These days, I have been laser-like focussed on people’s energies, including my own. So many of us tend to think of busy-ness as a badge of honor. However, when I hear of a friend who has disappeared from circulation or privately sent me a message that he/she has burned out, I am often surprised by the news and also deeply concerned. Surprised because I clearly missed the early warning signs. Concerned because I worry for them. But I’m also concerned because I wonder if I’ll be able to recognize burn-out within my self? Is that something you’ve ever worried about?
Determining early warning signs
I think of myself is of a whole human being. As disparate as my activities, experience and skills may be, the story I have in my head is that everything is connected. But, at times, I wonder if I may have been deceiving myself. The reality is that sometimes I have spread myself too thin. Intellectually, I love the challenge of doing something new. I will inevitably tend to justify to myself why it’s a good idea. That’s part of the art of post-rationalization. But the amount of energy I need to muster to “change” or tackle the new challenge can be very draining… By taking the time to sit back and take stock of all the activities that fill my time, I realized that I was doing too much, so I started the process of cutting back. In the process, I started to regain my energy.
What’s the connecting tissue?
When you are a curious person, you inevitably like to explore and seek out novelty, whether it’s discovering new sources of information, delving into new topics or trying out new activities. But the question then becomes: what’s the connecting tissue between all these topics, dots and events? What holds them all together? The image in my head is one of an accordion or a concertina where every fold in the bellow corresponds to an activity, a topic of interest or a preoccupation. How many folds are in your accordion?
To function, the instrument relies on the pushing and pulling the bellows. There are different forms and shapes, as well as variations on the keyboards and buttons on either end. Irrespective on your own musicality, the important point is make sure you have an accordion that fits with your personality and personal purpose. On the one hand, if your accordion has only a few folds in the bellows, you will not have enough air to play well. You need to make sure that you cultivate activities and passions that stimulate and vivify. But, on the other hand, when the accordion is stretched too wide with too many folds for the structure, the middle will fall out of shape, like the belly of this Disney toy below.
Tightening your bandwidth
If your concertina is distended, it’ll become too unwieldy to be played properly. Essentially, it says that you’ve got too much going on. And the energies needed to make it all work will wear you out. Hence the notion of potential burnout.
One of our core tasks, with a healthy dose of self-awareness, is to determine the connecting fabric for the accordion of your life. What are the dots that hold it all together? If you’ve got to explain it in more than one sentence, it’s too much. By figuring out the connecting tissue, you will naturally tighten your bandwidth. In so doing, you resolve two important issues:
- Develop a more complete picture of who you are and what you stand for.
- Decide better on how to spend your most precious resource (time).
Tuning – Finding the right chords
With a tighter accordion, where the middle doesn’t droop, you are reinforcing the integrity of the sound and it will make it easier to find the right chords and notes to play. With this image of a sagging tummy — aka the elongated accordion — the key for each of us is to find our own tuning, relish our own journey. To be in tune is not a destination. It’s a way of being. I like to talk about finding one’s North Star. As such, it is about being more strategic in our choices, to know where and when to say no and to keep our accordion tighter and more in tune with ourselves.
Your thoughts and reactions are welcome!