In the previous two blogs, we have looked at long-term burnout, and how to evaluate whether this requires a career change.
In this blog, we look at how to prevent and to cure short-term burn-out.
A. AVOIDING BURN-OUT
Keep on Growing
If you don’t feel that you are growing, professionally and personally, you will not be able sustain enthusiasm and motivation for the job. Really, all the points below amount to this idea.
1. Learn Five Minutes for Yourself
Learn something you love at least 5 minutes a day early morning and again at night no matter what. This time must be guilt-free. (I should be learning Gemorrah, halacha, etc.) Even if you are yotzei your chiyuv of “Vehagisa bo yomam valaila” by giving a shiur or preparing for one, there is nothing like the unadulterated joy of learning, just for yourself. You may be so tired that you can’t concentrate on Gemorrah, have no cheishek for Mishnayos, etc. Find something that turns you on, that generally comes in small bites and that you can handle at this time. You would be amazed how much you can get through with five minutes a night. The satisfaction will give you a much better feeling when you drop into bed. Some of the texts which you could use are the Chofetz Chaim, the Sefer HaChinuch, Avos, or a few pesukim of the Parsha with the pirush of the Seforno. Sign up to an English “halacha a day” thing, or listen to podcast on a Gemorrah you are already familiar with.
2. Setting and Attaining Realistic Personal Goals
If you don’t have goals, you can’t measure your progress, and that leads to feeling blah. On the other hand, working towards and attaining realistic goals gives one a sense of growth and fulfillment.
3. Every Night Ask Yourself What You Learned that Day
It may take a few minutes of reflection, but you will always find some new insight, skill, approach or mistake to be avoided.
4. Read at Least Two Books a Year
Books on management, books on actualizing yourself and on mindfulness, books on educational philosophy and methodology (or whatever is your expertise).
My bathroom reading is generally articles and studies that impact my work: Studies about millennials, about management and leadership, about how people organize themselves, as well as general articles about science, psychology and other areas.
5. Mentors & Role Models
Mentors are not the same as role models. Mentors are people you are close with; role models do not have to be. We are also not talking about your rabbi or rebbetzin or mashpiah here. Rather, we are talking about career mentors, someone who can guide you through staff problems, politics, strategy, etc.
The ideal mentor is a legacy mentor, someone who is interested in helping you achieve your legacy in life and sees your professional development as just one part of that.
There is balance within work and balance between work and other things. (See last week’s blog.) Maintaining balance is very challenging because, every time one wants to do something, one is always making a choice not to do something else. Hence, you never just get into balance. It is an ongoing process of constant recalibration, with different emphases at different times. Moreover, there isn’t a sweet spot. It is not realistic to be satisfied all of the time. Most of the time is more realistic.
7. Professional Development Seminars
In Israel and America (the countries I am familiar with), most professions require a certain amount of professional development per year to keep your professional license. I would love to see the same in the nonprofit world. Certainly motivational and professional seminars and courses exist aplenty, including the excellent range of Harvard Business School seminars for nonprofits. (I know several people who did these courses and felt transformed by them.)
B. CURING BURN-OUT
There is a huge difference between the way one deals with short-term as opposed to longer-term burnout. We will deal with short-term burnout here, and follow up with a separate blog on long-term burnout. Finally, we will deal with care of self, or how to avoid burnout to begin with.
1. Treat Yourself – Be Kind to Yourself
- Leave work early and don’t feel guilty about it.
- Go out in the middle of the day and catch up on your e-mails in a coffee shop.
- Treat yourself to your favorite milkshake after doing something particularly odious.
- Ask for help when you are feeling overwhelmed.
- Share your feelings with a trusted colleague.
2. Take an Emergency Vacation
Take it When You Need It: You cannot schedule burn-out. And when you are burned-out, you cannot wait for scheduled summer vacations. Nor can you wait for a good time to take a vacation. There is never a good time to take a vacation. Therefore, it’s up to you to decide if this is an emergency.
Get Rid of Guilt: You should never feel stuck – that you desperately need a vacation but cannot afford to take it because the organization needs you. You would be amazed how well people will do without your “indispensible” presence.
In addition, you may get burned out only a few months after your last vacation. You cannot pre-determine the frequency of your burn-out. I have sometimes gone years without vacation, and then required several vacations in a single year.
However, if you find you need these breaks more than three or four times a year then you are in an unhealthy work environment, even by kiruv standards.
Determine the Length as Per Need: Go for just as long as you need to. No less and no more. Sometimes you may feel fine again after two days. Sometimes you may need four or five.
Make Sure the Goal of the Vacation is Clear: Many people take the wrong types of vacations to cure burn-out. They come back feeling that they need another vacation from the vacation. This is because they are not clear about what the vacation is for and hence what type of vacation to take. Not all vacations have the same goals. A family vacation is just that – and may not resolve your burn-out issues.
The goal is to want to come back to work with enthusiasm. The goal is not to have a good time or to relax or to be stimulated or to see the world, though some of those things might be a means to achieve the goal. But each person is going to be different here and you really have to know what works for you.
Make the Vacation Work for You: You should find the type of vacation that suits you. You don’t even have to leave town, as long as no one knows where you are. Book into the local hotel, (no one but your wife should know where you are) and just do nothing but read, relax, exercise – until you feel that you are going out of your mind. Then you are ready to come back.
One outreach worker takes a hotel room and learns, writes, exercises and reads newspapers. He leaves his cell phone with his personal assistant and only his wife knows where he is. He calls in once a day to ask one question and one question only – Are there any emergencies which only he can handle? (The answer to this should almost always be no.) He does not ask for messages.
Vigorous physical exercise – like running and lap-swimming – or sports that involve playing with others (table tennis), besides being healthy, are actually relaxing because it is much harder to think when you are panting for breath. Walking probably won’t be enough to do this – some people are quite good at thinking while they walk. Daily vigorous exercise, especially from mid-afternoon to early evening is also a marvelous daily tonic of this sort. But, even for the guy who drives 5 yards to a minyan, emergency exercise – just for a week can be very therapeutic.
4. Risk Failure
Use your burnout to give yourself the courage to risk failure. You would be amazed at the new sense of vitality which this approach might give. For example, you could start your own podcast, decide to write up some of your shiurim, decide to start a new shiur-series on a completely new area of Torah, etc.
5. Prevent a Repeat
This is the subject of caring for yourself and mental health on the job. This will be the subject of our blog next week.
The Whole Body Paradigm
A lot of what we have been saying above amounts to what Stephen Covey describes inThe 8th Habit as the whole-body paradigm. To avoid burn-out you have to look after all aspects of yourself – your spiritual, mental, physical and emotional components:
- Spiritual – The ethics, conscience, and values which guide one in the workplace.
- Mental – A sense of one’s destiny and unique mission and life. Ask yourself: Does the vision of this organization tap into my voice, my energy, my unique talent? Does it give me a sense of “calling,” a cause worthy of my commitment?
- Body – Discipline.
- Emotional – Passion, conviction, and drive – that which will sustain your discipline to achieve your vision.
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.