“I’m feeling a little crispy. How about you?” “Yes, satisfactorily exhausted,” my long time friend and
colleague Fran McKendree responded. We were just wrapping up a nine day gig and we were both spent…
in a good way. We chatted often about our shared work. A central theme was holding each other
accountable to truly ‘showing up’ rather than just hitting the repeat button. We learned early on that it was
always a heavy lift to authentically be present in the work, but also much more satisfying.
I work with a number of individuals who have shared with me that they are burnt out or those they lead are
burnt out, or both. Here’s what our friend Merriam-Webster says about burnout:
exhaustion of physical or emotional strength or motivation usually as a result of prolonged stress or
Recently I had a rigorous discussion with a wise friend and colleague who is a therapist. They suggested
there is a real difference between being exhausted due to prolonged physical and or intellectual engagement
and the actual emotional energy that accompanies that engagement. Satisfaction, gratification, contentment
are often manifested after significant physical or intellectual exertion. It is that feeling of being totally spent –
and – you feel a deep sense of satisfaction. In contrast, the feeling of burnout derives not from the
exhaustion of the physical or intellectual engagement. Rather, it comes from a deficit of enjoyment,
accomplishment or internal and external appreciation.
What I know personally and what I have observed working with a variety of folks is that it is not the quantity
of work per se, rather it is the quality of the experience of engaging the work. When one receives a sense of
satisfaction, enjoyment – even fun or appreciation – it directly impacts the overall experience of the work,
As importantly, I have learned there is a certain rhythm that those who rarely if ever experience burnout
seem to cultivate. They know how to set a sustainable pace. As I was going a thousand miles an hour
loading a truck with boxes with my father-in-law one day he suggested as he looked back at the warehouse
filled with more boxes, “You know, we’re going to be here all day. You might want to find a pace that you can
work all day.”
Rhythm and reward. Finding a pace and a place that creates a space of satisfaction, appreciation, joy. A
space where the heaviness of the work is clearly outweighed by the deep appreciation of using your gifts to
be engaged in the work.
For One Who Is Exhausted, a Blessing by John O’Donohue
When the rhythm of the heart becomes hectic,
Time takes on the strain until it breaks;
Then all the unattended stress falls in
On the mind like an endless, increasing weight.
The light in the mind becomes dim.
Things you could take in your stride before
Now become laborsome events of will.
Weariness invades your spirit.
Gravity begins falling inside you,
Dragging down every bone.
The tide you never valued has gone out.
And you are marooned on unsure ground.
Something within you has closed down;
And you cannot push yourself back to life.
You have been forced to enter empty time.
The desire that drove you has relinquished.
There is nothing else to do now but rest
And patiently learn to receive the self
You have forsaken in the race of days.
At first your thinking will darken
And sadness take over like listless weather.
The flow of unwept tears will frighten you.
You have traveled too fast over false ground;
Now your soul has come to take you back.
Take refuge in your senses, open up
To all the small miracles you rushed through.
Become inclined to watch the way of rain
When it falls slow and free.
Imitate the habit of twilight,
Taking time to open the well of color
That fostered the brightness of day.
Draw alongside the silence of stone
Until its calmness can claim you.
Be excessively gentle with yourself.
Stay clear of those vexed in spirit.
Learn to linger around someone of ease
Who feels they have all the time in the world.
Gradually, you will return to yourself,
Having learned a new respect for your heart
And the joy that dwells far within slow time.