Influencing Your Response to Control and Minimizing Burnout

While burnout is classically defined as exhaustion, cynicism, and inefficacy, it’s inefficacy that drives burnout.  When you don’t have control, you can’t feel effective.  So, when you don’t have control, how do you stay out of burnout?

Control as an Absolute

We tend to see things in black and white.  It’s either on or it’s off.  We have control, or we have no control.  However, the truth is that the control we have is always just a degree of influence.  When we have a large degree of influence, we feel as if we’re in control of the situation.  However, there are always forces outside your sphere of influence that may get in the way.

We say that we’re in control of our car while driving.  However, the truth is that patches of ice, snow, or other vehicles may impact our ability to “control” our car.  Most people who’ve driven a boat or plane inherently have a sense for the degree to which they influence the craft – rather than the degree to which they control it.

The first thing we must do when we’re fighting burnout with a lack of control is to recognize that there is no thing called “control.”

Measuring Influence

Once we’ve let go of the illusion of control, we can begin to look at our degree of influence.  We may have a large degree of influence as in the normal case of driving a car and a lesser degree when piloting an airplane or boat.  So, when determining whether we’re effective, we need to assess how much influence we do have – and how much we expect to have.

No one would have expected that Mahatma Gandhi would have led a peaceful revolution.  He had nothing sufficient to draw upon to reach the outcomes that he wanted – however, through his persistence, he accomplished the labor reforms that he sought for the Indian people.  A self-described shy and quiet man accomplished a revolution.  How much influence did he have?  A great deal.  How much should he have had?  Not as much.

When Rosa Parks made the decision in exhaustion to not give up her seat on the bus, she became the flashpoint for a civil rights movement.  Her relationships helped connect her cause with a young, capable orator-preacher by the name of Dr. King, who would use Parks’ citation as a tool to free black Americans from what might be called second slavery.  Did Parks or King singularly have much influence before this event?  Some to be sure, but they were able to create huge influence – but only through perseverance.  Most people have forgotten that the Montgomery Bus boycott lasted 381 days.

What You Can Control

That may seem all well and good for a few isolated historical cases, but what about you and your control of your own burnout?  The answer is in the question.  If you want to prevent burnout while you’re in a situation you have no control over, find the things that you do have control over – and control them.  Influence your thoughts and behaviors in ways that are life-giving to you, and create the opportunities to stand at the moments when history can be made.

You may be thinking that you’re just a nobody.  Someone who can’t make big things happen.  However, everyone above were ordinary people.  They just wanted to go to work and take care of families – until they were moved by a passion.  They harnessed this passion to control what they did, and in doing so created more change and demonstrated more efficacy than anyone could have ever imagined.

Burnout Support in an Age of Diseases

As a society, we’ve become less socially connected than we used to be.  We have Facebook friends, but rarely can we spend face-to-face time with our real friends.  We text, snap, and tweet to each other but fail to tell our innermost fears and secrets – and we fail to touch one another.  Touching one another means more than physical contact. We’ve had to realize that even touching surfaces someone who is infected has touched can infect us.  However, we can “touch” someone without literally coming in contact with them.

The Need for Connection

Humans are created with an inherent need to connect with other humans.  We were designed this way.  We’ve survived this way.  We’ve thrived this way.  Our digital world makes it easier than ever to communicate with others, but somewhere along the line, we’ve confused communication with connection.

Connection is about knowing someone else.  It’s about celebrating them in their triumphs and supporting them in their losses.  We believe that we have thousands of Facebook friends, but far too few know the stories about being bullied as a child or even something as simple as your favorite color or movie.  Knowing other people has become a lost art.

Physical Touch

One of the proxies we use for knowing someone is knowing where they are by sight or touch.  Touch is a powerful tool that helps us feel connection with another person.  We literally share the same heat, and in doing so, we generate warmth between us.  While physical touch alone is not the same as a deep connection, it’s what we often use when we can’t find a connection.

Feeling connected helps us to feel supported – or like we can be supported if we have a need.

