Sunday, July 15, 2012

How To Avoid Burn-out

A while ago I listened to an interesting lesson from Wayne Cordeiro, a Pastor and teacher from Hawaii. He was sharing some of his experiences with burnout and how to avoid it. This lesson is particularly helpful for anyone in the people business - teachers, health professionals, pastors, social workers, etc..., but also for anyone in a high-stress job.

Here it is in a nutshell. Each of us have a limited capacity emotionally. While we may think that we are superman or superwoman, life has a way of demonstrating how wrong we are. The landscape is strewn with many from the helping professions who have crashed and burned after pushing it too hard and too long. Each of us have to learn our limits, and ensure that we build in time and activities that refill us.

Wayne uses the analogy of an emotional fuel tank. It's something that we don't often think about, but keeping that tank full is important to our long-term success. None of us wants to become a statistic.

So, here's the question, what are the things that you do that feed you emotionally; that help you feel better about life; that recharge your batteries? For some that may be long walks, sports, reading, traveling, going to the beach, gardening or any number of things. Whatever they are, you need to identify them, and you need to make them a regular part of your routine.

This seems counter-intuitive for many "Type-A"personalities, who tend to feel that they have to always be on the go. The truth is, without recharging, you are likely hurting your long-term productivity. I know, in my experience, sometimes the schedule has gotten away from me and, inevitably, what ends up getting dropped is the "me" time. The tank is then depleted and, if it goes too long, emotional damage is done.

I experienced this a few years ago in my own ministry. The church was growing, I was getting busier; trying to launch new initiatives and keep the ball rolling. I was trying to help others with their problems. I had other stresses in my life that contributed to a mounting sense that I was losing control. It took me longer and used more energy to do what I used to do. All I knew was that I stopped caring - and that's not a good place to be in ministry.

Thankfully, I had an understanding Board and a caring church family that allowed me to take the time I needed to get myself right. I learned some lessons the hard way during that time. Here are some of the bigger ones.

There's only one God, and I'm not Him.
Pastors, in particular, can tend to fall into this trap where they feel that they have to save the world. The truth is that we're all only human, with very real limitations. I've had to learn that there are some situations that are beyond my control. I've preached on this verse for years, but learned through these experiences just how true it is:  "Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus." (Philippians 4:6-7) Remember, as well, that none of us are indispensable.

Build margin and stay away from the edge.
What this simply means is that you have to choose carefully where you will spend your time. There are two opposite temptations for pastors: one is to become a workaholic and never take time for themselves; the other is to be lazy and to neglect their ministry. Both are wrong and damaging in their own way. The key is balance. If you are going to take time for yourself you have to build that into your schedule and you have to learn to say no (something I have a hard time with). Learn to prioritize, remember the Pareto Principle: 20% of your activity will provide 80% of the productivity.

Know yourself.
You need to be able to tell when your stress level is rising and you need to know what to do about it. In this case especially, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. When you sense the pressure building, offload the stressors if you can and do something to recharge. It's better to take a couple of days sooner, then be forced to take a few weeks or months later. 

Identify what gives you energy and what takes it away.
There are some things in my ministry that I do because I have to - they're part of the job. There are other parts of my job that I love to do. When you find your energy level being depleted, do your best to focus on the parts that you love, where your passions lie. 

We can be healthy, and we need to be healthy if we're going to continue to be of use to others. Ask yourself this, on a scale of 1-10, what would be the level in your emotional tank? If it's dropping down below 5, what can you do to get it back up in the healthy range? If you're running on empty, who do you need to talk to who can help you? Take care of yourself. Life is hard but God is good.

Related Articles:
Book Review: "The Me I Want To Be"
Caring Enough to Confront
The Pareto Principle
Authentic Leadership
Book Review: The Leadership Secrets of Billy Graham

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