Holding on to Burnout

October 16, 2014

Geoffrey Fairchild on Flickr

Don’t you just hate running around all day, schedule packed to the brim, phone buzzing every five minutes? It’s crazy! No human should have to live like that, constantly frazzled.

If you live like that, you probably promise yourself to slow down one day, but you haven’t yet. You actually do choose that life. As my Landmark Forum coach would’ve said, “You love it!”

I know I have uttered the words, “I’m just so busy,” with a bit of pride. What I’m really saying is, “Aren’t I important?” I used to tell myself that one day I’d slow down, but I never did, because the busy-ness, while exhausting, was a cozy validation of my ego. It’s a great excuse not to deal with important relationship problems or personal values issues.

***

It’s a big problem in the startup and corporate world. Burnout is intrinsically tied to the identity of an entrepreneur or a rising executive. If you’re in that world, you know your peers expect it of you and you expect it of yourself.

Many people, it turns out, tie in this frantic, exhausted, coffee-addicted lifestyle to being an entrepreneur. It’s a classic story:

Rising from the streets, John Smith worked two jobs until 10pm, then went home to his studio apartment to work on his budding startup, living on ramen and pizza to save money and time, went to bed at 2am every night only to rise at 6am to get in a quick jog before heading into work again. He spent his free time hustling, making connections, and rehearsing his investor pitch. Sure it was exhausting, but he was high on the exhilaration, driven by the promise of a better life.

This American classic is a staple of our pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps mythos. The stories abound. The Pursuit of Happyness is a great example. But in that story, Chris Gardner really was up against insane odds. He wasn’t playing a part. He was just getting things done.

A friend invited me to join his startup, which I agreed to. But when he heard my nonchalant response, he grew skeptical. He said to me, “Khaled, you can’t be so chill about this. It’s gonna take pulling all-nighters. You have to be 150% in — no, 200% — or it’s just not going to work. I need people I can rely on.”

He was really hung up on this unhealthy definition of an entrepreneur, more concerned with looking the part than actually getting the idea off the ground.

Nobody enjoys burnout, but can come to define us. We get as attached to it for self-definition as we are to our choking neckties and cramping high heels.

***

The reality is that the exhaustion is not a necessary part of the identity. Startup founders, executives, nonprofit leaders, and social entrepreneurs are ultimately judged by what they create, not how busy they are.

You may be thinking that these jobs tackle such huge problems with so few resources that there is no other choice, and it’s definitely true that success in these fields requires you to work hard and long.

But there is a difference between worrying about a thing and actually getting it done.

  • You can be mindful of your spending without worrying about money all the time
  • You can get a job done without becoming emotionally dependent on its outcome
  • You can recognize the magnitude of a task without making a thing of it

The doing and how we feel about it are totally different. We might think we have to be emotionally invested to put in our best effort. But that’s not true. Using our work to validate our egos is actually very limiting, because as soon as it stops serving us, we will no longer be committed to it.

You shouldn’t do something because you are proud of doing it. You should do it because it is good work.

If your practice is good, you may become proud of it. What you do is good, but something more is added to it. Pride is extra. Right effort is to get rid of something extra. – Shunryu Suzuki-roshi (1905 – 1971)

The essential skill here is separating our emotional attachment from the circumstance. We do a job, but it doesn’t define us. We attend to our finances but we don’t fret over them. We appreciate our children without setting them up as validation for our parenting.

It’s hard to let go of those emotional attachments, but you’ll notice that all the attachments mentioned above exist to protect and assert a person’s identity. They have nothing to do with actually doing good work in the world.

The small self is concerned with asserting its own importance. The large self can let go of that in order to actually get stuff done.

What’s one area where your small self is getting more attention than it needs to?

Thanks in advance for your comments, and if you found this post useful (or agitating in a positive way…) please share it with your friends.

(***

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Big Problems, and A Promise

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October 8, 2014

Sitting in the ER last night, I wondered where I had gone astray. When did the biggest concern in my world boil down to getting my next paycheck? When did I stop building things? When did my view shrink from four years to four weeks?

When did I start turning away from things that were challenging, instead of reaching for them and reveling in the stretch?

Sitting in the emergency room tends to bring out these sorts of introspective thoughts. I wasn’t in serious trouble–just a scary-looking reaction to a pneumonia vaccine. Benadryl solved the problem–but the place was filled with the energy of last moments, turning points, and hard choices. A middle-aged man was wheeled by in a gurney. A Latino man sat worriedly outside a room.

And I was there because of a routine accident.

It doesn’t take much to change your world: A needle full of dead bacteria. A driver glancing down for two seconds. A quiet, unnoticed clot that breaks loose. A habit you didn’t even know was bad for you.

A promise.

Kinds of Problems

These are the things ER doctors deal with: emergencies. You don’t get to see these doctors unless you have a big problem. Their days are filled with life-altering decisions and actions. They don’t deal in trivialities.

A coach once said to me, “There are always going to be problems in life. Whether you live a big life or a small life depends on which problems you decide to work on. If you decide to take on the big problems, you will naturally grow to encompass them. If, on the other hand, you decide to put the big stuff off until you’ve gotten the little things out of the way, you will always be playing small since little problems will keep cropping up, and you’ll stay small as a result.”

