I heard a piece on the radio highlighting a study that was completed by Harvard. The study questioned the validity of the idea that we are happiest when we find work that is personally meaningful. A vocation that encompasses what we love to do has long been believed to be an important ingredient in fulfillment and a sense of purpose.
This study suggested that this is not entirely true. Apparently, if we find work that we feel a strong sense of connection to, we are more likely to have difficulty taking breaks from work and tending to our other needs.
To highlight this point, the example of working in a shelter was used. It was suggested that if someone was deeply connected to their work and cared deeply for the people they provided service for, there would likely be negative repercussions for that individual.
I get the point. Being of service in the world does carry the risk of burnout and exhaustion; however, it is a risk, not an inevitable outcome. I disagree with the connection made between deep caring and sense of purpose and the experience of illness or disillusionment on the part of the professional.
It is not caring that makes us tired. It is not a sense of purpose that burns us out.
When we find ourselves exhausted, frustrated, disillusioned, and unhappy, we have crossed the bridge from caring to control ~ from purpose to identification.
We are not our jobs, the positions we hold or the roles we fulfill. We are spiritual beings having an experience here on Earth. We are here to learn, to grow, to love, to be in joy, to evolve, to connect. What we do does not give us value. We are valuable because we are.
Well, that’s how I see it anyway.
Let Yourself Care Deeply
When we overextend ourselves in the name of Service to others, we have stopped caring. If we are not included in the process of being of Service, we are not coming from a place of purpose or deep caring for others. We might be struggling to find a sense of identity or to feel worthy or valuable through service to others. And this is a recipe for disaster ~ for self-destruction ~ for burnout.
The antidote for this is not to care less. It will not serve you to be less invested in your work as a Service Provider. You will not find relief by disconnecting yourself and only being present for the first 5 or 10 minutes of your shift as was jokingly suggested in this radio show.
I believe that the exact opposite is true if we want to protect ourselves from fatigue, exhaustion and burnout. Don’t pull yourself away from what you are doing and what you are feeling ~ rather, go more deeply into your experience.
Get up close and personal with your disenchantment and frustration. Let yourself fall right into it so you can come face to face with what you are feeling. Whatever it may be ~ sadness, grief, disappointment, hopelessness, helplessness, anger ~ all those feelings that go along with the experience of burnout. Dig right into them so you can understand them initially. Ask them questions. Care about those feelings because they are part of you and your experience.
Telling yourself not to care about what you do and who you are as a Service Provider is not going to get you to where you envisioned you would be ~ what you thought you would experience when you first stepped foot on this path. You wouldn’t be feeling intense feelings of disillusionment if you didn’t care deeply in the first place. Trying to convince yourself that you are better off not caring will get you nowhere.
When we have a desire to overextend ourselves in service to others it is not about being a selfless resource of support and help for others. Rather, it has everything to do with making ourselves important to other people. The desire to overextend is an expression of our ego and our mind as opposed to an expression of our heart and spirit. And that is where the energy of Service resides.
Being of Service Requires Balls and a Big Heart
To be of service is not for everyone. It is not for the weak of heart. And it is also not for those who are interested in work as a means to an end ~ namely payday. Service is for those who feel a calling they cannot ignore to contribute to the well being of other human beings in this world in whatever way feels most aligned with their values, gifts, and intuitive guidance.
To be of service to others requires that you care very deeply ~ genuinely and authentically ~ for others and for yourself.
To be of service to others will always be most effective for the recipient and the most fulfilling for the provider when it is offered from a place of deep presence and engagement.
And to me, loving what I do and finding meaning in that are two of the most powerful motivators for enhancing my sense of presence and engagement.
Our healthcare and human service systems ~ Traditional. Alternative, and Personal ~ need as many deeply caring people as it can get its hands on.
Care more ~ love freely ~ give whole-heartedly ~ to others AND to yourself and you cannot lose.
What do you think? Can you care too much?
Another instalment in the Conscious Service Series for Helping Professionals and Personal Caregivers.