Not long ago, a client asked me how I finally recovered from burnout. How I healed.
I've burnt out a few times. And each time what brought me back to the land of the living was engaging in activities that lit me up.
After a particularly intense bout, it was making jam. It made me feel productive and engaged in what I was doing and useful. I could see the results of my efforts as my jam cellar slowly filled with jars. It was enormously satisfying.
Other times, it was looking for the stuff I valued at work and finding ways to intentionally take one action a day that expressed those values. I've always found this to be good maintenance practice, but it's especially important when the edges are feeling crispy.
More often than not, my solution for feeling burnt out at work hasn't come from work. It's come from outside -something that reminds me of who I am as a whole human being. That sense of being a whole person with multiple gifts to offer the universe is generally one of the first things to go when I'm toasty.
What lights you up?
What makes you remember you're whole and multifaceted?
And how will you make space to engage in those activities today?
I'm going to a memorial service this evening for a friend who died way too young. He had just turned forty. He has an equally young wife, who is a dear friend, and a very young son. Every single thing about the end of his story is wrong, especially the fact that it's the end of his story. It should be the middle.
This, I tell myself as a forty-something, is where it's supposed to get interesting. It's where we pick up steam. Where we figure stuff out. Where we get to apply all that stuff we learned by stumbling through it in our twenties and letting it sink in during our thirties. This is the where the good stuff is supposed to be, right?
Except there is no unadulterated good stuff. No purely bad stuff. I know better now than I did before that it's all mixed up together. There is no toddler plate that separates the hard, sad stuff from the joyous, amazing stuff. It's all blended together. It's all a chance to nourish and be nourished. It's all a chance to show up at the table and try our damnedest to bring something worthy of sharing.
It's all, as my mom used to say, another $#%ing growth opportunity.
Some days I'm full of gratitude for the opportunity to grow. Some days I ask for the willingness to just show up and be useful, and I hope that the gratitude will appear later. Today is one of those.
Today is one of those days when I look for meaning and fail to find it but keep moving anyway because I'm forty-something and I have responsibilities. I know just enough today to be useful in spite of myself and my sadness. I know just enough to let myself have the cookie and keep focused on what's really important in this moment.
And I know just enough today to know that what’s useful is showing up and loving the other people who are hurting today.
Here's to being useful. And to growing. Because it turns out we're #$%ing lucky if we can.
A small furor erupted today in the wake of This American Life’s announcement that they are retracting a story they recently aired by Mike Daisy. I encourage you to read (and listen to) the various accounts and analyses of the situation. As simply as possible: Mr. Daisy adapted a portion of his theatrical monologue, “The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs“, for Public Radio International’s This American Life. TAL, a journalistic enterprise, aired the adaptation in January and later discovered that portions of the piece don’t stand up factually to journalistic standards. Thus the retraction. One thing rings clear in both Ira Glass (TAL’s public face and producer) and Mr. Daisy’s accounts: theater isn’t journalism. They both agree that treating theater as if it were something it isn’t proved to be the eventual breaking point in this collaboration.
There’s an important lesson here for organizations and the people who make them run: If we aren’t crystal clear on what our function is, we’re not going to serve that function cleanly. If we aren’t equally clear what rules we’re playing by, we’re very likely to break them. And if we’re not talking to each other honestly about our purpose, our function, and the rules we’re playing by to get there, we’re going to have a mess on our hands.
What’s your purpose? How are you choosing to function in order to meet that purpose? What rules are you playing by? And when was the last time you talked to your board, staff, and stakeholders about all of those things?
I have given myself permission to stop attempting to like David Mamet’s plays.
The moment of release from my career-long attempt to understand why people thought he was so fantastic came after a local production of Boston Marriage. I had complained for years that in addition to most of his characters being jerks, he didn’t write women at all. And when he did, he did so poorly. Nothing about that play changed my mind about his ability to write women characters in a way that resonated as true. So I just stopped going to see his plays. It was actually quite a relief.
Mr. Mamet may or may not be a misogynist. His writing suggests to me that he doesn’t much like women, but I’ve never met the man. I ought not to judge.
I do not, however, deny that he is a skilled writer with valuable insights about theater and structuring a story. Which is why, though I’ve sworn off his plays, I picked up our copy of True and False: Heresy and Common Sense for the Actor yesterday and started flipping through it. One of the first pages I landed on contained this bit of wisdom:
Do not internalize the industrial model. You are not one of the myriad of interchangeable pieces, but a unique human being, and if you’ve got something to say, say it, and think well of yourself while you’re learning to say it better.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how I’m meant to be of service in this world. Whether I’d do better inside an organization, contributing to their mission, instead of stumbling along on my own. I still don’t know the answer. But Mr. Mamet’s advice will sit with me as I continue to listen for what the universe has in store for me.
How does this quote resonate for you? What are you learning to say?
How are those New Years resolutions coming along?
My one and only resolution this year is to work on staying in the moment. I’m a worrier. And I have a tendency to get caught up in future-think. The result? Not much gets accomplished or appreciated in the moment.
So I’m experimenting with some different ways to stay present. Meditation is one of them. It turns out that being quiet and still for a length of time is pretty challenging for me. But I keep chipping away at it, sitting for five minutes here and 10 minutes there.