Burnout and Support

Burnout may be identified by exhaustion, cynicism, and inefficacy, but it’s created by a lack of personal agency.  Our personal agency is increased by the results we get (and accept), the support we receive from others, and the self-care we do.  Our tangible results may be hard to change (though we can shift our perceptions of those results).  How we perceive support, however, is much more malleable.

To get to support – someone being willing to do something for you – you must have some degree of connection.  You must have a belief that you know something about the other person – even if all you know is other people saying they’re a good person.  The tricky part comes when we expect that the only connection comes through physical touch – even in something as simple as a handshake or a hug.

Support without Touch

Whether you’re able to touch others on a regular basis through the kinds of social contacts that are culturally appropriate or not, you can form connections and receive support in other ways.  You may have seen people doing elbow bumps to make a safer physical connection.  But more powerfully, you can seek to understand the other person without any sort of touch.

Here are five questions you can ask if you want to develop a better understanding for others, so that you may support them or feel comfortable asking them for support:

  1. What’s your dream vacation?
  2. If you had all the money that you could ever want, what would you do?
  3. If you could leave one mark with your life, what would it be?
  4. What’s your greatest fear?
  5. Who is your favorite hero?

Listening to these questions – and the follow up questions that you ask for clarification – can illuminate who the other person longs to be and will help you understand how your request for support may actually help them fulfil their deepest desires.

Burnout Fireman

Burnout is all around you.  What are you going to do about it?  How can you be a part of the fire brigade that eliminates the burnout in others?  The same skills that have freed you from burnout can be used to help others escape burnout as well.

Fire Safety

There are two factors that will help others come to you when they’re experiencing burnout.  The first is for them to see you as safe, and the second is for them to see you as fireproof.  People are safe if they’re non-reactive and it feels like they’ve gone through the same thing.  The more you can share your experience, including how you were in burnout and how you’ve overcome it, the greater that people perceive you’ll be safe.  Coupled with a general sense of being safe, most people will reach out for help.

Being perceived as fireproof is a bit more difficult.  Others don’t want to make things worse by pulling you into burnout instead of you pulling them out of it.  They want to know that you can share their load if they bring it to you – instead of adding to it.  However, being fireproof doesn’t mean the fires will never come, and you won’t occasionally succumb to them.  Fireproof means that you can resist a degree of fire for a time.  Fireproof doesn’t mean you’ll never experience burnout again.

Making it clear to everyone that you’re able to accept a degree of their burnout without becoming cynical yourself goes a long way towards improving how safe you seem and making it possible for them to come to you.

Putting Out the Fire

Just as a fire department has tools for putting out fires, you also have tools to stop burnout.  Having learned that burnout is driven by a lack of personal agency, you can help others realize their personal agency.  Because you’re there to help them get out of burnout, you’re already filling their capacity with the support you’re providing.  More than that, your willingness to step in reinforces that their requests for support from others may be accepted as well.

You can’t completely resolve burnout in someone else by just being present and supportive – though it’s a good start.  You’ll also want to share your third-party feedback about all the things they’re getting accomplished.  By helping them more appropriately appraise their real results and helping them set realistic expectations, you can provide invaluable support for their belief in their own personal agency.

If self-care regimens are a part of your burnout recovery journey, you can share what you do to take care of yourself.  From the simple things like getting good sleep and staying hydrated to the more complex exercise and diet regimens, your experience helps them see what may work.  Even if they don’t accept your self-care approaches, the idea that everyone does self-care normalizes it and makes it more reasonable and possible for others to find a way to take care of themselves.

Last, but not least, you can share how you manage your demands and your realization that many of the demands that you feel are ones that you’ve placed on yourself – they’re not coming from other people.  It’s a difficult lesson to realize that, often, the standards we hold ourselves to for deliverables are higher than what our managers or peers expect.  Teaching this reality gives them an opportunity to calibrate their perception of the demands on them to what is really being asked for – and learn when to push back when the external demands aren’t reasonable.

You may not be able to help everyone escape the fires of burnout, but you can be of help to many people.

