Doing the Most is Leaving You Drained–Here Are 3 Ways to Keep Your Cup Full
I truly believe that where much is given, much is expected. Those of us who feel called to DEI work are passionate and gifted Equity Warriors with Big Hairy Audacious Goals for the woefully imperfect world that we live in. Even if no one else is holding us accountable to these goals, we feel an inherent drive to do more, do bigger. But all that passion and ambition with such humongous feats to tackle can easily drive us to burnout.
It’s Bleak Out There…
Public awareness of equity issues may be increasing, but that doesn’t mean the work is any easier. As of 2021, Chief Diversity Officers spent an average of just under two years in their position, which is a decrease from the 2018 average of more than three years. And, by now, we can probably all recognize the work-related symptoms of burnout because we’ve seen it so much in our colleagues or maybe even ourselves: brain fog, loss of creativity, reduced productivity, and an increase in the number of sick days taken. But there are also physical and mental symptoms that we may not recognize in others: headaches, stomach trouble, depression, exhaustion, and even suicidal ideation. The scariest part? All of these symptoms can create the perfect storm in your body, which is why burned-out employees are 23% more likely to visit the emergency room.
Now, there are a lot of articles out there telling you why you may be burned out, how to avoid burnout within your DEI department, or how to recover from burnout. But I’m here to tell you that you have to love your current and future self, as well as your aims for the future, enough to be proactive in avoiding burnout in the first place. The reality is that you cannot, I repeat, you cannot do it all. You have to know your limits and actively create boundaries in your life so you don’t end up broken down.
We want to be successful in our work, and, of course, we want to continue to live! So do we sit around and hope that our organizations make changes that will improve our jobs? Nah…we take action in the areas where we have power.
…But It Doesn’t Have To Be. Here’s How.
#1: Speak Up For Yourself
Ok, I know I said that we shouldn’t wait for our organizations to make changes. But how do people know that there’s a problem if you don’t tell them? When you start to notice that your workload is becoming unmanageable, when you’re confused about the expectations that the higher-ups have for your work, when you need more resources or time to do your job–tell someone who has the power to change it.
We advocate so much for people who are disenfranchised; we have to advocate for ourselves, first and foremost.
That goes for your personal life, too. Tell your partner, your friends, your family that you need their support, not just when you’re on the verge of a breakdown, but con-sis-tent-ly. You are showing up day after day for other people, and you need people who will show up for you.
Not used to asking for help? Here are a few ways your loved ones can be of assistance:
- Cook dinner and pack up the leftovers for your lunch the next day
- Encourage you to go to bed at a reasonable hour
- Set aside some time just to listen to you
- Take care of an errand that you’ve been struggling to get to or accompany you as you check it off your to-do list
- Be a body double when you have a lot of work to do at home
The little things will start to add up, trust me.
You can’t have everything. You just can’t.
While your talents may run deep, your time and energy on this planet are limited resources. So, in both your personal and professional life, you have to be very selective about where you give of yourself.
When I’m presented with a new opportunity, I use something I call the Value Barometer. I have to measure the amount of pressure this opportunity is going to cause in my life and compare it to its value in the long run. For instance, if I am asked to volunteer to be a greeter at church every Sunday, I have to ask myself:
- How will I feel waking up every Sunday to get ready for church—will this bring me life?
- Is a social and outgoing role like this within my set of gifts?
- Does this role contribute to my overall life purpose?
For me, accepting a volunteer role like this costs more than its value. That’s not to say it isn’t a good thing to do; it’s just not the right thing for me. And you have to say that over and over again to yourself and to the people who ask for commitments from you.
Kick the can
I, like a lot of DEI professionals, am ambitious. Maybe too ambitious for my own good sometimes. When I set out to accomplish something, I often feel like I have to work on it right now and not quit until it’s done because, in my overly ambitious mind, quitting is a sign of weakness.
My to-do list, however, is about 5 miles long, so I’ve had to change my perspective on that. I now approach with the mindset of what absolutely has to be done right now and what can be kicked down the road a bit?
Sometimes there’s a fire. Everything goes wrong in your work life or your personal life, and you have to put that out immediately before it destroys everything.
But most of the time, that urgency just doesn’t exist. Plan time in your day to complete the tasks that will have a larger impact on your life and on the lives of the disenfranchised people you serve. Tackle those items first. Those items that don’t really impact you in any way, kick those cans down the road (for me, it’s not having to do the dishes immediately after every meal). This goes a long way toward giving yourself grace and can feel amazing when you remove that pressure from your life.
