What to Do When Your Personal Agency Is Empty

Burnout is what happens when you feel like you can no longer get anything done.  What do you do when you feel like your personal agency is gone – that you’re no longer effective?  The answer is to find ways to help you feel more effective.

The Bathtub

Think about your capacity to get things done as a bathtub filled with your personal agency.  If your bathtub is empty and you want to fill it, you can’t just turn on the spigot and try to fill the bathtub.  You first need to plug the drain.  Our personal agency bathtub is drained by the demands we accept.  We like to think that demands are external to us, but most of the time the demands placed on us are our own.

With a plug in the drain of the bathtub we can focus on filling it – through accepting our results, asking for help, and doing self-care.

The Demands

We all have demands placed upon us.  In most cases, the demands placed on us are smaller than the demands that we place on ourselves.  You may be asked to bring food in for a pitch in.  If you accept this demand (and you don’t necessarily have to), then you should bring in food.  However, the natural elevation of the demand is that the food must be home cooked.  Home-baked cookies might be great, but store-bought cookies work.  You’ve silently elevated the demand and made it bigger.

How can you plug the drain by not accepting any demands that you don’t need to – and not making the demands bigger than they already are?

Relishing Your Results

A pat on the back is nice.  Recognition for a job well done is appreciated, but, too often, we let the impact of those results end when the reverberation of the words leaves the room.  Everyone gets some kinds of positive results – just not all the time.  How do you relish the results that you get – and hold on to them so that you can realize you are getting things done?

More than that, how do you leverage your reputation to get to the next level?

Soliciting Support

If you want to fill your bathtub quicker, ask for help.  Ask for people to bring in buckets and start pouring some of their personal agency into your bathtub.  Maybe it’s getting a barrier out of your way.  Maybe it’s the leg up you need to overcome the next hurdle.  Whatever it is, you’re unlikely to get support from others if you don’t solicit it.


If you’re feeling that you’ve got nothing left to give anyone, it may seem like self-care is out of the question.  After all, you’ve got nothing left to give – even to yourself.  However, self-care has a magical property of increasing not only the personal agency in your bathtub but the bathtub’s size as well.  Self-care doesn’t have to be an extravagant vacation or an expensive dinner.  Self-care can simply be a few minutes of relaxation and breathing.  It can be a brief meditation – if you’re not worried about doing it wrong.  (It can’t be done wrong.)


If you can adjust all of these valves, your bathtub will be overflowing.  You can make yourself available to other demands, so that you can help others fill their empty personal agency tub and escape burnout.