If you wake up not wanting to go to work, or your days drag you down, you and your work will suffer. Even if you put on a happy face, your downheartedness can also negatively impact your relationships. Emotions, like electricity, generate out. Misplaced frustration can cause misunderstandings and breaks in trust. Recognizing what is keeping you from being positively present is critical, especially when your involvement with others makes your work meaningful.
The greatest disruption to being positively present might be the most difficult to detect.
It is easy to recognize physical pain. When you twist your ankle or close a door on your finger, you might alter your work to allow your body part to heal. When you emotionally hurt, you are more likely to ignore the pain, hide it from others, and push through it as if it didn’t exist.
When you don’t feel like going to work, or you are emotionally drained at the end of the day, you are probably experiencing early to late-stage burnout. If the feelings have overcome your life, you might be suffering from depression. I recommend you see a therapist to rule out depression, but burnout can be just as devastating.
According to Naim El-Aswad, M.D., Zeina Ghossoub, Ph.D., and Relly Nader, Psy.D., burnout is an emotionally malignant disease.1 It starts when disappointments, unrecognized efforts, and stressful overwork build up. When there is no relief physically, socially, or spiritually, the suppressed emotions fester, attacking all your physical systems. You don’t sleep well, your body aches, and you have difficulty controlling your emotions. Your confidence might slip. If you begin to lose hope, you might lose your desire to go to work.
Unless you chose your job just for the money, or as a necessary but joyless step toward your dream, you probably started with a grand vision for what you hoped to achieve. Then reality hit, and the job became disappointing. You might have been overburdened or underutilized. Maybe you weren’t given the support you needed to thrive, or you were micro-managed. The excitement turned to cynicism. You lost your sense of purpose and, possibly, your sense of self.
“I’m running out of options,” one woman, age 39, told me. “I start a job with great anticipation, move up quickly, then somewhere along the line, I wake up with this gnawing sense that it’s over. The options disappear. The work feels routine. It isn’t meaningful anymore. Then, I start making plans to leave.”
Short of finding a new job, there are three ways to ease your burnout:
1. Practice early diagnosis with emotional self-awareness.
2. Build and maintain your social support system.
3. Ensure you feel meaning, value, and purpose in your work.
I have written posts on how to develop your emotional self-awareness(recognizing your biological and behavioral reactions, and then shifting your focus and attention to what is more relaxing and satisfying in the moment) and your social support system, so I’ll focus on the last item — ensuring you have a sense of purpose, even if you don’t know your life purpose.
Finding Meaning in the Moment
You don’t have to look too hard to find a tangible reason for your existence. Your quest for purpose should focus more on how you feel than on what you are doing. You should seek to discover what makes you feel alive and connected, instead of searching for the thing you need to do that is special. You may find fulfillment no matter how menial your job is.
Therefore, instead of asking, “What is the purpose of my life?” ask, “What inspires me?” Whether you are running a marathon, reading a book to your child, or planning meetings for the week, if the answer to the question, “For what purpose am I doing this?” makes you feel significant or fulfilled, you have a sense of purpose. You may be driven to create a blog on leadership or to share your musical talents at a local coffee house. You might go out of your way to talk to someone who is isolated or spend your spare time inventing gadgets that make life a little easier. Maybe you see yourself as someone bringing laughter into a gloomy workplace or a storyteller who offers hope. One purpose is no better than another. No matter your role, your purpose right now is whatever infuses you with the sense that you are adding value to your or other’s experience of life.
What fills your heart today may differ next year. Shifts naturally occur based on the stages of life or the perspective you gain with maturity. Unfortunately, there is no way to know what will give you a sense of fulfillment in the future. In his book, Stumbling on Happiness, Harvard professor Daniel Gilbert says your brain is not equipped to predict the future. You cannot know what you will feel in a new job or relationship until you are there, especially if you aren’t happy now. Gilbert says, “We cannot feel good about an imaginary future when we are busy feeling bad about an actual present.”2 It is better to discover what gives you a sense of purpose right now, instead of waiting for your life to change.
When you are aware of your emotions and can shift your focus to what makes you feel better, have friends and trusted colleagues who help you stay connected, and live with a strong sense of purpose, you can better balance difficult moments, even burnout, with emotional stability.
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