Defining Success to Avoid Burnout

Who do you believe is successful?  Whose success would you most like to model?  The first question may be hard, but the second one is harder.  Most people could point to successful people – actors, presidents, captains of industry, startup entrepreneurial successes, etc. – but that’s not an answer about your beliefs or what success looks like for you.  It’s a generic statement and an ability to reflect what society says success is.  The harder question is what success means to you.  If you can’t define clearly what success means to you, you may find that you end up burned out instead of successful.

Success Measures

For some, money is how they measure success.  While many people will tell you that money doesn’t buy happiness – and it’s true – that doesn’t mean some measure of success can’t be found in making money.  (By the way, money will make you a hell of a deal on a long-term lease of happiness, if you do it right.)  Money is likely to be an aspect of the way you want to measure your success – however, it’s probably not the only measure.

Fame is another candidate for a success measure, but it’s fickle.  One moment, you’re on a nationally syndicated television show, and the next, you’re scraping by and trying to figure out how to make a living.  Some icons of fame have sustained their popularity – but very, very few.  Many of the candid interviews with famous people have them lamenting the stalkers, the paparazzi, or the industry for making them conform instead of being allowed to be themselves.

Happiness is a great success measure, except few people know how to achieve it.  We are, in fact, lousy at predicting the things that will bring us happiness and lasting joy.  So, while it’s great in concept, we often marvel at the people we see who are happy but whose happiness we can find no way to replicate.  Often, we find reasons why the life they have – that they’re happy with – isn’t one we’d like to lead.

The Moving Goal

Without a specific, targeted measure of success, we’re likely to move the goal post.  Money is easy.  If you’re like most people, you want to make just a little more money to be happy.  The problem is that when you get that next raise or that little bit more money, you’ll want just a bit more.  Think about how much money you wanted to make when you first got out of school.  You’re likely making much more than that now – and are still looking to make more, just like the rest of us.

Fame can follow a similar trajectory.  If you have a hundred followers, you’d love a thousand.  If you have a thousand, you’d love to have ten thousand.  If you’ve got ten thousand followers, you’d love to have a hundred thousand.  You’re never famous enough.  There’s always someone more famous than you and some opportunity that wasn’t offered to you – no matter what the source of your fame is.

The thing we’ve got to do is nail down what we personally mean by success, so we can prevent burnout.

Defining Burnout

Burnout is typically defined as exhaustion, cynicism, and inefficacy.  The key to burnout is the feelings of inefficacy – that there is no way to get free from your current situation.  It leads to exhaustion and the question of why you’re bothering to try.  It also leads to cynicism, because people are cynical about the things they can’t change.

The problem with failing to define what success means is we keep moving those goals and therefore never reach them.  We feel like we’re a failure or simply not able to get to our goals, because we never see ourselves achieving our goals.

Defining Success and Preventing Burnout

When you can define what success means to you in clear and concrete terms, you’ll give yourself something to measure and a way to show that you are indeed making progress, and that will help to prevent burnout.

When you’re defining what success looks like, I’d encourage you to look not at your finances or the neighborhood you live in but instead about how you spend your time.

  • Do you get the choice of what to do – or do you have to do things to make money, support an appearance, or remain in good social graces?
  • How much do you get to do the things you enjoy?
  • How are you impacting others and improving their lives?

If you can answer these questions – and adjust your expectations as situations change – you may find that you’re already on your way to success.

Holiday Burnout

It’s not the holiday music.  It’s not the sappy movies with predictable endings.  It might be the endless running from shop to shop (or site to site), but it feels like more than that.  It’s the emptiness you feel when you leave your extended family, and you realize that you just don’t like them.  You know you or your spouse are related to them, but you’re not sure how.  It’s that nagging feeling that you can’t be you.

Burnout is defined as exhaustion, cynicism, and inefficacy, and of these, the inefficacy criterion is key.  When you feel like you don’t have any control, and you can’t make it better, you’re going to feel ineffective.  You’re never more keenly aware of that than when you’re under stress.

Stress

Stressors come at you from many angles during the holidays.  There’s the financial impact of the added expenses.  There’s the time impact of shopping for everyone.  More than that, there’s the stress of being around family.  Though evolution designed stress for situations where our survival was threatened, as humans, we’ve adapted it for non-survival related things.

