I am prone to burn out. Some estimate that more than half of us exhibit symptoms of burnout at any given moment. When I was a professor, I would lecture on Physician Burn-out in the middle of February every year. Most all of my major life changes sprouted from decisions planted during times of retreat and darkness during February. I seem to literally yearn for the heat of the desert sun in February. Maybe it is burn-out. Or, maybe it is bi-polar tendencies, or Seasonal Affective Disorder. Or maybe it is part of the process of re-creating my life every year. Maybe it is just part of the process of finding purpose to my life.
When the engine stops working...
One of Merriam Webster’s definitions of burnout reads “the time when a jet or rocket engine stops working because there is no more fuel available.” This was especially my state the last February that I lived in Texas. There was literally no more fuel available. My husband at the time was driving our Jeep when I looked at him with fear because I didn’t have the energy left to raise my arm. And I was about to walk into a training room to teach a yoga class.
I eventually recovered by replenishing my adrenals and allowing myself some much needed rest. I also realized that though I was fighting a good fight in seeking increased access to naturopathic medicine for Texans, this fight didn’t have any deep meaning for me. Not the kind of deep meaning that would have created the conviction needed to take on the Texas Medical Establishment. Especially when most of my family was in Michigan or Florida without access to naturopathic care.
Because there was no deep meaning to me personally, I was always doing for others. This is good and exactly what others claimed was important.
When doing for others is exhausting....
The difficulty comes in when this work is only for others, when we are helping only because it makes us feel good to help or because we can help. When this is the case, we seek “fuel” from outside. It becomes a sort of addiction. We seek praise, recognition, money, whatever to feel good about what we are doing in the world. Unfortunately, it might feel good at first but in the end it will never be enough. We will constantly be running on fumes and prone to burn out.
I affectionately refer to this as my “accomplishment junkie” tendencies.
As I approach my 40th birthday this year, I am embracing my inner accomplishment junkie, but trying something different. Instead of planting seeds of “things to do” in the coming year, I have planted seeds of “things that matter to me”. I have identified a list of social issues that reach deep down inside me to spark a fire that lights up my life and allows me to live even more fully. So excited to share this with you all over the next year! And a little scared, please don’t tell anyone.
As spring begins to come into full bloom, I encourage you all to sit in silence for a bit to feel that place deep inside of you that lights up when you touch it. And do more of that this year.
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Jonci Jensen , ND is a naturopathic doctor in Carlsbad, CA who shares