A Solution to Our Collective Exhaustion
‘I did what I was supposed to do, I worked hard, I got the grades, I got the job, I overworked in the workplace, I was the perfect student, I tried to be the perfect partner — and still THIS happened?’.
Exhausted. Anxious. Burned-out. Drained. Stressed.
We have become more familiar with these words than we would like to admit. In response, society has begun a collective search for practical solutions to this problem of burn-out.
This is a valuable cause, and one that I am personally passionate about. But in my observations, I have learned that there’s an important foundation that is usually missed in this discussion. It is an essential truth that we must all get to grips with before we start trying to solve these overwhelming feelings with tactics and ‘hacks’…
The problem with trying to win the rat race
Recently Buzzfeed published an article on How Millennials Became the Burnout Generation. The author explained potential causes of the pressures that we face, and many of us can relate. The trouble is that not only does the article provide few solutions, it emphasises how the current ‘solutions’ out there don’t actually work.
You don’t fix burnout by going on vacation. You don’t fix it through “life hacks,” like inbox zero, or by using a meditation app for five minutes in the morning, or doing Sunday meal prep for the entire family, or starting a bullet journal. [...] You don’t fix it with vacation, or an adult colouring book, or “anxiety baking,” or the Pomodoro Technique, or overnight oats. — Buzzfeed
This is something I learned last year. I recalled my experience and the experiences of people who had shared their struggles with me over the years. I recalled how when the weight of the world is truly upon you — all these ‘hacks’ are temporary solutions, because they deal with the symptoms and not the root cause.
Before we ask ourselves ‘how can I overcome burnout?’, I wonder whether we should be asking ourselves ‘why am I playing this game in the first place?’.
The article states: “We didn’t try to break the system, since that’s not how we’d been raised. We tried to win it.” In summary: so many of us have been raised to do ‘what’s right’ and ‘what looks good’ that we rarely challenge these whether these standards are actually aligned to who we really are.
I wrote about a similar concept some months ago: We tend to spend so much time trying to beat the system, trying to overcome the odds and become the 1%, only to realise that reaching our #goals — while important — is not going to solve the struggles of our human existence. They can never fully live up to our expectations, because the goalposts always move — and nothing lasts forever.
‘Winning’ a malfunctioning system, doesn’t free you — it just confirms that you’re the best pawn in the game. You are still playing by rules that were not created by you or for you. And this system relies heavily on what can be seen, touched or assessed by others. I’m not just talking ‘material things’, I’m talking about the desire to be seen as capable, as ‘strong’, as able to balance it all… the list goes on.
So what do you do when you reach this realisation?
When you realise that the effort spent maintaining a balancing act will always outweigh the real rewards, it can come as a shock.
I’ve spoken in detail about loss before. Just like losing a job or experiencing earth-shattering changes in your life; trying to win a game with moving goalposts is like experiencing a series of psychological losses. And we become disillusioned in the process.
This is what psychologists call ‘cognitive dissonance’ — a state of internal confusion. Your inner life is filled with frustration: ‘I did what I was supposed to do, I worked hard, I got the grades, I got the job, I overworked in the workplace, I was the perfect student, I tried to be the perfect partner — and still THIS happened?’. That experience can be crippling.
When what seemed like the ‘key’ to freedom brings frustration… that is your tipping point. Eventually that tipping point spills into exhaustion and solidifies into burnout. And when you’re in a constant state of disillusionment, when the things you’ve pursued are good — but don’t solve all your problems, all that you’re left with is yourself.
The question then becomes: ‘who am I, really? And what am I worth?’
In our attempts to ‘do well’, we run the fatal risk of neglecting the intangible: true wellbeing. This is what sustains us for the long-run, and I am here for the long-run.
All along I had been focusing on the wrong question, probably because the question of the soul is much more difficult to grasp. You cannot look it up, and no one can tell you what it is. The only way to grapple with this concept is to get really acquainted with the unique landscape of your own soul: what brings peace? What brings energy and what disturbs it? What was it created to do in the first place? — page 10 of my book, ‘Take What You Need’
It is a difficult question to answer, and it’s something I can only help you with — and something you settle with yourself and your Creator. In my own experience and the experiences of those who I have helped along the way, answering this lofty question requires going deeper into your spirituality. Returning back to faith. When I had nothing left, when the life-hacks and tactics were no longer working, all I could do was start to read about, meditate on and affirm who I was from a Biblical perspective.
This is why your personal and spiritual growth are intrinsically linked.
When you develop a picture of who you really are spiritually, the health of your inner self becomes number one. You stop trying to ‘win the system’, and you start to create your own.
This is something that has worked not just for me, but many of you who I have spoken to privately. No matter your upbringing or religious context, going deeper into your spirituality has been a key part of finding a sustainable solution to our collective problem of burnout, frustration and disappointment that we face. But it is only the very first stage of solving the problem.
This is something that has worked not just for me, but many of you who I have spoken to privately. No matter your upbringing or religious context, going deeper into your spirituality has been a key part of finding a sustainable solution to our collective problem of burnout, frustration and disappointment that we face. In a couple of weeks, I will explain this concept in more detail, and share my thoughts on how you can get to this point.
But it is only the very first stage of solving the problem.
Next week, I’ll be explaining the difference between putting yourself first, and being selfish — as many of us struggle with feelings of guilt when it comes to this.
In the meantime I’d love to know, how have you successfully overcome burnout? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
Abiola is the creative strategist, speaker and author of ‘Take What You Need’.