Let’s look at the math here. It will make it obvious that creating a sustainable pace is in everybody’s best interests. Say you’re serving at the local soup kitchen for eight hours a week, and after six months you burn out. Six months contain twenty-six weeks. So in your sprint you’ve contributed two hundred and eight hours before you collapse in a heap. And it’s likely that after burning out, you won’t be returning.
Let’s say, on the other hand, that after some prayerful consideration, you decide you can sustain a pace of two hours a week indefinitely. Let’s say you keep that up for four years before you decide to take a break. After some time off, you’ll likely return because you’ve not reduced yourself to an oil spot on the rug. Four years contain two hundred and eight weeks. If you average two hours per week over a four-year period, you will have contributed around four hundred hours, given some time off for vacation and the occasional flu bug. That’s about twice what you would have done at the burnout rate of serving, not to mention that after a break you’ll probably be back for another multi-year stint. What’s more, serving has become a part of the way you live your life. It has transitioned from being a short-term event to being a lifestyle. It has become one of the things that define who you are.
It’s likely that this is not new information for you… I bet you’ve heard it before. We all understand the idea of burnout. It’s not quantum mechanics. The vexing thing is that it’s usually hard to recognize in your own life. Or maybe we do recognize it but are reluctant to admit it. In either case, by the time we figure it out or admit that it’s happening, it’s too late. The damage is done.
I want to give you a list–the seven signs of burnout. I don’t usually go in for acronyms. They tend to be a bit cheesy. But despite the cheese factor, perhaps this will sound the alarm next time burnout starts to creep into your life. Watch for these signs:
Bad attitude. This is self-explanatory.
Unfulfilled. Serving ceases to be satisfying.
Reactionary rather than proactive. You sit around waiting to be told what to do.
Non-communicative. You stop returning people’s emails.
Overly stressed. It’s the feeling that you’re carrying the world on your shoulders.
Unmotivated. It’s not that you don’t have any energy–you just don’t care.
Tired. Fatigue becomes your new normal.
Everybody has the occasional bad day. So when a few of these pop up every once in a while, it’s not time to panic. You’ll probably be fine tomorrow. But if several of these signs start to become chronic, then it’s time to do something. The place to start is admitting that you’re burned out. The longer you wait, the worse it will get. At some point, if you refuse to do anything, your body will begin to protest. Your resistance to things like colds or flu will start to diminish. You might have trouble sleeping. But there’s no need for those things to happen. The good news is that once you admit you have a problem, there are some practical steps you can do to remedy the situation and prevent it from happening again.