Understandably, we hear the word burnout used more and more frequently. Increasing workplace pressure to be more productive, COVID which included death and confinement in home, masks, political divisiveness, the war in Ukraine, inflation, and the lack of available talent to fill jobs at every level are contributing to an almost universal increase in stress levels – oftentimes resulting in burnout not just at work but at home. Sadly, none of these issues have simple solutions; however, there are some coping mechanisms within almost everyone’s reach.
As we hear with almost all chronic and many acute problems, admitting to your difficulty is an important first step in dealing with it. That approach is not how I was raised. “Be tough.” “Suck it up.” “Be a man.” “Boys don’t cry.” All these phrases discouraged me from acknowledging that I was human and made if difficult for me to seek help even from close family members. A trip to Bernalillo, NM, however, changed my life and allowed me to cope, to grow. The advice I needed came from a teenage Pueblo poet whose 3 stanza poem was impactful. The first stanza was observations about white people; the second about her people; the third was a comparison of the two. It ended with her observation about me and so many other people I know – to paraphrase, “What I see that separates the two groups is the white man’s frenzy.”
That was quite the eye and mind-opener. All the pressure I was feeling at a particularly difficult time in my personal and professional life was not the result of external pressures. It was my reaction to those pressures. There wasn’t a single event, nor a combination of events that was unique. At that time, I had been a CIO for decades always under pressure to deliver more with less, always on call. External stresses imposed by the business and regulatory environments were common. The source of my anxiety was the inability to stay calm in the midst of the very complicated yet rewarding life I was leading. As soon as I read that final stanza, I walked out of the tiny museum located just northwest of Bernalillo into the brilliant sunlight on the abandoned Pueblo ruins that I was able to relax my shoulders and breathe an audible sigh of relief. I had found a truth that sustains me today. In spite of that, I occasionally fall victim to frenzy, but within hours or days I’m reminded about that truth and the stress diminishes significantly.
The first and most important lesson was admitting that I was human. That admission allowed me to seek help without feeling weaker; in fact, it made me feel stronger. It takes courage to seek help, to admit that you are not the source of all answers. Getting help may appear selfish but getting help to make me better helps all of those around me. And conversely, reaching out to others to share your story helps. Reaching out to offer others a hand helps. Family helps. Community helps. Even strangers can help. Do yourself and the world a favor – ask for help, offer help.