Have you ever wondered what might be causing you to feel tinges of burnout? Your life’s going well. You just got a promotion at work. The kids are succeeding in school and sports. But there’s something wrong that you can’t put your finger on. Perhaps the cause of your burnout isn’t that things aren’t going well, but you’re instead making investments into people and projects, and you’re just not seeing the returns you expect. Sometimes the cause of burnout can be as simple as fixing a trade imbalance.
Sometimes, the things you do for other people generate massive value. If you’re an electrician and you help a friend fix an outlet, you’ve generated a relatively large amount of positive value from a simple interaction. It might have only taken you five or ten minutes to help solve the problem, but to your friend, the problem was either unsolvable or meant a $150 service call from an electrician. Here, there’s a “trade imbalance” – but a positive one. It’s a small amount of your effort for a large return for them. The key learning here is that the value the other person places on something you do isn’t related to the effort on your part. Instead, it’s about the value they get from it.
All is good when you put in little effort, and the friend or colleague gets a large return. However, what happens when the tables are turned, and you put in a lot of effort, but the other person doesn’t value it – or doesn’t value it in the same way? Parents may be familiar with this, when they work hard to produce a healthy and delicious meal that their children turn their noses up at. Just because the dish is more difficult to make doesn’t mean a three-year-old will value it more. The simple palates of young children are more interested in spaghetti than sushi. Here, a negative trade imbalance exists, because the effort to create the meal is greater than the value everyone obtains from it.
Looking for Negative Trade Imbalances
When we’re feeling burned out, we can sometimes trace it back to situations and relations where we feel like we’re giving more than we’re getting. The first places to look are where we feel like we’re using a large amount of energy and see if that energy is being returned. If not, we need to decide whether to disengage from that trade all together or change the way we go about it. If your children don’t value the meals you’re putting together, perhaps you can make something simpler that they’ll like just as much or more, and you’ll reduce the trade imbalance.
The second source of trade imbalances are those places where reactions are always or nearly always negative. Even if you’re not putting that much into something, to have someone constantly tell you it’s not good enough is draining. If you find the other person doesn’t appreciate what you’re doing, then perhaps it’s time to stop.
Finally, another place to locate trade imbalances is in those things that you do “just because.” Some of these “just because” items are really your self-care. They’re what you do because they fill you up. However, even these can become a burden when you’re no longer enjoying them. Sometimes, the trade imbalance is with yourself: you expect these things will bring you joy because used to, but you no longer enjoy them. If that’s the case, then just stop.
Balanced Trade Agreements
It’s time to enter into a balanced trade agreement with yourself. If you can’t – in sum – have a balanced agreement, where you’re getting out of things what you’re putting into them, then you’re putting yourself on the road to burnout. If you want to avoid the road to burnout, build more positive trade imbalances and limit or remove the negative trade imbalances, even those with yourself.