If you’re worried how you’ll be able to buy gifts for all the children, you’ll experience the same stress that our ancestors felt when they discovered there was a lion nearby.  The only mitigating factor for us is our assessment of our capacity to address the stressor.  If you believe you’ll be able to afford all the holiday gifts, then you won’t stress about their costs.  However, nearly everyone has some form of stressor at the holidays, even if the stressor is called “in-laws” or – in some families – outlaws.

The big problem with stress is that it’s like a payday loan.  It gets you what you need in the moment, but it comes at a high cost.  Stress physiologically shuts down long-term processes – like digestion and immune system – to allow all your resources to be used for short-term challenges.  The costs to our bodies to restart these processes – or run without them – is generally much more than leaving them going all the time.

Assessment

It doesn’t exactly matter what you tell yourself about the relative degree of risk there is during the holidays.  Except for a relatively small percentage of families, the gatherings don’t result in a call to the police or fire department (burning the food and setting off the smoke detector notwithstanding).  Despite this, gatherings can be stressful.  There’s the uncomfortable conversation you’d prefer to avoid that every cousin who hasn’t seen you will start.  There are the overbearing parents who will ask you about when you’re going to have children, get married, get a job, or move out of the basement.  These conversations may be uncomfortable enough to qualify, to your mind, as a threat to your survival.

It’s easy to say that you shouldn’t care about what your family thinks, but you grew up with the knowledge that you needed to care what they thought, because you depended upon them for your survival.  The result is a deep-seated belief that a conflict with the family can be life-threatening to you – regardless of how true that is today.

Alone

The opposite side of the coin are those “still, dark moments” when you’re completely alone, and loneliness tries to creep its way into your consciousness.  Loneliness isn’t about being alone.  It’s about feeling like you’re alone.  The underlying fear is that you will remain alone – forever.  We feel the loss of relationship to others, whether it’s grandparents, parents, or estranged friends.  That loneliness can feel pervasive and overwhelming even when it’s not.

It can feel like you’re always going to be alone.  It can feel like no one can really know who you are and love you for who you are.  It’s in this loneliness that some descend through burnout – a lack of hope – into despair.  (If you believe that you might be or become suicidal, please reach out to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or visit https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org for assistance.)

However, the perception that anything will remain forever is just an illusion.  The burnout you experience from the holidays, whether from the hustle or the hush, will fade away if you can realize that you’re not in danger, and the challenges you’re facing will fade.  We can’t stop the stressors, but we can change the way we assess them.

Caregiver Burnout

Mom never used to be this way.  She used to be the vibrant force that kept the family together.  Now she’s in a memory care facility, and as I go in every day, I wonder if she’ll remember me.  It’s a scary place – for me and for her.  I feel so out of my element and unprepared.  I don’t know what will happen next or how things can get better – even though I know, in my heart of hearts, this is as good as it gets, and even it will only last so long.

The days and weeks drag on to months and years, and I wake up to realize that I resent going to the facility.  It feels like I’m stuck, like my life is on hold.  It feels like – and I hesitate to say it – I’m waiting on her to die for me to get my life back.  In a flash, I feel shame and guilt wash over me.  How could I think that about her?  What kind of monster am I?

This isn’t my story, but it’s a story that plays out in every city and town, where good, honest, and loving children are faced with caring for their elder parent.  Like a Hollywood remake, the story also plays out for parents who have special needs children, the spouse who cares for someone who brought light to their lives, and for those who have chosen to bring troubled children and adults into their lives to care for them.  It feels like burnout.  It feels like there’s nothing left to give.

Defining Burnout

Burnout has been most frequently described as exhaustion, cynicism, and inefficacy.  However, of all of these, inefficacy is the most challenging.  It’s the point of losing hope and feeling like you have no control.  Everyone experiences periods of exhaustion, and it’s possible to experience exhaustion at some of the highest points of our life but feeling ineffective can really bring us down.

We can be a caregiver when we know that things are going to get better, but, more frequently, we don’t know the ending – or we know the ending won’t be good.  If we define our progress through the lens of recovery, we know that we won’t be successful.  However, if we redefine our service as an opportunity to reduce the suffering, we have a chance of being successful.

