Wednesday, August 19, 2015

How Much Is Enough: Why We Burn Out

I ran long-distance races for my track team in high school. I wasn’t very good, but evidently neither were a lot of people in my conference. So, I could be counted on to finish third or fourth at most meets and get a few points for our team. I remember clearly the nightmare of each lap of my 2-mile race. After two laps I would ask myself, “Why didn’t I run the 800m?” After four laps I would ask, “Seriously, why could I not have run the mile race?”  One thing I did like about track and field was the clarity. There was no question about how far you needed to run. The finish line was clearly marked. The laps were loudly counted as teammates cheered you on. You knew exactly how far was far enough. You might not be able to get there as quickly as you liked, but you knew when you had done enough.

Knowing when we have done enough can be a challenge for many of us. I stumbled across this line from Barbara Brown Taylor’s great book, Leaving Church that I can relate to, and maybe you can as well:

     “No matter how many day planners I bought, none of them told me when I had done enough.”1

Our relationships can always benefit from more time and energy. Work always has more tasks for us to complete. We can always come in a little bit earlier and stay a little bit later. The chores around the house are never ending. We can read more, learn more, achieve more. There is always more. When we always pursue more, we inevitably believe that we have not done enough. That sort of compulsion, though often applauded in our society is destructive. To avoid the burnout of endless striving, we have to make some choices:

Choose Who

There will always be an abundance of people who want your time and energy. If you don’t make choices about who you want to get your best time and most focused energy, then life will decide for you. Are the most important people in your life getting your leftovers? Is it possible that the people who need you most, see you the least?

Choose What

There are an infinite number of things to do every day. You will only get a few of them done, no matter how productive you are or how hard you work. You have limits. If you can’t do it all (and you can’t), then you need to choose what gets done and what remains undone. It’s easy to do what is most urgent each day rather than focusing on what is more important.  Remember, urgent doesn’t always equal important.  

Choose When

You are a very different person at 9am than you are at 2pm. You are different later that night after dinner. When you do your important work and when you engage your important relationships matters a great deal. You want the best of you to engage the things that are most vital. It’s possible to waste your most clear and energetic hours each day doing things like returning email or scrolling through Facebook. Email and Facebook aren’t bad, they are just not likely your most important priorities today. 

Choosing with clarity what "enough" means for you is the key to avoiding burnout and stress. No one knows what matters to you more than you, so take some time today and make some choices about how your are spending your time and energy. When you have done "enough", take some time to be thankful for the opportunities and choices you have! 

1- Barbara Brown Taylor, Leaving Church (New York, NY: HarperCollins 2006)

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