Fun: A Prescription for Burnout Recovery
In the last year, a lot of people have been asking the question: how do I recover from burnout without quitting my job? Most of us can’t afford to quit our jobs and it’s not truly what we want to do. We just want a break from pandemic stress, and a break from working in such a way that all the fun gets sucked out of life.
I’ve been asking myself the same question as well, and I finally had a breakthrough, or rather, three breakthrough insights:
#1: There’s more to life than work. That feels ridiculous to say because it seems so obvious and it’s such a common expression, yet I’ve never truly believed it until recently. I’m not quite sure when or what changed but I do know the moment when it began to shift. It was a recent Friday afternoon. I did some work in the morning and then I had to get my winter tires re-checked and I had time to squeeze in my flu shot before one last meeting in the day. On the way back from the drugstore, with a freshly sore arm, I drove by a local hiking trail. I checked the clock in my car. I still had time before my next meeting. Do I dare? Do I stop the car and go for a short hike, instead of getting back to my desk to check unopened emails?
It was a beautiful afternoon – sunny, warmer than it had been all week. There were a few other people on the trail but it was generally quiet. I walked slowly along, as is typical for me since I began experiencing chronic back pain. Walking slowly is torturous for many, like it used to be for me, but I’ve been doing it for so long now that I’ve come to appreciate just how much I get out of it. How much more I experience when I’m out in nature if I’m not concentrating on getting a good workout or getting from here to there. That Friday afternoon, I stared out over the river that runs beneath the trail, appreciating how much higher the water was since the fall rain had raised it. I looked out over a field of dried up corn stalks, and marvelled at how the stalks seemed to wave like water as the wind ran through it. I felt the sun warm on my cheeks and a sense of newfound ease in my body as I walked along, without a care for anything else in that moment.
Work has long been the primary priority for me, the thing that you should be thinking about and always returning to; everything else serving as distraction, and feelings of guilt accompanying any deviation from what’s expected of me. But not then, not on that trail. In that moment, I began realizing that this – being out in nature, doing something for me and my body and mind – was more important. Yes, we have to work and survive and provide for others and all that, but what is the point of all of it if we don’t even stop to do something we enjoy from time to time? There is no point. And so, a few days later, I ducked out of work early again and went for another hike. Because there’s more to life than work, and I want to prove that to myself through practice.
#2: I can “Listen, Sense, Grow” myself through burnout and beyond. Years ago, when I began my career transition from financial technology and into career and leadership coaching, I identified and developed a creative process to support myself through that change. My process consists of seven practices, or habits, that help me get out of the “figuring out” mind and into the truly creative, connected, open, opportunity-oriented way of engaging with career transition that generates my most desired results. I wrote about this in my guide, “Listen, Sense, Grow: 7 Practices to Create the Work You Desire” and shared it with my coaching clients through workshops and coaching programs.
Fundamentally, my Listen, Sense, Grow practices are about creating positive change, in work, in life, in anything. It’s about what supports you through the uncertainty, the unknowing, the fear, the hope, the belief that something better is possible, and still moving ahead. While preparing to deliver a career-related presentation on these practices recently, I realized that they apply to recovering from burnout just as much as anything else, because recovering from burnout is absolutely about creating positive change in your life.
As a result, I’m setting about adapting the original guide to support people in their burnout recovery in the months ahead. I know I’ll learn just as much from that effort as those I will serve with it, all the more reason to get going on that project. Stay tuned for more to come on this, or feel free to get in touch with me if you can’t wait and need burnout support sooner.
If you ever listen to yourself speak, you’ll find the answers to all of your problems are probably right there in your own words. I’ve been talking about “fun” for months. It comes up in almost every conversation I have with my colleagues, about what’s important and what we need to prioritize going forward. It shows up when I laugh out loud at a sitcom that I’ve seen before, but am appreciating with new eyes and greater respect for my unique sense of humour (and my value around humour in life). I’ve written the word “fun” a hundred times in my daily journaling. I have a whiteboard in my living room and it’s in capital letters right in the middle. Fun has been seeking me out for ages, and I’m finally taking notice. Yes, fun is important to me, and I need it in order to sustain myself in my life.
Fun means all sorts of things to me and I’m enjoying identifying all the ways, including new ones. Fun is about ditching work to go for a hike. Fun is about eating a hot dog outside, on what you know is one of the last warm days of fall. Fun is about writing a blog post on fun before you start doing your work-y stuff for the day. Fun is about going for a walk before your first meeting, instead of returning emails – they’ll wait. Fun is about playing music while you make breakfast, or do the dishes. Fun is about stopping to chat with a neighbour, and joking with each other about the impending doom of winter – if you can laugh about it, it’s far less scary. Fun is important. There’s no point if there’s no fun. I feel guilty when I prioritize fun over work or errands, and it’s going to take practice to keep having fun nonetheless. My guilt will not hold my sense of fun hostage, not any more.
So that’s where I’m at around the question: how do I recover from burnout without quitting my job? There’s more to life than work, I can “Listen, Sense, Grow” myself through burnout and beyond, and support others as well, and FUN. I’m laughing out loud as I write that last word, it’s not even grammatically correct but it’s all the things to me.
For your own reflection, as you navigate through burnout and beyond:
- What fundamental belief makes all the difference in how you perceive work, life and your capacity to flourish?
- What practices or habits are already supporting you, that you can recognize and celebrate in yourself?
- What’s the one thing you keep saying to yourself, that is the key to everything in your life right now?
Maggie DiStasi, PCC, helps people develop their leadership skills and career opportunities through trauma-informed and mindfulness-based coaching and coach training. Please visit www.www.maggiecoultercoaching.com to learn more, or connect with her here to arrange a consultation.