15 Questions to Avoid Burnout

This week, I lead a seminar on “burnout” for instructors. Ironically, I’d been feeling disengaged, exhausted, bored, and unmotivated myself. Sometimes, I have weeks when teaching and writing seem to have lost all meaning. 

I’m burned out. 
I decided to work through the same questions I ask graduate students and instructors this week, and by the end, I find renewed zeal for teaching and writing. The questions help us pinpoint sources of burnout and make prompt changes. Maybe these will help you or someone you care about. 
Reflection Questions for Burnout 
 1. Some psychologists claim burnout is about a lack of balance between the social, creative, physical, emotional, and vocational parts of your life. Can you identify what’s out of balance in your own life this month? What do you need more of, and what do you need less of?
 2. Have you recently felt like your work has no meaning? Take a moment and reflect on what is meaningful to you about your work.
 3. Sometimes burnout comes because we’ve lost our confidence in our work. Has something happened recently that made you feel inadequate, unintelligent, or unprepared? Counter this experience by reflecting on three areas of expertise you have. What makes you great in your work? 
 4. Do you feel emotionally absent from your work? What is causing the biggest distraction from your work? How can you be emotionally present?

5. Do you feel like you have enough autonomy? Why or why not? 

6. How long has it been since you’ve encountered the mystery and wonder in your field? Have you lost your curiosity? What can you do to rediscover it? Are you studying something new?  
7. Do you tend to have “fallow seasons” and “fruitful seasons” of your work life? Is the spring generally less energized than the fall?  How do you manage the year in terms of productivity versus “hibernation?”

8. What do you love most about your work? What brings you the most happiness in your career?

9.  What do you love least about your work? Why? Is there a way to reform this activity into something enjoyable?

10. Some psychologists suggest that burnout often flows from toxic or oppressive work environments. Do you find that you’re mostly around cynical, negative, complaining folks or hopeful, positive, celebrating folks? Are most of your work conversations embittered and resentful?

 11. How do you set appropriate boundaries with your workload? Are you “always available”? What can you do today to make yourself less available even while increasing your emotional presence?
 12. One doctor told me that the average person cannot list five ways to relax after a stressful day.  Can you? List five ways you know help you relax.

13. In a department where you might not be recognized or receive awards, where will your value come from?

14. In what ways are you exercising creativity during the day?

 15. Do you feel isolated? What can you do to reconnect with people and become part of a flourishing community?
These questions might direct us to sources of burnout. I hope you feel renewed in your work today.

Is there anything you would add to this list?


I Hear Things Melting

All morning at my desk, I hear the drip, drip, dripping of melting snow and ice. We’re thawing, folks. Water trickles down the gutters and flows into great puddles.

It’s a beautiful sound.

I love to hear the work of thawing. Those icicles and snow banks stand no chance against this bright March sun. 

I turn my face to that sun and bask a bit. I find myself asking God to thaw me, too. Just this morning, my friend, Nature Girl, tells me to “take my cues from nature today.” She the same friend who tells me to remember that things “just take time.” She reminds me that what nature does, perhaps I should do today. 

I think about this all morning. Well, nature’s defrosting today. Maybe that’s what I need. 

In Psalm 147:17, I read that “He sends his word and melts them; he stirs up his breezes, and the waters flow.” Today, I want God to thaw any icy, hardened thing in me. I want to stay soft and flowing and sensitive to the Spirit. 

So I keep my whole face to the sun and bask some more. 

 It’s fun to take a cue from creation, isn’t it? What’s nature doing in your part of the world?


Goodnight Toes: A Tuck In Blessing

My daughters are too old for the “tuck in blessing” I performed when they were toddlers. Back then, they loved how I put each and every body part to sleep and then blessed it. I’d ask God to take those little feet to extraordinary places. I invoked a blessing over the knees so God might strengthen them for the new day.

Thighs, hips, tummies, hearts, shoulders, elbows, wrists, and delicate fingers. Chins, mouths, noses, and eyes. Minds. Hair growing on heads.

Each part was tucked in for the evening and blessed.

Last night, I don’t know what comes over me, but I ask my older daughters if they want the tuck in blessing. “You mean Night-Night Toes?” They remember.

I bless their eyes so God will illuminate the beauty and wonder of the world in what they see. I bless their mouths–the ones filling up with adult teeth–so they would speak joy and kindness out to the world.

Goodnight toes. Goodnight hair. I’m glad I brought back the full body tuck in blessing.

Wouldn’t you like to be tucked in tonight with a full body blessing?


Just Bring Flowers

With school canceled due to an impending snow storm, we stay warm inside and have a quiet day.

It’s dreary.

But then I observe my favorite flower–the Stargazer Lily– and my new favorite, Orange Ranunculus, in the bouquet a dear friend purchased for me last night.

A bouquet of fresh cut flowers represents undeserved luxury today; fresh cut flowers taunt that heavy, persistent snow outside.

My daughter points out how many unopened blooms wait in that bouquet. Several ranunculus and one or two more lilies will bloom in days to come.

Bringing someone beautiful flowers is one way to live with flair. These flowers cost only a few dollars, and they bring so much joy.

