In this blog, we discuss steps one should take when suffering from long-term burnout. An important book to read when considering change is Howard’s Gift, by Eric C. Sinoway (with Merrill Meadow). We have borrowed extensively from this book, amongst other sources, for this blog.
- WHEN YOU STAY WITH YOUR JOB
Call a Time-Out
The first thing that you must do is to call a time-out. The time-out must involve a complete removal from the organization for a period measured in months, not weeks. During this time, you should work not only on renewing your private life (e.g., going back to learning two sedarim a day and catching up on some of those Torah areas you felt you were lacking), but also on renewing your professional life as well. Take some MBA courses at the local university or online, read business books on leadership and management, learn how to make slides, or to stream from ZOOM to Facebook or catch up on your history of American Jewry. Most important, spend a few weeks visiting other successful outreach organizations and see what you can learn from them.
Recalibrate Your Life
There is a difference between the prioritization of your values (family, Torah, work) and the prioritization of time. For example, one can make family first. But sometimes, for limited periods of time – like launching a major campaign, or starting a new project – family doesn’t come first. Failure to recognize this leads to a feeling of frustration and overwhelm that, as much as you try, you just don’t seem to live your life according to your priorities. In addition, if your family members know that they can count on you if a significant need arises, their lives are more stable, and your life is more firmly balanced too.
Align Work with Legacy Goals
Align your plan with your legacy goals (see below). Check your vision, redo your goals, and work out how you are going to implement them. Build into this structure time to think and time to learn. Do the same for your organization. Work out whether your job dissatisfaction had to do with a lack of success, politics, or a real disconnect with the goals of the organization. Identify the problem and take whatever brave steps are necessary.
- WHEN CHANGING JOB OR CAREER IS CALLED FOR
When Change Is Called For
From time to time, we reach a crossroads in our life which the authors call an inflection point. An inflection point is a moment when – by choice or not – we pivot from the path down which we were traveling and head in an entirely different direction. Inflection points are laden with potential risk but also valuable opportunities. To use them properly, one has to have a legacy vision.
Our Legacy Mission
We must live our lives according to the big picture of our lives. We need to start out by defining our legacy mission. This allows us to have an overall picture of what our life is supposed to look like. Otherwise, how do we know which piece to grab next? A meaningful, satisfying life consists of the entire puzzle. Focusing exclusively one on goal is like exercising a single muscle. You need to pursue not just individual goals but a broader personal legacy – an overall image of where you want to end up, a vision which comprises the life you want to live.
It is human nature to get so caught up and focused on succeeding on the path we’re currently traversing that most of us never pause and ask if, in fact, this is the road down which we want to continue. Nine times out of ten, a person will lose time and waste energy if he just heads out to accomplish something without first considering why he’s pursuing it and what success would look like. Even if you think your life is equipped with a personal GPS – even the best GPS doesn’t tell you where to go, only how to get to the specific place you’ve set as your destination. Therefore, you cannot start by trying to figure out your next step.
Key Questions to Ask Yourself
Measure the following answers against your legacy mission:
- How satisfied are you with the current situation?
- What specific results do you want to achieve in the next year or two?
- If you take a risk but don’t achieve those results, will you end up in a substantially different situation than you’re currently in – and in what specific ways would that situation be better, worse, or the same as your current situation?
When you make the best choice possible using all available information, you might be displeased by the ultimate outcome, but you have no reason to regret the decision itself.
The aim is for general satisfaction – meaning most of the time you are satisfied, but not always or not completely.
Do not lump all the individual risks into one big risk. Seeing the individual risks allows one to see much more manageable, distinct risks. And do not magnify how bad you might feel if something goes wrong. Usually, people are much more comfortable with the result than they imagined.
Be willing to give up what you have. See past the short-term, including a reduction in salary for the sake of long-term career advancement. Be willing to look less competent for a while as you learn the necessary new skills. Bottom line: establish what kinds of activities you would be willing to pursue – regardless of how well or poorly they pay – that would allow you to test the options available in areas that you feel passionate about.
Play out also the risk from a point of view of your funeral – of the legacy you want to leave. By not engaging your passion, you risk not leaving the legacy you want to.
Lucille Ball: “I would rather regret the things I have done than the things I have not.”
Reversible vs non-reversible risks: Factored into risks should be whether they are reversible or not. If they are, the risk is smaller, even if, at first blush, it doesn’t look that way. If they are not reversible, they are more consequential. Most career-orientated risks are reversible in the sense that one can go back to one’s field and find another job.
Don’t worry until its time to worry: Get accepted to the course you need or the new job and then think about the potential implications. Also, don’t worry about stuff that’s not your problem (e.g., how will my organization manage without me?). Third, don’t not choose. There are no risk-free options of life and career. Ralph Waldo Emerson states, “As soon as there’s life, there’s danger.” Attempting to avoid risk by not making choices is a false defense.
Life is not a classroom where you can get straight A’s on everything. I don’t want to get an F on anything – because if I’ willing to accept an F, I shouldn’t be trying to do it in the first place. All in all, I’m looking for an A-minus or a B-plus average – over the long-term and across the different dimensions of my life.
- Failure is not morally tainted. This is the tyranny of success.
- Don’t think in black-and-white terms even though it is easier to accept the simplistic equation that success equals good, lack of success equals bad.
- Do not personalize failure: For any acceptance worth competing for, the probability of a randomly selected applicant being rejected is higher than the probability of his being accepted. And the probability that any of us will be accepted – or succeed – at everything is zero.
- When you fail because of your own shortcomings: Say, ‘I shouldn’t be changing my direction because of it.’ Live your life forward. Viewed on those terms a total failure would be something that is totally lacking in useful new data, which almost never happens.
Arthur Ashe, when asked how he dealt with the big hurdles he face in his life, said very simply: ‘Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.’
When a terminally ill Steve Jobs resigned from Apple in August 2011, the Boston Globe ran a fascinating article. Headlined “Failing Forward,” its opening lines read, “Nobody’s better at failure than Steve Jobs …. [He] has failed time and again, occasionally in spectacular fashion. He’s introduced products that bombed. He sent his companies in directions that went nowhere.” Jobs career demonstrated, the Globe said, “how failure can be a constant companion, even for winners.”
- Develop your Own Definition of Success: There is no standard metric for evaluating success or failure. It is in a large part, a function of the expectations we bring into the situation. We tend to create our definitions by comparisons with others but really the only criteria of success and failure should be in terms of our legacy vision.
Focus on Your Strengths
We do have to ensure that our weak areas reach a certain base line. But beyond that, we should focus on our strengths and how to build on them. As humans we have thousands of weaknesses and only a handful of strengths.
We should recognize that our strengths might be effectively applied to situations that aren’t immediately obvious. We need to ask first in what kinds of conditions are we best able to use our strengths, and what kind of roles supply those conditions.
Most of the people who are both accomplished and happy in their life’s work are not driven by overbearing confidence or an incontrovertible sense of their superior skills; they’re guided simply by a determination to continue moving towards a vision that is its own definition of excellence and success.
Rabbi Avraham Edelstein is the Education Director of Neve Yerushalayim College for Women and a senior advisor to Olami. Many of Rabbi Edelstein’s foundational publications addressing the world of Kiruv appear on OlamiResources.com: Series on Kiruv and Chinuch, Commentary on Chumash and Yom Tovim, The Laws of Outreach, as well as contributing articles.