Kindling our Fire
I truly believe that everyone is naturally curious in some way. Whether it’s that first inclination when we’re little kids and the world around us seems filled with unlimited potential, to now where we have a level of independence to continue exploring our lives, there’s something innately human that invigorates us to be fascinated with our surroundings. It’s this something that I like to call our ‘fire’ that acts as our energy source, lighting our ambitions from inside. But with the long-awaited wait for the new school year, it was a subtle reminder to me of the more stressful times, when we feel overwhelmed and out of energy. In those times, that sense of curiosity and interest gets lost in the endless list of demands that we pile onto ourselves, causing us to feel lethargic with nothing left to give.
What all of this ‘fire’ symbolism and talk about curiosity is building up to is the main talking point of this article: burnout. Burnout is the state of being overworked and severely fatigued, leaving the person running on fumes and lacking the motivation to continue working. It almost has the adverse effect of what we intend, where we end up losing our productivity in the times we need it the most.
While everyone has their own experiences, burnout typically occurs when we push our limits to our upper thresholds, working to our maximums for an extended amount of time. These scenarios usually occur when there’s a lot to accomplish inside a short window, causing us to sacrifice some of our mental health necessities for the sake of efficiency. We tend to think of our energy as a finite resource that can be directly allocated for and transferred seamlessly, putting x amount of energy into one thing by taking out y amount from another. However, burnout proves this elementary theorem as false. If it was true that we could just neglect our other areas of life and devote all our efforts to working with no repercussions, burnout wouldn’t exist. But, alas, it’s been noted that about two-thirds of full-time workers have experienced burnout at some point at time (Stevenson). So how do we cope with burnout, or, better yet, how do we prevent it from happening altogether? With that question in mind, I hope to give a better picture of some of the complexities of burnout and what we can do to combat it.
Fanning the Flames
While we need to look at ourselves and make our own lifestyle changes so we don’t burn out, understanding why some of the reasons we overwork can provide some clarity. In a culture that predicates how much someone can accomplish over maintaining a healthy mindset, it can look daunting when seemingly everyone around us is on their grind. We celebrate those who pull all-nighters and take the overtime shifts as people we should look up to and replicate, putting an implied pressure on us to be working just as hard as them, and if we don’t, we think we’re going to fall behind. What we don’t appreciate nearly enough though are the people doing regular mental health practices, making those things seem invisible to us. While there’s always going to be someone who’s giving it their all and is committed to their craft, we fail to recognize that they are also looking after their mental health behind the scenes. This phenomenon is known as the availability heuristic, and I won’t dive into an all-out psych lesson, but it’s essentially the principle that what we experience is what we assume as more prevalent. So as we see those around us as all put together while being able to accomplish a large quantity, we start believing that everyone is naturally hard-working without a fault.
This line of thinking is clearly harmful as we can feel isolated in our problems, but acknowledging it is the first step in preventing those times where we feel pressured out of a fear of inadequacy. In truth, no one can work restlessly consistently because it just isn’t plausible in any perspective. The expense of our mental health, that begins to deteriorate as we fail to keep up with its consistent nourishment, ensures that we also decline in the other direction when we fall into burnout and lose our productivity. It’s difficult for us to draw this correlation between contentment and accomplishment because they seem like direct opposites, but we need to start realizing that our work is largely representative of ourselves. It’s this lose-lose scenario that so many people continue to be stuck in, believing that their success will come with the sacrifice of their well-being. Once we open our eyes and see that no one is excluded from the obligations of attending to their mental health, we can feel more comfortable in giving ourselves the care we deserve.
As the Smoke Clears…
We all need to realize that the next time we take a look around us and see all the grand things our peers are doing, there’s so much that underlays what presents itself. Everyone experiences different circumstances, yet we usually lack the proper contextualization, so we supplement assumptions in their place. For starters, we don’t even know what gives certain people energy. For some people, they recharge by spending their time alone and unwind by watching Netflix. To others, they might enjoy an academic hobby such as programming or writing, which, in turn, makes it appear that they are more successful in that regard. We’re all unique in our own special way, and our differences are what gives us value. If you’re like most people and don’t have an interest that is traditionally seen as equitable, that’s perfectly fine. Your strengths are hidden in other areas that are just as important, and we should take pride in that.
In a controlled setting, fire’s value is unquestionable. Fire is how we cook our meals and heat our bodies, acting as a priceless tool that assists us. But, inversely, when a fire gets out of control, it can be devastating and destructive, burning anything insight into a crisp. In the same light, being devoted to a passion and working hard isn’t inherently harmful, it’s when these things become volatile and overdone that they stop becoming healthy and instead become dangerous. I think that distinction needs to be stated because we often make the association of work and school as a burden, which doesn’t have to be the case. Work is what fulfills us, what we can do to impart a piece of ourselves onto the world. What deters most people from work is when it becomes stressful and overbearing, taking away from our other areas of life. As I’ve said before in previous articles, there’s so much more to our lives than just what we do in the classroom. It’s only a fraction of what defines our lives; what we do with the rest of it holds immense importance. Don’t be afraid to take a step back and do something for yourself for a change. There’s no end goal or criteria to what defines a ‘successful person,’ so there’s no need to act like there’s one. All we need to do is take our experiences to the fullest, and we’ll grow more than we can imagine with each wonderful day that passes by.
Stevenson, Mason. “Employee Burnout Statistics You Need to Know.” HR Exchange Network, HR Exchange Network, 17 Jan. 2020, www.hrexchangenetwork.com/employee-engagement/news/employee-burnout-statistics-you-need-to-know.