Burnout can have many elements to it. There may be no singular cause, but several that combine in just the right, awful way.
Every person and case of burnout is different, but I think that one common cause that shows up often is a felt need to control our time. (I just talked about this on the podcast.)
I can name more than one instance where I’ve tired myself out by trying to adhere to a schedule and series of deadlines of my own making. When I try to satisfy my own goals based on arbitrary time factors, I’ve often come to a point where I’ve become tired of the thing I’m doing – I start disliking the activity, the love for which said schedule was set up to nurture to begin with.
- I love blogging, so I need to commit to this many posts in a week or month.
- I love journaling, so I need to write this many pages every day.
- When I was a pastor, my love of ministry would cause me to think I needed to set goals around starting this many programs or getting this many new members to join in a certain timeframe.
- My commitment to martial arts meant that I need to reach this new belt level in a certain timeframe, which meant I needed to master this many techniques and attend this many classes by this date.
You can probably cite your own examples. We have this tendency to turn passions into obligations via our approach to time. Our adherence to these sorts of rigorous schedules can eventually cause us to become sick of them. This has happened to me at one point or another with everything listed above.
But other problems besides burnout may also arise. Take, for instance, when life throws a wrench into the gears of our perfectly working clock. As a random, definitely-not-plucked-from-real-life example, maybe your previously clear karate goals are derailed by a shoulder injury that won’t go away on its own. As another random example, maybe a worldwide pandemic upends our sense of how we work, how we relate to others, and how we approach our own health.
This can be jarring, disorienting, frustrating, and anxiety-producing. Suddenly our finely-tuned system can’t work the way it used to. And maybe with enough time things can go back to how it was before, but often this demands adjustments going forward.
In his recent audiobook Find Me a Straight River, Rob Bell reflects on the twists and turns that inevitably come in the lives we’re trying to keep straight. One piece that I found helpful as I listened was his reframing of the question “How long is this going to take?” Instead of asking that, he suggests saying, “oh, this is how long it’s taking.”
- This is how long it’s taking to finish my creative project.
- This is how long it’s taking to reach my fitness goals.
- This is how long it’s taking to find my way through pandemic disruptions.
- This is how long it’s taking to heal in this relationship.
- This is how long it’s taking to struggle through my faith questions.
- This is how long it’s taking to figure out how to do church after 2020-21.
Instead of beating ourselves up for not keeping up with where we wanted to be by a certain point, it’s healthier to step back and realize that many of these things aren’t going to respect our strict desires. This may lessen the chance of burnout, and help us have a better relationship with the things we enjoy.