Burn-out and Rest
I've been thinking a lot about burn-out lately because I'm feeling...very burnt out.
It occurred to me last week, over the fall break. I had so looked forward to that week off - to get work done, yes, but also to just have some extra time for ME, maybe go for a hike, spend a day outside, lay in bed reading for a few hours. But time is never really quite what I expect it to be, it ends up passing by too quickly, feeling never truly satisfying or complete. So last weekend with back-to-school looming on the horizon in two days it suddenly occurred to me that I had spent almost the entire break at my job or doing homework - no outside time, no lazing about reading, I don't think I even slept in once. The realization that it had been all work and no play hit me hard. Suddenly I felt exhausted, isolated, unable to concentrate, with an intense desire to just run away from my life and all the obligations it promised.
In our modern culture which points to work and busyness as a sign of status, is burnout an inevitable side effect, the overarching goal that defines our success? When your work is your life, what does your life become? An endless cycle of doing, a scramble to keep up, a perpetual to-do list with boxes unchecked. I am a person, like so many, who doesn't know how to say no or acknowledge my exhaustion before it becomes a problem. Not until I'm sick in bed, or in tears on my floor, or on the brink of a panic attack am I able to put things in perspective and pull back a little bit (2 of these 3 things may or may not have happened to me this week).
So how do we deal? How do we find balance? How do we prevent burn-out? Asking for a friend...
A professor sent a message to one of my classes recently that said "work and study should enrich your life, not replace it!" I want these words on a plaque hanging over my desk. What a lovely reminder of what really matters. It is far too easy - as a student, a worker, a business owner, a person - to get so wrapped up in the things that we NEED to do that we lose sight of the things we WANT to do. And, really, aren't the things that we want the things that we truly need? Shouldn't we be nourishing ourselves with the things and people and experiences that make us happy, fill our hearts and stimulate our brains?
If Mary Oliver has taught me anything (and she has taught me a lot), it's that we only have one wild and precious life. What will I, what will you, do with it? I'm still working on finding balance and giving myself permission to slow down, and I probably always will. And thats OK! But for anyone else out there who needs to hear it, you're doing great, so great, and you deserve a break. You deserve to drop all your responsibilities and go for a bike ride, you deserve those cookies, you deserve to shut your brain off for a couple hours and watch some episodes of Great British Bakeoff, or to read a pulpy crime novel in bed all morning or whatever else makes you feel content and calm and good.
As for me, winter break is coming up soon (only 2 more exams and a couple thousand words to write!). I'll be working at my day job and devoting some time to my thesis, sure, but I'll also make it a priority to have some solid layabout time, and get outside to take in some nature medicine as much as I'm able.