Compassion

Compassion is seeing the suffering of another and trying to do something about it.  When we’re entering the role of the caregiver, that’s what we’re doing.  We’re intentionally deciding to be compassionate and try to make the world a better place, even when it doesn’t seem like we make it much better or for many people.  Our expectations of how compassionate we “should” be or how much of an impact we “ought to” make get in the way of us feeling good about what we are doing and accomplishing.

Compassion isn’t absolute nor without end.  Compassion is a decision to use our capacity to help others, but that capacity has limits, and that’s why it’s important to get relief.

Relief

Cynicism seeps in when we’re unable to cope with the reality we find ourselves in.  We can’t change the ultimate outcomes, and we don’t feel like we’re individually capable of carrying the load.  The solution is to ask for help.  Maybe there’s someone who can take one weekend a month of load off your plate – or even someone who can help for a few hours to take an uninterrupted bath, go to a store without fear, or one of the thousands of other things that can provide a short reprieve.  This space can allow you to see that what you’re doing is possible, and you can continue.

Caregivers who experience exhaustion and cynicism need to know that this doesn’t make them a bad person.  The caregivers around you need your support.  Caregivers aren’t always good at asking for help and have resigned themselves to an unhealthy level of burden for far too long.

If you’re a caregiver who is struggling, ask for help to get some time off.  If you know a caregiver who’s struggling, don’t wait for them to ask.  See if there’s a way that you can help.

Political Burnout

Are you tired of hearing about the president?  It doesn’t matter whether you are a supporter or a detractor, are you tired of all of it?  If you’re a supporter, the political opposition is trying to take the president down.  If you’re a not a fan, you can’t believe that he’s gotten away with so much, and it continues.  In the end, you feel like nothing that the people like you and me are doing is making a difference to the people, the system, or the outcomes – and it has us burned out.

Politicians and Political Pundits

The job of the politicians and political pundits seems to be to speak louder than their opponents, ignore what they’ve said, and speak their own rhetoric again.  This behavior seems to happen repeatedly on news channels and media of all sorts.  Neither side concedes the other’s point, and the result is the kind of incoherent noise that you find in a social gathering without any sort of unifying performance.

It’s no wonder that people need a break from this noise.  Even people who are directly in the political circles are unable to persuade people towards reason.  How is it possible for a citizen to make a difference?

Take a Timeout

If you’re getting frustrated by the lack of civility and respect necessary to listen to the opposing side, then perhaps the best response is a temporary timeout.  There’s time before the next election.  You can choose to stop listening to the political rhetoric and plan to pay attention again in enough time to be well informed for the next election.

Citizen Society

The power of the people resides in the capacity for each of us to change the course of the political discourse by choosing the actors in the discussion.  While we do not, ourselves, get to walk that stage, our ability to persuade our fellow citizens about who should best represent us, and our own vote do decide who gets to represent us.

While the process is very slow, there is a great deal of power wielded by the citizens of a community in their ability to choose their representatives.  While we can be frustrated by the course of the conversation, we are not powerless.  In fact, simple steps like changing the channels we listen to influence politicians greatly.

Change the Channel

While the politicians are set in their roles until the remainder of their term, the political pundits retain their throne by being relevant.  When people stop watching, pundits lose their power.  If you don’t believe a pundit is adding value to a conversation, stop watching or reading.  Change the channel or don’t read from websites that aren’t moving the conversation forward.  That is not to say that you shouldn’t read the opposing viewpoint, you most certainly should.  However, if you find there’s a source that’s unable to articulate both sides of the story with equal clarity, perhaps it’s time to stop using that source.

Change the Community

If you can change the channel, you can change the community.  By building bridges of understanding and working with others to improve understanding of the issues – and your perspectives – you can change the world, or at least your little corner of it, and that may be enough.

Dating Burnout

It’s another site.  Another swipe.  Another chat.  Another date.  Still nothing.  No spark, no chemistry, and no connection.  It leads to the ominous question, “What’s the point of it all?” and the threatening proclamation, “Maybe I’m just meant to be alone.”  There it is.  That one statement that lands you right in the lap of dating burnout.  Here’s what you can do about it.

