We often assume that fulfilling work, work that we are passionately engaged in, will provide us with a protective barrier and immunity from burnout. There is in fact a strong link between fulfilling work and burnout. I have witnessed this frequently in the helping professions, among care givers, relief and aid workers, and first responders. But I have also witnessed this link in clients from quite different professions. Common to all these individuals is the difficulty they have (understandably) in reconciling the passion they have/had for their work with the very real symptoms of burnout that they are experiencing.
When we love the work we do, we willingly and enthusiastically pour ourselves into it. We do not hesitate to invest time, energy and passion into our work. We feel devoted to our work. We are inspired by our work. We take on additional projects, an extra bit of work or responsibility here and there. We may willingly increase the number of hours or days we work. We offer our support, advice and help to colleagues. We go above and beyond because we love what we do. We feel energized by being engaged in work that aligns with our values and how we see ourselves. When we are personally and deeply connected to our work, we feel the quality and value of this connection and this is what makes our work fulfilling.
And yet even while enthusiastically embracing our work we can inadvertently stretch, or even abandon, the very boundaries we need for self-care, rejuvenation, perspective and balance. And this creates an opening for burnout.
Our ‘above and beyond’ approach to our work, our attitude and commitment to it can easily sweep up our personal boundaries, values and even our identity into the flow, functions and directives of the work itself. Fulfilling work that we were once personally and deeply connected to and motivated by can slowly become work dominated by external “shoulds”. These include uncompromising directives to do better, work harder, be more efficient, be more productive, make no mistakes, be the best, be at the top of one’s game, be perfect. A sure route towards burnout.
Healthy boundaries are appropriate and necessary in any work we are engaged in. So too is tending compassionately to those boundaries by being aware of the shifts taking place in our energy, emotions, relationships, attitudes and behaviors. Without clear demarcations for time away from work, time to engage in other activities, time to connect with our relationships, time to rest and relax, time to process the day, time to be quiet and reflect, time for physical exercise and nourishment, time to feel our lives and the value of what we are doing, we endanger the very work we love and open ourselves to burnout.
Britt-Mari is an integrative career counselor with an extensive background in existential psychology, career counseling and teaching. She helps clients create personally empowered solutions to career transition, burnout and the building of meaningful careers. To inquire about customized 3 session coaching packages please contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org