Humorist and author Loretta LaRoche and I used to give a workshop together that we called “Twisted Sister and The Fairy Godmother.” The Fairy Godmother is your idealized self — in the case of women, that usually translates to being sweet, long-suffering, and deeply concerned for the well-being of others. Twisted Sister is her shadow, the “Bitch in the Basement.”
If you’re a guy, you have your own ne’er-do-well equivalent buried in your subconscious. Neither the idealized self nor the shadow is your authentic self — your soul — which is alive, changing, and appropriate to the moment.
When The Mask Reaches Breaking Point
The idealized self — the mask you put on for appearance’s sake — reaches the breaking point during burnout. All that work to maintain the facade, and it couldn’t even deliver the goods. You still don’t feel happy and fulfilled. As a result, the false self finally falls off and shatters like a mirror dropped on a tile floor. Then the Bitch (or Bastard) in the basement — the equivalent of the infamous Mr. Hyde — is free to come out and wreak havoc.
This is the point at which you may start yelling at your computer with gusto or devaluing a colleague. The burned-out businessman may focus on the assistant he’s always respected and begin to think that she’s inept: Martha takes forever to produce a simple report! But being disgruntled with Martha is only the tip of the volcano. Underneath a false veneer that is becoming progressively more difficult to hold together, the pressure of frustration is steadily building.
The inner dialogue of a person at this stage is cynical at best, aggressive at worst: The management around here has its head up its ass! That guy who everyone thinks is so great is a #@*&! charlatan. Nice guys finish last around here, so why bother trying to do things right?!
Burnout Attitude: Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde
Regardless of what may be happening around you that’s troubling, the biggest problem at this stage of burnout is your own attitude. The good Dr. Jekyll is slowly transforming into the evil Mr. Hyde. You have now succeeded in creating hell not only for yourself but also for the people around you. You’ve managed to block any real recognition that the situation could be much different if you changed.
One of my quarrels with some forms of therapy (I thank my friend and colleague Lee McCormick for this perspective) is that they are aimed at making life in hell a little bit more comfortable. But what is required at this stage of burnout isn’t a new pad for the floor of the tent you’ve pitched in the Inferno; it’s packing up and moving on. This requires an authentic curiosity about how you are using your energy.
Are You Using Your Energy Efficiently?
A trout catches the majority of its food near the center of a stream. If it swims too far toward either edge, it will use more energy than it takes in and die as a result.
If you’re feeling like a tired trout, it’s time to take your personal-energy economy more seriously. You’ll need to identify what drains you (checking e-mail more than once or twice a day, letting friends or clients suck you dry, signing your kids up for too many activities, spending more money than you need to, and so forth) and what helps you increase the impact of your energy (concentrating on certain aspects of your business, carpooling with your neighbors, or setting healthy boundaries and enforcing them, for instance).
Identifying Better Ways to Manage Your Energy
After you read this section, plan a 30-minute morning writing exercise. Your task is to identify better and more conscious ways to manage your energy. This works best if you’re specific, so identify three ways in which you waste energy and three ways to leverage your energy.
Several years before writing Fried, I’d signed a contract with another publisher to write a book about slowing down. Unfortunately, I was moving so fast during that period of my life that I couldn’t make the time to do it and finally had to return the advance. That’s irony for you. Meanwhile, the editor who had recruited me for that project found another person who really knew something about the art of slowing down. His name is Timothy Ferriss, and he wrote a completely dazzling book called The 4-Hour Workweek, which is definitely worth reading and putting into action.
Pareto's Law: The 80/20 Principle
Ferriss helped me realize that I was spending too much time on projects that had too little impact. His discussion of Pareto’s law, also known in business as the 80/20 Principle, can change your life. The gist is that 80 percent of the effects you get come from 20 percent of the effort you make. For example, 20 percent of your clients may order 80 percent of your widgets; 20 percent of your time spent on social networking might yield 80 percent of your new business; and 20 percent of your time used to exercise, eat well, be with family, and restore yourself may generate 80 percent of the joy in your life.
I checked out the 80/20 rule regarding my public-speaking business. Most of my income does, in fact, come from a minority of my speaking gigs. One-hour keynotes pay well, have the maximum impact in terms of the number of people I reach, and take relatively little time overall. Teleseminars may turn out to be better still, since there’s no travel time involved. On the other hand, providing a five-day workshop in a remote retreat center that draws few participants consumes a full week (traveling there and back, as well as preparation) and yields little income. I sometimes choose to do these retreats, but I don’t delude myself by calling them business. If they don’t return energy to me in the form of enjoyment, I’ve made a bad bargain.
Every one of us has different leverage points and energy drains. The challenge is to really sit down and identify yours — and then do something about them.
Reprinted with permission of the publisher,
Hay House Inc. ©2011. www.hayhouse.com
Fried: Why You Burn Out and How to Revive
by Joan Borysenko.
About the Author
Joan Borysenko, Ph.D., is a Harvard-trained medical scientist, licensed psychologist, and spiritual educator. A New York Times best-selling author and blogger for The Huffington Post, her work has appeared in newspapers ranging from The Washington Post to The Wall Street Journal. A warm and engaging teacher and speaker, she blends cutting-edge science and psychology with a profound and palpable sense of the sacred (and a world-class sense of humor). You can find out more about her work, watch videos, and read articles at www.joanborysenko.com. You are also welcome to join the lively conversation on Joan’s Facebook page