At a certain point, you have to simply let go of fixing everything and go after the bigger fish. Nothing is a ‘problem’ by its nature. Circumstances are what they are. Problems are defined by us believing the state of things could, should, or must be different.

Big Ego, Bigger Problems

But taking on big problems requires taking on more responsibility. As this blog was becoming more important to people, and as I was becoming more in demand as a writer, I backed away from that responsibility. My writing career actually hit a new peak right before I stopped blogging, with an article on creating rites of passage for The Art of Manliness.

My ego had gotten too involved, and that was causing me to burn out.

Well, events (which I’ll be sharing) have helped me realize that the ego actually draws us to the smaller problems, and it is only when we surrender our egos that the big problems become manageable.

This blog is my seva (selfless service in yoga). I lost sight of that, thinking it had to produce something for me, me, me. But it has supported and inspired many, which I’ve learned is the greatest gift I could receive.

The Promise

I made a promise this morning, in a context that allows for no backsliding, that I was done obscuring my true self, the part of me that acts with an open, courageous heart, the part of me that rises to big challenges eagerly. Part of that is to go back to writing regularly and insistently on Warrior Spirit.

I hope I haven’t lost too many of you in the last few months. Much has changed in my life, and I’m excited to share what I’ve experienced and learned in the hopes that it will provide inspiration and guidance.

(***

What size problems do you focus on?

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Good Bye

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June 30, 2014

Warrior Spirit has been a wonderful adventure, but I’m sad to say I have decided to scale it back considerably.

I haven’t really been able to focus it and lately, it has felt more of an obligation and a burden than something I get excited for. Also, my life is undergoing massive changes at the moment, and I feel that Warrior Spirit, as something that was started right after college, is making it difficult for me to let go of my old ways in order to grow, largely because I have several hundred eyes on me as I’m shifting things around.

What that means is that the email exercises will be discontinued, and the blog posts will be reduced to once a month. I may write more, but I’m not going to hold myself to it. The emails will simply be converted to an RSS feed of the blog, so you’ll get updates whenever a new post is published.

I know many readers have been inspired by what I’ve written, and I want to let you know how much I appreciate your support. I’ll keep all the old articles up, and of course there will be occasional new ones.

Thank you for your understanding.

Be well,
Khaled Allen (**

Photo credit: hobvias sudoneighm on Flickr

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The Art of Life and Love

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June 25, 2014

Two weeks ago, I took the Landmark Forum. For those of you who don’t know, Landmark is a personal development coaching workshop that has a reputation for being confrontational. I wasn’t a fan of their coaching method, but I certainly did learn a lot.

One concept that forms the core of the Landmark approach to life is that life is meaningless, and that this fact is itself meaningless (which is kind of a clever solution to the problem, though it becomes contradictory considering the intention behind making the statement).

If you’ve been on Warrior Spirit for a while, you know that I’ve spent a lot of time working on the idea that life has no inherent meaning. The conclusion I came to, and that which Landmark offered, is that we create the meaning in our lives.

However, that is a simplistic answer that fails to capture the true nature of being, a creative, artistic act. …Read More

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True freedom isn’t doing whatever we feel like. It’s being able to do what we want to accomplish.

There is a difference between doing what we want and doing what we feel like. The former takes discipline.

Life is stressful. Besides all of the frustrations of making ends meet and getting work done, there never seems to be enough time to do everything you should be doing. Besides work, you’ve got your health, exercise, self-improvement, relationships, education, volunteering, cooking, playing…the list goes on and on.

Sometimes, it can get overwhelming, and it’s so much easier to just turn on the autopilot and let things drag you along without thinking.

Do you ever find yourself doing any of the following? …Read More

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I must not fear.
Fear is the mind-killer.
Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.
I will face my fear.
I will permit it to pass over me and through me.
And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path.
Where the fear has gone there will be nothing.
Only I will remain.

Dune, Frank Herbert

Click here to read part 1.

After my first night alone in the woods, I had learned that fear is a choice. It came from the fact that I often saw myself as a victim, someone who was generally vulnerable to others’ whims and the world’s catastrophes.

You may be thinking, “Of course you were vulnerable! You were alone, asleep, in the forest! If something had happened, there would have been no way to get help.”

The truth is, I’m much more vulnerable on a highway, where the chance of injury in a way I cannot respond to is much higher. I perceived myself as vulnerable in the woods, but it’s not a fact of the situation. A tiger doesn’t feel threatened alone in a forest. It is the thing that makes others feel threatened.

So, the first step to overcoming the fear of sleeping alone in the woods was realizing that my fear was the result of how I chose to view myself and the world.

That enabled me to question it.

The next step, and the project for the second night, was actually learning to quell fear. As the sun set for the second time on my trip, I wasn’t any less afraid than I had been the night before, but I was more confident in my ability to handle the anxiety that might come up.

Until I saw the signs.

In the privy were three scrawled notes, memorials to those who had passed away in the last year. Those three letters–R.I.P.–have a lot of power to set an overactive imagination in a particular direction. I imagined that my campsite was the lurking place of a serial killer.

So much for my confidence.

But as I lay in my tent that night, I came up with a few strategies to deal with the new terror. …Read More

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Success, 14 Truths

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The Nature of Fear: Part 1, Fear is a Choice

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When your attention is scattered among a million different channels, your presence dissipates. Protect and cultivate it in the same way you would your money and your health.

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