One of the ways I respond to my experience of burnout is refusing to let the fact that I’m experiencing burnout set the terms of my life. I cannot ignore the fact that I’m burnt out unless I want to make things worse. But I also recognize that with experiences like burnout, letting them dominate our mental lives can make things significantly worse, too.
There is a fine little dance here: acknowledging the reality of the hard things we experience, while not narrowing our lives to merely those hard things.
An example of the way I try to walk this line in my own life: I am not holding myself to some of the exercise goals I set for myself before the worst of the burnout set in… but I am still exercising every day. That half marathon I wanted to run at the end of this month? I’m not running it. On too many runs in the last few weeks my body has simply shut down a few miles into a run. Two miles in, six miles in, three miles in… none of them are anything like 13.1 miles. So while I’ve managed a 14-mile run this training season, in the weeks since I did I have gotten loud, clear signals that continuing to push myself toward the race was a bad idea.
That doesn’t mean I’m going to stop running, though. It means I’m going to be careful and wise about it. I’m going to listen to my body even more carefully when I’m out on a run than I normally do (and I’m not one of those people who keeps running when they shouldn’t anyway!). I’m going to switch some days over to doing Pilates with my wife instead of running. But also, on days like this past Saturday, when I felt terrible emotionally and wanted nothing more than to lay in bed… I got up and went for a 4-mile run. It helped.
Again: I won’t be dumb about my response to my burnout and pretend it doesn’t exist. But I also refuse to let especially the emotional experience of burnout be wholly determinative of what I do.
An aside, and a thing I will come back to in the future: you may have noticed that I have avoided writing of burnout as something external to me. This is intentional. Too often in our discussions of burnout, depression, or the like, we externalize them—a way of distancing ourselves from them, usually aimed at the same kinds of things I’ve gestured at in this little post. For reasons I’ll come back to, I don’t think that’s quite the right solution: burnout is not a foe outside myself to vanquish, but a set of emotional, physical, and spiritual things about myself. Again: more on that in the future.