Being connected 24/7 isn’t healthy for anyone. As empathetic people, being constantly exposed to injustices and pain on social media can be emotionally draining. Learning to take a step back and unplug from the digital world is essential for our well-being.
One person on my team at Solution Co. has created separate Instagram accounts for herself as a means to unplug. On her professional account, her feed is full of posts that educate her and keep her up-to-date on what’s happening in the world of DEI (e.g. social justice accounts, other DEI professionals, the NAACP, etc.), but the feed in her personal account is full of videos and images that bring her joy (e.g. funny animal videos, music, nature). When she is off the clock, she switches over to that personal account to shut her brain down so she can refresh for tomorrow’s Equity Warrior work.
You may view your equity work as your vocation or your mission in life, but you are a human first and Equity Warrior second. Turn off those email and Slack notifications when you’re off the clock. You deserve mental and emotional rest.
Use this time to connect with your spiritual source, whatever or whoever that might be. Connecting to a spiritual source can help you get in touch with your core beliefs and values. It can offer a sense of security, peace, and comfort in your life. You can connect to your spiritual source through nature, places of worship, art, books, or any other activities that you feel connect you to your spirit.
It’s important to set aside time to get in touch with your thoughts and emotions because, if you’re anything like me, on any given day, your mind may race with your growing to-do list and you may experience a whirlwind of emotions depending on what news you’re confronted with.
Journaling can be a great way to slow all that down. This type of writing is so therapeutic because it helps you organize your thoughts and name your feelings. The benefits of journaling are endless and if you don’t already, try to incorporate a journaling practice into your daily routine for at least 10 minutes every day. If this is a new practice for you, consider asking yourself these basic questions during each journaling session:
- What was something that stirred an emotion in me today? How did I feel?
- What event from today triggered that feeling?
- What thought went through my mind when that event occurred?
- What evidence exists that supports that thought?
- What evidence exists that does not support that thought?
- What are some other ways I can think about the situation?
- How do I feel now?
These simple questions based on cognitive behavioral therapy can start to become an automatic thought pattern after practicing them in your journaling sessions, leading to much more even keel days.
Spend Time with Others
Don’t unplug too much! Human beings require connection. Quality social connections can strengthen immunity, decrease symptoms of anxiety & depression, improve self-esteem, and even lengthen our life span.
One of the first symptoms of burnout is pulling away from your social network. It’s not that we suddenly stop needing connection or stop enjoying the people in our lives. We probably pull away, thinking that we’re participating in self-care. I’m so tired, I just need to stay home. I’ve been so busy this week, I just want to sit at home in my stretchy pants and binge a TV show this weekend. But when this becomes our first instinct toward self-care, we suffer for it. While some alone time is vital to recharging, spending time with people you care about is a great way to stay grounded in your values and be reminded of who you are and who you want to be (which is probably not a burned-out shell of a human).
When you’re mapping out your week, make sure to leave time to:
- Facetime with your long-distance friends and family
- Go on a romantic date with your significant other
- Participate in your book club, bowling league, or choir
- Meet someone you haven’t seen for a while for coffee
- Play with the young folks in your life
Give Yourself Grace
Guilt and shame are powerful emotions that can control our lives if we let them. That little, ugly voice inside our heads pops up when we make choices that feed our mental and physical well-being rather than our professional goals.
- “You don’t have time to take a nap, you need to respond to those emails.”
- “Why are you going to a yoga retreat? What a waste of money that you should be putting toward a DEI retreat.”
- “Spending time with friends is a waste of your gifts. You need to help people.”
Guess what? This world is not black-and-white and either-or, Guilt Voice! It’s possible–no, it’s necessary–to sprinkle your life with people and activities that make you feel like your best self. You can do that in addition to dedicating your life to building a more equitable world.
Fight back against that voice with a mantra that reminds you that you are human. You have human needs. You deserve peace. You deserve joy. You deserve the same patience and grace that you so lovingly extend to others on a daily basis.
In an ideal world, our organizations would hire enough staff to spread our work out equitably, we’d get paid enough, people would be more supportive of our aims, and we could snap our fingers and equity would happen. Those hopes are all out of our immediate control. We are working so hard to change so much that depends on changes from other people. To avoid burnout, we must focus on what is in our immediate circle of influence–how we spend our time, how interact with the world around us, how much we take in, and how much we put out. Your mission for justice is of the utmost importance, but a functioning you is integral to that pursuit.
For coaching, a supportive community, and more information about staying authentic and energized in DEI work, join me and my team from The Solution Consulting Co. on The Equity Impact Hub.