December seems like an excellent time to talk about burnout. No matter what holiday you do or don’t celebrate, December still seems to be the month of more: more spending, more commitments, more stress, more sensory overload. With this much “more,” comes a whole lot of “not enough”: not enough time, not enough energy, not enough money, not enough of me to go around. It’s easy to feel overloaded and like you don’t have enough to give.
Brené Brown, PhD teaches that “I am enough” starts with “Enough.” She argues that the more that we arrange our lives around pleasing, performing and perfecting in order to feel good enough, the less adequate that we will feel. The thing is, no matter how hard we work, we will never be perfect. The higher we try to climb, the more frustrating will be the reality that there is someone smarter, richer, better looking with a nicer family.
This is only more true during the holiday season. Got anyone who isn’t happy about your travel plans? That you’re choosing to go a certain place or not staying long enough or not hosting adequately enough or failing to bring home a partner again or they don’t like the one you have? The opportunities to fail are just magnified. So what’s the answer?
When we rely on external feedback to feel like we’re doing okay, we sway back and forth according to our current reviews. When we’re “winning,” we feel exalted. However, we’re always one failure away from feeling like a reject. Instead, think about the qualities that make you who you are.
You can look at a pattern of good grades, promotions, volunteering, a history of going above and beyond that tells a story of being a hard worker. It is the case that if we have a certain quality, that that will show up externally. That said, the quality is constant even when we are sleeping, ill or on vacation. You can still be a hardworker even if you take a mental health day to sit on the couch and binge-watch How I Met Your Mother episodes. This is where we go astray. We think that all of our actions must point to productivity and even more, that our value is the sum of our outcomes. But a failing grade, a lay-off, a bankruptcy only mean that we have failed, not that we are failures.
When we set out to earn acceptability via a string of accomplishments, it becomes difficult to say no. But saying “yes” to everything still means saying no to other things, often our own health and well-being. When we start to view our needs as important as others’, it gets easier to assess what we want to do, what we are able to do, and what we should turn down.
So much of our work in learning to be whole is found in shrugging off expectations. Some fear that in doing so they will become lazy, slovenly, rude. But that’s the thing—if that’s their fear, then clearly their authentic self is someone who values hardwork, cleanliness or civility. Being true to that opens to door to inhabit those qualities while tolerating mess-ups and frankly, will probably make them more successful. Without any time to relax, we can burn out, which would really shoot a hole in productivity. Defining civility with absolute rigidity doesn’t sound very conducive to warmth and intimacy. It is in owning our values while also creating space for self-care that we become who we want to be and feel worthy as ourselves.
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