Henry (our cat) and Bella (our dog) know how to enjoy the perfect day when outside winds are howling and the snow is drifting against the house. A good lesson, don’t you think? No stress or burnout!
Many years ago, my mother gave me a wonderful book: “The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path of Higher Creativity,” by Julia Cameron. Or, if I were writing the subtitle: “A way to find your best self.” It’s a workbook, filled with quotes, exercises, case studies and really good advice on nurturing our creative and true selves. Here’s something from the book that I forgot about, but am going to do today:
Go on “an artist’s date.” This means treat yourself to something you really would like to do, whether that’s quiet time at Starbucks or a walk in the park after work, or whatever calls to you. I’m going to my local bookstore. There’s a really comfortable couch there and I’m going to take off my jacket, look at books, pick up a pile that look interesting, and then sit on the couch and give myself time to browse through them. Just that.
I’m not going to rush. I have no “to do” list. I’m not doing research for a project. I might look at children’s books. Or novels. It doesn’t matter. Why are these dates important? And how might they cure our winter blues?
- We give ourselves credit for getting things done, but see if you can detach from that as these dates feed us, balance that activity with things that restore our energy
- We need solitude and time–quiet, uninterrupted time that is just for ourselves
- Julia writes about how we try to wiggle out of these dates–something is always more important–but her point, as I understand it is, build this habit and your life will be rewarding
- Get over the guilt of being nice to yourself and treat yourself as you’d treat a good friend
- Anytime we invest in ourselves, we feel better, stronger, see things in a more positive light
Here in New England there’s snow on the ground, but the days are getting longer. The sun feels a bit brighter. What could you do for yourself today that would be gift to yourself? I’ll be at the book store.
I know it’s a strange idea to think of the thing we try so hard to avoid, as a force that might help us. But over and over, in my work helping groups stop burnout and get re-energized, I’ve seen how burnout has helped people. It’s made them change. It’s clarified what’s important to them. It’s set them on a new course.
My past year has been full of activities surrounding the publication of my third book: “Joy Unleashed: The Story of Bella, the Unlikely Therapy Dog.” In fact, I’m speaking more now about the book than I am about burnout. At first I felt upset that my work had shifted. But now I see that my dog’s wonderful work comforting others, has deepened my understanding of why it’s so important to not let burnout eclipse our gifts. So, yes, burnout can be a friend, as long as it’s a friend you pay attention to. As long as you don’t get stuck.
Here are the key lessons I’ve learned about self-care from my energetic (that’s the nice word for “crazy”) working dog:
- Surprise yourself. Sit when you’d stand, stop when you’d go. Mix it up.
- Ask questions and the answers will come
- Small shifts lead to big changes
- Help comes from surprising places: a child, a dog, a stranger
- Pay attention
- Give thanks even when you don’t feel like it
- Grow in curiosity and giving back
- Travel light–see what you can get rid of and see how that makes you feel
- Cast off resentment–it just gets in the way
- Don’t be afraid of uncertainty or emptiness: wait, sing, a path will open.
Not bad lessons from a dog! Be brave and share your thoughts. That will help all of us have the best year ever.
Yes, I know, everyone has advice about resolutions, getting fit, eating better, reducing stress and so on. But my suggestion is different and it’s simply to step outside of your normal schedule and try something new. Just last week I added a spinning class and I wasn’t sure I’d make it back to my car. My legs felt like rubber! But the fun thing is that I felt energized by it, and yes, I’ve gone back.
What could you do and why would you do it? See what calls to you. Is it something related to music, or is it an idea that you’ve had for a while but haven’t done anything about? It could be as simple as trying a new recipe, taking a different road on the way home from work, visiting a neighbor. Why do these small steps matter? I don’t really know the answer except that for me, new things are energizing. They add sparkle to life. I read once that when we’re on a path that we haven’t taken, that we tap into an ancient response that makes us more aware and alive. So don’t make resolutions that feel like one more thing you don’t want to do, but instead shake it up. Have fun! You might surprise yourself.
(Image courtesy of Inc.com)
My best friend, Nancy, made this beautiful arrangement. She’s been studying Japanese flower arranging. So in this busy season, I thought I’d share it along with a short paragraph from Joan Chittister’s book, “The Gift of Years.” They go beautifully together:
“A blessing of these years is the invitation to go lightfooted into the here and now–because we spend far too much of life preparing for the future rather than enjoying the present.”
I had the great pleasure of speaking at the MASS-ALA conference last week and it was really special. Chris Foley and her team made it seem effortless, but went beyond that and made the conference welcoming and upbeat. I spoke on “Stop Burnout: Five Steps to Re-Energize Your Work for Your Best Year Ever” and we had a blast. Not only was it interactive, but the whole group was up on their feet dancing when we got to the slide: “Sitting is the new smoking.” It may seem silly, but a 15-30 second break where you move your body, enjoy music and refresh, is really a smart burnout buster. And for sure that will make you “Assisted Living Strong.”
