Pulling Back From the Edge

Kathleen Fitzpatrick’s recent post on burnout, got me to thinking (or to be precise, continuing to think) about my own recent case of burnout. In particular, this resonated:

In order to be genuinely engaged where it most matters, in other words, you have to find regular, routine ways to disengage. And to somebody as completely inculcated into our always-on, more more more culture as I am, that disengagement does not come easily.

Or at least it doesn’t come easily in a productive form. But it’s becoming clear that if I don’t figure out some better strategies for managing productive disengagement, a few much more damaging modes of disengagement are lurking just around the corner.

Especially the part about the more damaging modes of disengagement — for as anyone who’s had the displeasure of dealing with me (or worse yet, expecting me to complete a project on time) over the past few months knows, I’ve been dealing with my own case of burnout.

Burnout from what?

  • From the seemingly endless need to “do more with less” as staff and budgets continue to shrink in public higher education.
  • From the need to fundraise due to disappearing donors and unrenewed grants.
  • From working too much.
  • From saying “yes” too often.
  • Etc., etc.

Taking on more than I could actually accomplish is bad enough, but what was really bad how I chose to deal with it. Basically, I spent the summer simply not doing anything that didn’t absolutely have to be done. Blogging, website updates, writing I’d promised to complete all went undone. Worse yet, I didn’t communicate with anyone that I wasn’t doing these things — I simply withdrew and didn’t do them. (To be clear here [in case my bosses and/or colleagues are reading 🙂 ] — I did do my job. It was the extra stuff I like to cram in around the edges, my “projects,” that suffered. Basically anything outside the scope of the Women’s Center — #femlead, Alt Academix, etc. — was essentially ignored for 3-4 months). But the real red flag — the one I ignored for months — was my lack of joy in any of it. For the most part, I love my work and I only take only extra projects that I care about. This summer, I didn’t give a damn about any of it. That should have been a sign early on for me to do something, but I ignored it.

I’ve only recently managed to pull myself out of this funk and am starting the process of catching up on the undone things, as well as apologizing to the folks whom I let down by not keeping up with things. And realizing, as Kathleen writes in her post, that I need to find better, more productive ways of engaging and disengaging (as opposed to engaging at full speed for more months, then burning out and disengaging entirely, and then coming back). But, as she also points out, figuring out that balance is HARD because one wants to “yes,” from both ego and a desire to please.


Overland Park Arboretum. Perfect place to spend a fall afternoon.

So, how to accomplish this productive disengagement? I’m not sure I know, but I’m trying. This past weekend we took Saturday afternoon off and went to the cider mill and arboretum. And we have already made plans with friends to do dim sum, followed by a visit to the Prairie Center this coming weekend. So that’s a start, I suppose.

The next step, however, is to figure out how to turn these into sustainable practices, which is the hard part. It’s fairly easy to realize when you’re at the “about to go over the cliff” stage, but preventing yourself from getting there in the first place is the harder part.


One thought on “Pulling Back From the Edge

  1. I’m sorry to hear you began on the road to serious burn-out, but very glad that you are back. I like the term constructive disengagement. When I was caring for my parents and at BP, things got so nuts with the Gulf of Mexico “Incident” and then suddenly it all stopped and it was “back to work”. Well, I just shut down and never got back into it. I would just see Mom and do what she needed, go to work, call Assisted Living to check on Dad and call Mom to check in during lunch, then back to Mom’s. I’d just get home and get lost in the internet. When I left BP I suddenly got out of the funk for some reason and bounced right back. Then my parents died, but I was OK. BUT, I now schedule time that is really disengagement and it makes ALL the difference. I hope you can do that, too, old friend.

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