I remember when I was in my twenties being really critical of the phrase “burn out.” More specifically, I was critical of the people who burned out. Clearly burnouts didn’t have enough passion; obviously they weren’t as happy about their jobs as they should be. They must have lacked gratitude or skill or something. “When you’re doing the Lord’s work,” I reasoned, “there’s no way you can burn out.”
And then, slowly, after 8, 9, 10 years of doing the same job at the same church with the same people, I felt myself nearing burnout. Suddenly it wasn’t the unforgiveable sin. Maybe burnout was merely a signal, a warning light God uses to pace his people, encourage their rest and productivity, and prioritize his purposes over our work.
If you’re sensing burnout in the work you do or if you burned out years ago, here are a few ways to rekindle the flame:
- Admit it. It’s OK to admit you’re losing steam. Take some time to pray and let God know you’re struggling with your work and where it’s headed. Over time you might gain some clarity on whether you’re simply in a season of slump, or you need a change.
- Make the most out of your schedule. It’s tempting to sit back and complain when you’re burning out. Resist the urge! Stay on track. Keep up your work, however mediocre or uninspired it may feel. To help with the boredom and frustration, consider tweaking your schedule. I have a quote on my desk that says, “Building a schedule that protects your love for what you do is critical to optimizing the quality of your life and your work.” It inspires me to be intentional with my time, creating space for “big picture thinking,” daily tasks, research and creative projects. I also have the luxury of leaving the office every once in a while. If you can do that, go for it! A change in place can inspire you.
- Take breaks. If you’re burnt out, it likely means you’ve been “burning” a long time. It’s natural to lose steam when you’ve been devoted to the same task(s) for a while. Is there a weekend you can go out of town and stay away from work? Can you add 10 minute breaks to your workday? Should you break from work completely when you’re home? Are there some parts of your job you can delegate (temporarily or permanently) to others so you can take a break from projects that are particularly taxing? It’s OK—good, even—to take breaks. The work will be there when you get back. (And you might even do better work if you take a break.)
- Connect to your “Source/source.” The capital “S” here would be God. Prayer, scripture, Sabbath rest, a community of friends and worship are always places you can go to connect with God and remember why you do what you do. The lowercase “s” is anything else that energizes you. For me it’s people. When I’m getting fed up with tasks, projects and deadlines, I make a point to schedule coffee with a person. Hearing about their lives and engaging in what’s going on in their hearts reminds me of God’s bigger picture and my part in it. Instant energy! For you this might be a conference, a mentor, books, movies, companies you admire, etc.
- Take time to re-evaluate. Pay attention to your progress. Are you feeling better about things? Enjoying your work more or at least staying connected to its purpose? Should you talk to your boss about how you’re feeling? God probably doesn’t want you slouching through life, miserable in your job. Maybe it’s time for a change in circumstances or perspective.
Burnout is common, but it’s not the best place to be. If you’re proactive in your work and purposeful in your reflection, you can avoid burnout all together or allow it to lead you into greater purpose in your vocation.Photo by Daniel Rocal.