Relationships are Work

Some believe, like the World Health Organization (WHO), that burnout is a work thing.  The WHO calls it an “occupational phenomenon.”  However, the exhaustion, cynicism, and feelings of inefficacy they use to describe burnout can impact any area of someone’s life, including dating.  The core of the burnout problem is that sense of inefficacy.  It’s the belief that nothing you’re doing matters, and you’ll never reach your goal.

After a breakup, it’s easy to feel ineffective.  They were supposed to be Mr. or Mrs. Right, but they weren’t.  The larger the time investment, the harder it is to believe you’ll have to start over.  Once you’ve started over, it’s hard to believe that it’s so hard to find that next person.  Maybe you message them and get no response, or you move to the first date, and you just don’t hit it off.  It’s easy to wonder when you’ll finally find someone – or if you will.

Relationships and Estimating Problems

The problem of trying to predict when you’ll find Mr. or Mrs. Right is that it is a difficult estimating problem.  Though we don’t think about it like that, we estimate when we’ll find Mr. or Mrs. Right based on the likelihood they’ll cross our path.  The problem with this idea is that we have no more idea when we’ll find the right person than we know how to pick a winning bingo card.  That is, the timing of the solution is unknowable.

One way to change the probability of winning a game of bingo is to increase the number of bingo cards.  The second way is to learn how to ensure you make every card count.

Counting Cards

If you’re committed to playing multiple bingo cards in a place where the numbers are read out fast and furious, you’re going to have to get good at marking.  You’ll need to be able to get clear on what numbers you do and don’t have and get ready for the next.  In a dating context, this means getting clearer about who you are and what you want.  The clearer you are, the faster you’ll get at sorting people into or out of the possible pile.

Working on yourself and figuring out who you are is probably the best way to attract the future Mr. or Mrs. Right to you.

Increasing the Odds

If you get burned out and decide that nothing you’re doing will ever work, you’ll stop doing anything – and that will limit your chances.  Sure, it could be the cable person, the UPS delivery driver, or the plumber who is Mr. or Mrs. Right, but it’s more likely they aren’t.  You’ll need to get out there and get more chances to find the right person.

It could mean more time on dating sites – but it might be spending more time in meetup groups, where you get together to enjoy time and don’t worry about the dating thing.  The more friends you find – particularly with diverse social circles – the more likely you’ll be to get introduced to someone who you can connect with.

Being Okay

It’s okay to not be in a relationship, no matter what the romantic comedies say.  It’s okay to be who you are without someone else until that someone else finally shows up.  You beat relationship burnout by refusing to accept that what you’re doing is pointless or hopeless, and instead insist that the right person will come your way at the right time.

How Self-Talk Leads to Burnout

We all talk to ourselves, at least inside our heads.  What we tell ourselves can help us recognize our accomplishments or cause us to believe we will never be good enough.  Negative self-talk can alter our perspective about our results and value and accelerate our journey down the path towards burnout.

What is Burnout?

Burnout is typically described as a combination of exhaustion, cynicism, and inefficacy.  Of these three, inefficacy is the causative factor leading to burnout.  We frequently use the bathtub model to describe burnout.  The bathtub is our personal agency, or ability to get things done.  Self-care, support, and results all increase our personal agency, while demands drain our personal agency.  We know that self-care, support, results, and demands all have valves that we control.  We can increase our self-care, support, and recognition of results, and we can decrease or limit our demands to maintain our personal agency and prevent burnout.  As we listen to the voice in our head, our ability to maintain our personal agency is impacted by recognizing our results, increasing self-care, and providing support for yourself.

What Do We Say to Ourselves?

Have you ever really thought about the things you say to yourself?  How often do you tell yourself what a great job you did or what a great friend you are?  Too frequently, we remind ourselves about the things we do not feel like we are accomplishing or doing well enough.  It is important to note that the voices in our heads are telling us how we feel about what we are doing.  How we feel about what we are doing may have little to do with reality and much more to do with how we view ourselves.

