in a way that makes it easy and convenient for consumers to find and purchase items and that I am knowledgeable as to where each item is in the store, would you say that is valuable? You probably would (if you would not, then you have been too stubborn to ask the grocery workers where that one item is that you simply cannot find). Notice how I did not say how many groceries in a day I stocked or how many questions I answered. I simply identified the value in the work and aimed for that.
(Side note: I am not saying that you should not evaluate your work to see if you are doing something that is hindering the progress of your work and thereby its influence. What I am saying is that the primary motivation, the piece de resistance for your work should be the value of your work, not the results of your work.)
With all the other good advice out there on how to avoid burnout, let us add these two pieces of advice: 1) focus on the force that is for you rather than the force that is against you, and 2) focus on the value of your work more than the results.