Okay, I’m an author and I love books, but I was thinking it would be fun to share thoughts on a book that has made a difference to us, whether now or in the past. It could be related to stopping burnout, or tips on how to find your next job. Or, it could be fiction–a story that grabbed you and stayed with you. So here’s mine:
“Singletasking: Get More Done One Thing at a Time” by Devora Zack. First of all, it’s a riot. Here’s how it starts:
To my dearest reader:
You are hereby released from the temptation to overachieve. Your friend, Devora Zack
P.S. You’re welcome.
That gives you a sense of her tone, but her witty and light hearted approach is backed up by impressive research. She quotes major business leaders as well as neuroscientists–all to support the radical idea that we can only do one cognitive skill at time. (Yes, you can fold laundry and talk on the phone at the same time since the folding is not a cognitive skill.)
So if you want to do yourself a huge favor, read this book. Keep it on the front passenger seat of your car. Reread a paragraph before rushing into work. It could just change your life, and will help you stop burnout and have the best year ever.
(Photo courtesy of Getty Images)
Took a wonderful hike along the beach at Watch Hill (RI) Saturday, and although it was warm, it was clearly the end of summer. A few brave swimmers were in the water, but my husband and I kept our shoes on and admired it from the safety of the beach. After a long, hot summer, it felt like a gift. Because it’s well past Labor Day, dogs were allowed on the beach and it was fun to watch them playing in the water and chasing each other.
This got me thinking about change and how, although I resist it, it almost always opens a door. There is a phase with change that always causes me trouble, and that’s when it’s clear the old is going away or not working, and the new hasn’t shown up yet. As I used to tell my clients when I worked as a career coach, knowing what you don’t want is a really good beginning. That can be a good time to stop, observe, not feel pressured to jump into the next thing. (Advice I’m very good at giving to others, and not so good at following myself.) Why is that so difficult? Is it because we define ourselves by our work?
For me, having a project, whether it’s writing a book or preparing to speak about stopping burnout, gives me purpose, direction, and focus. I feel useful. I’m excited. But the in between times, the not knowing, makes me anxious and sometimes even crabby. And I think this is because I have to let go and trust. I have accept that a transition is exactly that–it’s leaving one thing for another. And to be ready for the new thing, the next phase, requires pulling back, waiting, listening. To use a gardening analogy, it’s preparing the soil.
The waves were crashing, the sunlight sparkling off the water and my husband and I decided it was the perfect moment for a “selfie.” We wanted the ocean in the background, so we stood just beyond where the waves were breaking and snapped a few shots. But before we were finished, a big wave swept in and filled out shoes with sand and water. We laughed and made our soggy way back to the parking lot
. Okay, I get it. The summer is over.
I recently had a good discussion with a former client of mine–one of those wonderful people you can reconnect with instantly. He had been my client both times he had lost his job, and we discovered that we enjoyed working together. As I was telling him about my work speaking to help organizations stop burnout, he asked me: “Won’t you look weak? Isn’t it just whining? Shouldn’t you just do your work and be a trustworthy team player?”
Wow–tough questions. My quick answer: “No, no, yes and no.” So, are you weak if you admit to burnout? No, you’re smart. Burnout is real, it’s physical as well as emotional, and will disrupt your work if you ignore it. If we look at the classic definition from Christina Maslach, it’s “lost energy, lost enthusiasm and lost confidence.” But we all know, it’s smart to pick the right person to talk to about burnout. Some will get it, others won’t. Find an advocate who will help you turn it around. (This may not be your boss.)
Is this whining? No, it’s recognizing that we aren’t machines and that inner and outer pressures can wear us down. The major difference between whining and admitting to burnout is that whining makes you a victim. It’s always the fault of someone else. Not so in owning up to burnout. And people who whine often really enjoy it and stay stuck. Again, not the case in recognizing burnout and taking steps to make your life better.
And the last question: Shouldn’t you just do your work be a trustworthy team player? Of course, but to be a creative and productive team player you have to take care of yourself. Your resources are finite–you can’t be all things to all people. (Trust me on this one–I tried!) To really contribute to your organization, you’ve got to be energized, enthusiastic and confident, and it’s your job to make that happen.
Maybe it’s a paradox. You have to admit to something that can feel like a weakness in order to be strong. You have to set limits to be able to grow and exceed what you’ve done before. You earn the respect of others by being willing to disappoint them. Tell me what you think.
(Image courtesy of Getty photos)