Those of us who are service-centered professionals give a lot – our caring, empathy, nurturing energy, fueled by a passion to make things better in this world. Those very qualities, and the nature of our work can allow us to do great good. And, they can set us up to get burned out. We’re prone to pushing ourselves hard to take care of everyone and everything around us, without noticing the signs that we need a break and some caregiving too.
How can we continue to thrive in our work? It’s a big question, because the nature of what we do exposes us to things that can lead to burnout. There’s the pressure of never-ending priorities that keep us on the go until we collapse into bed late at night. There’s the frequent close, empathic contact with those undergoing major life stresses. There’s the nurturing, personal services we offer. For some of us, there are times when we’re faced with demanding, unreasonable clients. Our work might requires us to do “emotional labor,” or use energy masking our true feelings in order to act the we are told or believe we “should” (Hochschild, 1983, Lane, 2011). Over time these things can accumulate and wear us down.
I’ve certainly been on my way to burnout in times in the past, as have many colleagues. This is why burnout prevention is one of the key things I work on with my clients. Here’s what I do these days to prevent it. Maybe some of these ideas will be useful to you.
- Keep breathing room in my schedule. I schedule breaks between client appointments, breaks between intensive periods of writing, and have clear boundaries on my availability. This means being selective about what I say yes to and being willing to say no to some requests for my time.
- Avoid overscheduling extra – busy weeks. When I have things to do that consume extra time and energy, like presenting, facilitating or traveling, I plan ahead, reducing other work activities so my schedule doesn’t overfill that week.
- Be a good boss to myself. Being self-employed can easily lead to working 24-7. That’s not a good idea. I take a few hours or even a day off during the week sometimes, and take holiday and vacation breaks.
- Use self-care practices daily. I do something every day that gives me the same kind of care, compassion and support that I give to others. Making time for daily exercise is part of that.
- Listen to clients deeply and open-heartedly. I learn so much when I do that. My heart, mind and soul grow when I do that.
- Be who I really am. I don’t mean say whatever, whenever, to whomever. I mean that I find a way to share genuine thoughts and feelings in respectful ways that don’t impose or intrude on my clients. My colleague, friend and Quest member Tania Pryuptniewicz said to me recently, “Remember, you are the gift.” Holding back who I really am does not serve me or them.
- Don’t take on clients I’d prefer not work with. I’ve taught myself to pay attention to red flags that tell me the client’s expectations are unrealistic, the relationship will be difficult, or the demands unreasonable.
- Clearly identify and discuss expectations and goals from the start. I check in often about how things are going from the client’s perspective.
- Appreciate the feedback and great ideas that clients provide. Mine have come up with awesome creative ideas for my business. I am profoundly grateful for their contributions.They have let me know how working with me has made a difference for them, filling my heart with the knowledge that I have made a difference.
- Have people I can to talk to or consult with when I feel annoyed, anxious, overwhelmed or otherwise out of sync in my work.
These ideas help counteract forces of burnout and let me thrive. I’d love to hear from you. What helps you to keep thriving, even in the face of stresses that could lead to burnout?
References Hochschild, A. (1983). The managed heart: The commercialization of human feeling. Berkley, CA: University of California Press. Lane, V. (2011). The emotional labor of Early Head Start home visiting. Zero to Three Journal (32)1, 30-36. Photo: (2015). Nancy L. Seibel © 2016, Keys to Change, LLC.