Another practice I’m trying to integrate more fully into my life is yoga. I have always found that the physical effort of finding, holding, or moving through poses clears my head and allows me to just be where I am.
And it was in a yoga class earlier this week that the instructor shone a light on what I’ve been experiencing as the paradox of effort: the more effort I make to hang on to something, the more it seems to slip from my grasp.
“Surrender into the poses,” he suggested as we moved into a simple twist. “Discover what they have to offer you if you let go of effort.”
So I tried another tactic I’m playing with: go with it for xx minutes. When I think about surrendering in order to get where I want to go, my brain turns around on itself so many times that I end up in a confused knot. But I can agree not to think about it and just surrender to a series of asanas for 90 minutes. So that’s what I did. And here’s where things got interesting.
The poses were easier. I held down dog without my shoulders starting to shake. I arched up into wheel (not all that gracefully, but I got up there, dammit) and stayed as long as my arms could hold me without a single twinge in my lower back. Don’t get me wrong. As my muscles and bones found their homes in each pose, I inevitably felt myself pushing or straining or gripping. But when I repeated my mantra of “surrender”, the effort shifted from grasping at perfection to reaching for my best in that moment.
It still doesn’t make a lot of sense when I try to think about it. If I want to stretch further, my brain tells me that I should try really hard to make my arm to higher. My brain tells me that surrender is equivalent to giving up, which is completely counter intuitive if I say I really want to get somewhere. But my physical experience tells me that the less I push, the further I can reach. When I loosen up my grip, my muscles are that much freer to lengthen toward my goal.
How do you experience surrender? How do you experience effort? Where are you gripping? How much further could you reach if you surrendered to your goal rather than pushing toward it?
Talk to me. Tell me what you’re discovering.
I’m learning so much as a new business owner. And it constantly astonishes me just how generous people are – with their time, their wisdom, their genuine desire to see me and other small business owners succeed.
Lately, as I look around for sources of information and inspiration, I’m reminded of the generous and gracious people who have helped me get this far. Who showed me what it means to be a leader. Who taught me how to show up as the person I really want to be. Who kindly acknowledged my failures, stood by as I climbed back up and dusted myself off, and gently pointed out spots I was likely to trip over again.
I have been truly blessed with many mentors – formal and informal – throughout my career. Somehow, these amazing women ( they are all women in my case) decided I was worthy of their investment of time, energy, and, dare I say it, love. I know for a fact that I would not be the person I am today were it not for their guidance and support over many years.
When my confidence flags, I can remember that these astonishing women see me as worthy of their time. When I’m unsure of the next right action to take, they are the first people I pick up the phone to call. And on occasion, I get the beautiful gift of giving back to them. Nothing is as wonderful as being of service to someone who has given so much to me.
Who are your mentors? How do you know that’s what they are to you? And when was the last time you told them how grateful you are for their role in your life?
We had an impromptu play date with a friend and his two year old this afternoon. Hot chocolate was made and consumed, corn bread was mixed and baked, drums were played, and pictures were drawn.
I didn’t take a single picture or even think to until our friend was long gone and Lily tucked into bed. After a brief moment of regret, I realized it was a good sign. I wasn’t thinking at all about the future during that hour and a half. Just watching two girls figure out how to crack eggs and share markers. And now I get the gift of remembering how wonderful moments can be when I just show up fully for them.
The universe has been reminding me lately just how good I’ve got it. Close calls crossing the street, news stories about parents who have outlived their children, friends who are struggling financially. It puts my life in perspective and reminds me to be grateful for what and who I’ve got in my life.
There’s a myriad of research and writing out there about the benefits of what some call a gratitude practice. Acknowledging on a regular basis what we’re grateful for seems to, at the very base of it, make us happier. Makes sense. So I tried gratitude journals. I’ve even tried a gratitude blog. Truth be told, I was no good at either. I’d build up some steam and then lose it again just as quickly. But in the process, I discovered that acknowledging what I’m grateful for each day does in fact open up a new space in my heart.
So I continue to practice. I’ve found just thinking it isn’t quite enough. And since I can’t seem to write it down regularly, I just speak it. If I’m grateful to someone for something, I tell them so. And everything else? I say it out loud before I go to sleep. To no one in particular, or to the universe, depending on who I think is listening that day.
What are you grateful for? What does knowing that you’re grateful do to your awareness? Your mood?
Sun streamed through the front window. For the first time in days, I turned off the lights. They weren’t necessary.
I walked through the house and out the back door. The garbage needed to go out. Stepped outside. Cloudy. Snowing.
Back inside, sun still poured through the front window.
I’m sure this is a living metaphor for something. I just don’t know what.
Meanwhile, I’ll take it as a reminder that what you see depends entirely on where you look.
Lily was pissed. I had declined to give her something she really wanted. Really. Wanted. (What was it that was so important? I don’t remember.)
She yelled. She kicked. She yelled some more. When she started experimenting with hitting things, I wondered aloud if banging her cup against the tub helped her feel better.
“Noooo!” she wailed. “I’m never going to feel better!”
Sometimes it’s all we can do to get through this gloomy minute. And then the next. And then the next.
And sometimes we just need to bash a cup against the side of the tub until it turns into a song.
I'm interested in what keeps us engaged in our work, the world, and each other.