As an investment banker in the early 2000’s, when the clock rolled around to 5pm, my day was just getting started. While the senior MD’s were checking their watches to see what express trains could get them home at a reasonable hour, myself and the other junior staffers were gearing up for a grueling night ahead – pillows at the ready in case we needed to nap under our desks before sunrise.
Burnout in the banking industry was acceptable and inevitable. The job was self-selecting: If you didn’t want to deal with it, you’d need not apply. Unproductive face-time, needless fire drills, and unwarranted deadlines were embedded in the culture and buoyed by management. If I wanted to keep my job and the nice paychecks, I had to figure out a way to deal with burnout.
Fast-forward fifteen plus years and although I’m now my own boss, burnout is still trying to flirt with me, desperately angling for a way to stay relevant in my life.
This time, burnout isn’t being thrown at me by the external powers of office culture and politics, its being kindled by those nefarious feelings of “not enoughness” that live within all of us.
The feeling of not being “enough”, a neologism with a yet undetermined source, has quietly made its way into modern society at pandemic levels, slowly chipping away at the innate human joys that come from indulging in “unproductive” time – dare I say rest time.
When we don’t feel like we’re enough – not worthy, not valid, not good enough when compared to our competition – we often push ourselves to work even harder. We force ourselves to put in more hours at the computer screen and more late nights in exchange for more anxiety, fewer vacations, and less sleep. The upshot? More burnout.
Not feeling like we’re enough is indirectly fueled by an ever-changing, fast-paced, technologically-always-on world where social media is king and where FOMO reigns. If you own a smartphone, enoughness will try to get its way with you by making you feel you’re not followed enough, not influential enough, not handsome enough, not rich enough, or not smart enough. These thoughts are then internalized. We identify with them. And… voila, the feeling of not being enough grinds in deep, making its home in our psyche.
The action that follows is the only solution we’ve been almost puritanically conditioned to believe will fix things: work more. Because isn’t it the truth that if you work harder, you’ll achieve more, be more, make more and win?
The problem is, we’ve only been told half of the story. The missing half is far more important for our well-being: if you overwork yourself, you can break – physically, mentally, and spiritually. And then you’ve set yourself back by miles, trying to recover from burning the candle at both ends.
The funny thing is you were always enough in the first place. Only by making comparisons, needlessly competing with others, living in a scarcity mindset, and turning queues from social media into feelings of lack, did you trick yourself into thinking you’re something you’re not.
Sages and great thinkers since time immemorial have warned us about this natural tendency to lose ourselves in a grass-is-always-greener mindset. The lesson was once so elegantly summarized by 13th century Persian poet, Rumi: “You wander from room to room hunting for the diamond necklace that is already around your neck”.
Repeat after me. You are enough. Your bucket is already full. Just by living and breathing and being you on this planet, you are valid. You are worthy.
By reminding ourselves – multiple times per day if need be – that we are always enough, that we are love, that we live in a state of abundance, and that “letting go” is ok, can we avoid getting closer to that teetering edge of burnout.
When we internalize the message that we’re indeed enough, its easier to slow down, it’s easier to find joy in the little things, it’s easier to value downtime and rest guilt-free. Cutting your day short to take a walk becomes more routine. Taking 20 minutes to meditate, a no-brainer. Crossing off full days to rejuvenate during the summer months becomes personally acceptable.
When we can all begin resetting our feelings around enoughness, burnout will gradually start making its way out of our discussions around work-life balance while productivity will get a chance to truly spread its wings. And that’s also when we will become freer to thrive.
This post was originally published on LinkedIn.com