Burnout; NO

Burning rings of something unrelated to activism but pretty nonetheless

When I was a student activist, “burnout” was a very common term. What it means, in a nutshell, is that when a person puts their heart and soul into something (say an event) and it utterly consumes them as to where they have nothing left of them after that something as either come to fruition, expired, or they give up on that something for sheer lack of energy. Those of you lucky enough to have received an education may know what I mean, especially if it was a demanding college education. You toiled for months and months to make those A’s and B’s and, when winter rolls around, you bring home a sack of laundry to Mom just to climb into your warm old bed to go to sleep…and then you didn’t wake up for three whole days. After that three day period you would probably throw up if someone told you to write another paper.

When I was a student activist, there was a year when I put my heart and soul and mind into an organization for essentially nothing (there was a stipend though, which was nice). I was going to college full time with overloaded credits, working for the organization for anything from 10-25 hours a week, and managing my extracurriculars which were also centered around student activism. I traveled across the country for this organization, I helped organize a sizable conference. I got good grades. I did it all. But it wasn’t all sunny. My relationships suffered. I never talked to my family (too busy). I never talked to my friends (too busy). I got into a relationship and, thank God she was the One because, I was so grouchy all the time from lack of sleep I treated her like crap (too busy to be nice). I went months without sleeping more than 4 hours a night.
After it was over, I had nothing left. Thankfully my job that summer I finished my “work marathon” wasn’t taxing because every aspect of my life was like hot wax that had been burned away. I gained weight because I didn’t feel like exercising. I overslept because I didn’t feel like getting up anymore. I didn’t look nice when I went into work because I didn’t feel like it. I never volunteered to help anyone because…you guessed it…I didn’t feel like it. I still didn’t call my family. I didn’t go to visit anyone. I just turned into a blob that worked at a pizza place during my time off where I ate like a blob and behaved like a blob. I couldn’t feel my values anymore. I couldn’t feel my passion. I couldn’t feel. I was burned out.

There was a reason that this was such a common term in student activism. It was because student activism is a culture where it is all, “now now now” and “do do do” and “what do we want? [insert here what we wanted] When do we want it? NOW”. You see my point. The problem in student activist circles is not the passion. The passion is amazing. It’s completely energizing and purposeful. The way that student activists tend to channel energy or how they encourage each other to channel energy, however, is the downfall. “Right now give all you’ve got” take precedence over careful planning, consideration, thought, politics, and patience. AH, youth. It took me leaving those circles to realize that, in my view, the “right now everything” philosophy is hurting progress.

Nowadays I choose to take a different approach. When I don’t want to do something or I don’t think that I can’t do it well in the time resources I still have (and it shouldn’t be done if it’s not well done) I say no. NO. Those two letters took me three years of student activism to realize they were the key to the path less traveled. I no longer forsake all of my personal life for a cause or an action. Knowledge is ever-evolving; it is never wise to put all of our eggs in one basket nor does it lead to a healthy, rich life. There are very few circumstances where I believe the surrounding environment calls one to give it everything they’ve got (but there are some). For me, when I am approached with a call to action, I ask several questions. Think of this as a flow chart where saying “no” on any level leads to a “no” answer.

  • Am I qualified?
  • Do I have the time resources?
  • Does this need to be done well?
  • Do I have the extra time resources to do it well?
  • Is this the right time for this action?
  • Is there an effective route this action could take if done at a later time?
  • If so, can it wait until that time?

I love helping people. That is precisely my problem. Like a person with a tendency to get into debt, I have a tendency to get into time debt. It’s a problem. Now I am paid off and I have my rules to follow. It’s not that I’m trying to hurt anyone by saying no. Ultimately, I am helping them: they should either find someone else that can do what they are asking or become more self-sufficient themselves.

Let us eradicate burnout with N-O. Join me.

(c) Ada Vaskys

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