In my world, I frequently tell myself I am not a good enough wife.  I believe my husband listens to me better than I listen to him, goes out of his way to help me be successful, and, in general, is great support.  If you were to ask my husband, even if I am not present, he will tell you I am a wonderful and supportive wife.  In this case, who is correct?  The truth is he gets to decide if I am a good wife to him.  The voices in my head are not consistent with reality, are not helpful, and are not truth.  The voices cause me to feel bad about myself and believe I am not good enough.

Self-Care

We talk about the importance of self-care in preventing or recovering from burnout.  Listening to the voices in our head without evaluating them for truth results in self-harm.  The things we say to ourselves we would likely never say to another human being or even our pets.  Yet, daily, we tell ourselves that we are a failure or stupid.  We must change the way we talk to ourselves to build the resiliency we need to avoid burnout.

Change the Story

We hear the stories we tell ourselves, but we do not have to believe them.  We can even change them altogether.  Learning to hear the stories, evaluate them for truth, and change them to provide self-support and self-care is key to preventing burnout.  We cannot accept our self or our positive results when we consistently minimize them, saying anyone could do that, or it wasn’t that great.  Recognize the amazing things or even the good things you do and choices you make.  Maybe you are trying to eat healthier; you have one piece of candy but not the typical two or three.  Instead of telling yourself you are such a loser and can’t even resist a single piece of candy, you can compliment yourself on being able to limit yourself to a single piece.

The more we validate the stories we tell ourselves and use self-compassion, the easier it becomes to recognize the results we are getting, increase our personal agency, and stay off the path to burnout.

Parental Burnout

The hardest part about being a parent is accepting that your children won’t do what you want them to do.  Someday they’ll get old enough and out of your sight for long enough that they’ll do what they want to do – whether it’s something you agree with or not.  When you believe that you should have “raised them better” or you decide to ask yourself “where did I go wrong?”, you may be at the edge of burnout.

Defining Burnout

Burnout has most frequently described as exhaustion, cynicism, and inefficacy.  Every parent has experienced exhaustion at some point during their child’s life.  Whether it’s the first few months of interrupted sleep or running them from event to event, I’ve never met a parent who can’t identify with exhaustion.  While most parents don’t admit to being cynical, too many can share their frustration and despondence with their feelings of inefficacy.

There may not be a manual for parenting, but there certainly are many who feel like their experience is the experience by which all parenting should be measured.  It’s easy to try to measure up on every front against every parent we meet and feel like we’re completely ineffective at being a parent as a result.

But We’re Legally Responsible

Of course, there are legal responsibilities to consider until a child legally becomes an adult, but that doesn’t mean that the parents of the Columbine massacre were put on trial for the actions of their children.  As tragic as the incident was, the law didn’t hold the parents ultimately responsible for the outcomes.

In most cases, the kinds of irresponsible behavior on the part of a child doesn’t rise to life or death consequences.  It’s mostly related to the choices they make in their friends, the degree of seriousness they take for their academic studies, and the perseverance they demonstrate in their extracurricular activities.

Moving from Responsible to Responsive

You can’t be held responsible for something you can’t control.  Let that sink in for a moment.  If you can’t control it, then you can’t be held responsible.  Once children begin interacting with the world, you can’t control their actions.  The result is that, while we guide their actions and believe a combination of genetics and environment accounts for their ultimate makeup and behaviors, we still don’t have control. 

Burnout is about feeling ineffective, and if you believe you have control of someone, but you don’t, you’re bound to end up feeling disappointed and ineffective.  If you insist on a belief that isn’t or can’t be true, eventually, it will catch up with you, and you’ll have to give up the belief – or you’ll accept that you’re ineffective.

It’s entirely possible to remain convinced that you can control your children – and you’ll inevitably feel ineffective at times, and that may lead to burnout.  Conversely, if you accept that you don’t have control of your children, and you are responsive to them rather than responsible for them, you’ll find yourself free from the burdens and the risk of burnout. 

Concern without Control

As parents of seven children, we can say the hardest thing to do is to be concerned without an attempt to control the situation.  Whether it’s protecting them from the schoolyard bully or moving them to college, there’s a desire to keep them safe as well as shape their behaviors.  However, letting go of the need to control them may be the most freeing thing that we’ve ever learned.