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Burnout is a Result of Lack of Skills, Not a Lack of Character

Burnout isn't a personal failing - it's simply a lack of skills.

knight wearing armor and holding two-handed sword
knight wearing armor and holding two-handed sword

Admitting that you are burned out still has a social stigma attached to it.  While it’s more socially acceptable than admitting that you are depressed, there’s still the mistaken belief that burnout is a result of a lack of character instead of the truth that it’s a lack of skills.

In today’s world, few people know how to sew their own clothes.  A hundred years ago, it was shameful to say that you didn’t know basic sewing techniques.  Today, we don’t shame people for not knowing how to sew, we teach them how to sew when necessary – mostly through YouTube videos.  People with burnout today are sometimes shamed or shunned by society for their lack of character.  How long will it take before we understand that burnout is a lack of skills just like any other lack of skill, and those skills can be taught?

Burnout has been characterized by exhaustion, cynicism, and inefficacy.  Feelings of inefficacy are the driver in this definition of burnout, because cynicism is the result of a lack of feeling like you can have an impact, and exhaustion is simply the result of working hard – whether you’re effective or not.  Burnout is, then, as simple as becoming effective.  Like many things in life, some skills development can send you soaring to new heights.

The Skills

What skills, then, are missing?  What things does someone in burnout need to be able to evacuate themselves from the neighborhood of burnout?  Here are a few of the keys:

  1. Self-Talk – If you want to avoid burnout – or recover from it – you must treat yourself as a valuable human being.  Most people berate themselves and haven’t learned the skills associated with accepting themselves for who they are, faults and all.
  2. Accepting Self-Efficacy – It’s a skill to listen to someone compliment you on something you did and simply say “Thank you.”  No arguments about it was nothing.  Not dismissal that they don’t know what they’re talking about or that they don’t understand.  Simply, accepting that you do get things accomplished, at least sometimes.
  3. Self-Care – Put your own mask on before helping others.  We’ve all heard it, but rarely do we do it.  Rarely do we think that we’ve got to make sure we’re taking care of ourselves instead of taking care of our commitments to others.  Learning appropriate self-care is not self-indulgence: it’s a skill.
  4. Saying No – Our two-year-old selves mastered a skill that we’ve forgotten.  We knew how to say no, then as we grew and became more socialized, we forgot how to say no.  In our quest to be liked and respected, we felt like no was no longer an option.  However, no is not only an option, it may be the only option if you can’t find the personal agency necessary to meet your own needs.
  5. Asking for Help – The ideal of the rugged cowboy charging across the American plains to conquer the new frontier is a myth.  Groups of families crossed the plains in wagon trains so that they could “circle the wagons” to protect and support each other.  It’s a skill to be able to ask for the help you need from people who are safe and willing to support you.
  6. Letting Go – Buddha said that our suffering comes from our attachment to things.  Whether you subscribe to this philosophy or not, we have all held too tightly onto things that we needed to let go of.  Learning when it’s the right time to let go is a skill.
  7. Accepting Change – Our lives are filled with change.  None of us live inside a change-proof bubble.  Learning the skill of accepting change frees us from the fear that change sometimes brings.

The Journey

There are many more skills that are helpful, but not required, to avoid or recover from burnout.  It’s not that someone instantly learns the skills they need to become invulnerable to burnout.  It’s a journey in life that builds skills to make burnout less likely.  You’re not bad or broken because you’ve got burnout.  You’re just waiting to develop the skills you need.

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