Besides flowers, what else brings some joy in a long winter? 


Stay Quiet, Look for Clues

A writer’s life has seasons, too. After output, you gather yourself back in, plant new seeds, and let things percolate deep inside until they’re ready to emerge. You stay quiet. You think. You watch the snow fall and listen to music. You reread old poetry books.

You discover dusty old college papers about language–when poetry was a matter of life and death–and realize you can’t recall what it felt like to experience things so deeply.

Back then, I used to walk around and quote Walt Whitman, and I wonder why twenty years later I don’t.

Maybe I should.

I find these words of old Walt in college notes. He proclaims, “I fully believe in a clue and purpose in Nature, entire and several; and that invisible spiritual results, just as real and definite as the visible, eventuate all concrete life and all materialism.” His writing gave me my Live with Flair mission; I’m looking for clues, and I simply cannot stop.

I find myself loving poetry again, especially when Whitman explains, “The greatest poet hardly knows pettiness or triviality. If he breathes into any thing that was before thought small, it dilates with the grandeur and life of the universe.” Yes, let this very common day dilate with grandeur. Let us not know pettiness or triviality.

It’s a quiet, snowy Saturday. God’s grandeur is here.

Did you read Walt Whitman when you were young?


Ready If You Need It

Two days ago, I bake six chicken breasts (with a little olive oil, salt, and pepper) at 400 degrees for 40 minutes. I have the genius idea of chopping the baked chicken and freezing it in servings for future chicken pot pies, casseroles, or salads.

This has never occurred to me before. I’m good at reflecting, not thinking ahead.

When I find myself ready to cook dinner (but not quite back to full health), I’m so thankful for a frozen pie crust, frozen veggies, and frozen chopped chicken. After defrosting, the total prep time for that particular dinner is a whopping two minutes. It bakes for an hour, and then everyone rejoices over chicken pot pie. 

I still have four more frozen servings of chicken, and this morning I think of how they’re ready for my friend who just had a baby or any neighbor in need of a meal. Sure enough, my neighbor has to stay overnight in the hospital with stomach pain, so I tell the family I’ll take care of dinner.

Oh, how will I ever find the time?

Two minutes later, I’m relaxing on the couch.

I just love thinking ahead. I want to think ahead better!


Don’t Forget to Convalesce

Years ago, a nurse told me that the day you feel better after an illness is the day you should get back in bed.

“But I feel better,” I explained.

“You need one more day.”

I learn that folks make the mistake of diving back into life too quickly after an illness. They forget to convalesce. Convalesce–a great verb–means to recover one’s health and strength after an illness. In fact, there’s a whole protocol for convalescence after stomach bugs. For several days, you eat only certain foods to allow the body to slowly recover. For several days, even when you feel good again, you must rest.

You’re convalescing. That’s the work you’re doing.

Living with flair means you don’t forget to convalesce after illness of all varieties. When you take spiritual, emotional, or physical hits, you must convalesce. Take another week if you have to. You’re recovering.

My recipe for convalescence includes jello and crackers! 


It’s Going To Take Some Time

Last night, my friend Jo comforts me by saying, “It just takes time. It’s going to take some time.” As you know, I’m not very good at being sick. I’m not brave, stoic, or positive while vomiting or fighting the chills.

I’m dramatic, negative, and hopeless. I see no end to it. My friend just keeps soothing me with her quiet voice on the phone: It just takes time.

I remember from Ecclesiastes the wise words that “He has made everything beautiful in its time.” In Ecclesiastes 3, I recall the wonder that there’s a time for everything, and it’s not all going to be happy or fun.

“There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under the heavens:

a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,
a time to weep and a time to laugh, 
a time to mourn and a time to dance,
a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing, 
a time to search and a time to give up,
a time to keep and a time to throw away,
a time to tear and a time to mend,
a time to be silent and a time to speak,
a time to love and a time to hate,
a time for war and a time for peace.”
I’m so thankful that “in its time”, God makes all things beautiful. But it’s going to take some time.
Sure enough, I’m starting to feel like myself again. 
Don’t you love this passage of scripture? 

At Just the Right Time: 2 Bright Spots on a Miserable Day

Day two of this virus has me curled in bed (this will be short!). Nothing’s changed! I’m still so sick! Just as I consider that God has forgotten me, I read the words of my new favorite blogger over at Hopefully Devoted. Today, she writes about Jericho. She says this:

“I wonder how the Israelites must have felt, walking around the city day after day and seeing no change in the wall. I think about the things I have been (metaphorically) marching around. I realize that no change doesn’t mean God isn’t present, it doesn’t mean God isn’t at work. No change means I’ve been given an opportunity to put my faith, my trust in God. God brings us to Jericho to mature our faith, to take us out of our comfort zone, to get us to make a leap of faith, to show us his faithfulness.” Read more.

She often sees “no change” with her health, and yet she knows God is still working.

And then, just as I began to worry about who would cook dinner tonight, my amazing neighbor arrives with a gift certificate to a restaurant so my husband can just take the girls to dinner after work. (Thank you, Jenny Kelly!)

Nothing’s changed with this sickness, but God is working and even blessing.
I hope you are having some bright spots today.