I’m sitting in my office, and sweat is running streams down my body. I’m trying not to move, but I can feel it trickling down my spine, semi-puddling under my forearms. Gross.
Sweating isn’t really my issue – it’s more of an overall sense of discontentment. I’ve hit a wall, and I despise this feeling, the feeling of burnout. I’m not sure where I read this so I can’t accredit the quote, but here’s the line: “Burnout is like a candle that once glowed brightly, began to flicker, and eventually extinguished.”
Burnout happens very notably to athletes (from tiny, overworked 11-year-old gymnasts to Hall of Fame-caliber ballplayers), but clearly burnout isn’t relegated only to the athletic arena. I think it’s particularly interesting that a kind of scale exists for measuring burnout (Maslach Burnout Inventory), as I’m not sure how you can quantify something so subjective. At any rate, the Maslach Burnout Inventory weighs the effects of emotional exhaustion and reduced sense of personal accomplishment based on ‘exhaustion’, ‘cynicism’, and ‘inefficacy’. Blah blah scientific terminology blah, but clearly people have been trying to get a handle on the mysterious, amorphous burnout for decades.
Why do we drift into apathy? How does it happen? When do people reach the point where their life force feels completely depleted?
For athletes, although it is not cut and dry, burnout is often more directly linked to physical exhaustion and whether the athlete is involved in a sport out of willingness or a feeling of entrapment. No surprise that athletes who feel like they have to be involved in a sport generally burnout quicker and/or more often than those who want to be involved.
Obligation versus choice. Maybe it’s a little more cut and dry than I first thought. I love a good fight, a tough assignment, a seemingly immovable object – but I want to willingly go after these things.
I think my favorite term I’ve come across in researching burnout is ‘flow’. The opposite of apathy is flow. According to the world’s most respected online reference Wikipedia, “flow is completely focused motivation. It is a single-minded immersion and represents perhaps the ultimate in harnessing the emotions in the service of performing and learning. In flow the emotions are not just contained and channeled, but positive, energized, and aligned with the task at hand. To be caught in the ennui of depression or the agitation of anxiety is to be barred from flow. The hallmark of flow is a feeling of spontaneous joy, even rapture, while performing a task.” (Tip of the cap to whoever penned that entry, actually. )
Flow is what I’m striving toward, what I yearn for. To hell with burnout. Get away from my candle.