The Super Hero

I had had a lovely morning talking with my daughter and she has inspired some blogs. Here’s the first one, before I forget everything she told me!

“I don’t understand. You get these people who go vegan, but they haven’t done their research and they aren’t eating properly, and they get sick, and then instead of fixing up their diet, they just decide veganism is bad for them and they stop altogether. Where’s the sense in that?

It’s like being a super hero and burning out because you are saving too many people and doing it all night when you should be sleeping. So you go to the doctor and you ask him for advice and he says ‘Oh you should stop being a super hero, it’s bad for you’.

If you really loved helping and saving people, you wouldn’t accept a lame kind of response like that. You’d think ‘This doctor is useless. If he was a decent doctor, he’d say ‘Let me help you organise your time and energy better, and set some limits on how much work you do and when, so that you can keep doing what you love’.”

I love my daughter’s analogy because it fits in so beautifully with the messages I have been giving my community, my clients and myself, regarding the art of giving, caring and achieving without burning out.

Just yesterday I was explaining to one of my clients why it’s okay to take the time to look after herself, and to accept help from others.

“I am capable of seeing 6-8 clients a day, but I don’t. I might make lots of money seeing that many people but is that what really matters? I could sustain that load for a few months, but I would eventually would burn out and have a health crash. Then I wouldn’t be able to see anyone at all and it might take months to recover.  In the meantime, I would have no energy for friendship and family, and no time to do what I love.”

I knew my client, as a practitioner herself, was completely fixated on being in service to others, so I had to come at it from another angle. It’s the same thing I have to do with mothers; quite often they won’t engage in healing themselves for their own sake, but if I remind them that their unresolved issues are creating unhealthy behaviours they are role-modelling for their children, they are suddenly all ears; they won’t engage in self-care for themselves, but they will do it for their children. Practitioners in the helping industry are much the same; they won’t engage in self-care for themselves but they will do it for their clients.

“By seeing less clients and looking after myself well, I can consistently provide a very high quality of service. In order to be at my best for my clients, I need to look after myself. I need to make sure I get enough sleep and rest, that I eat well and that I don’t abuse myself with addictions and self-destructive behaviour. If I don’t look after myself I am being unprofessional.”

Finally I saw a little glimmer of something register in her eyes. She heard me.

In this past week, I have had to have similar conversations with clients who are highly ambitious and reaching for goals that demand continuous striving. Many of them are surrounded by sales industry hype, encouraging them to push harder, reach further, stay up later… and then when they inevitably crash in a heap, they feel as though they have failed. We have to set boundaries and listen to our body. The best chance of success in any long-term endeavour comes from self-assessing, knowing your limits and pacing yourself.

If you have career goals but you get sick, or you fail to meet a set deadline, or you lose money in a venture…does that mean you will always fail, you don’t have what it takes and you should just give up? No. Just take a breath. Have a rest and reassess. I sincerely believe that a good business person has the capacity to take lemons and turn them into lemonade. If you hit a roadblock, sit back for a moment and consider your options. Be creative and innovative. Be daring and wise.

If helping others really matters to you, learn how to do it without burning out. Believe me, I know how it can feel after a nasty crash: you wonder if you are insane. Should you just walk away altogether because you aren’t cut out for it? No. Don’t turn your back on who you are, just find more sane and well-managed ways to do it.

If a vegan diet isn’t working for you, educate yourself, adjust the diet, be kinder to yourself and perhaps back off a little until you find your feet but don’t run away and give up altogether if it really matters to you.

All of these situations are learning opportunities. Burn-out is a learning opportunity. Do it often enough while paying attention to the causes and you will learn how to avoid it altogether. And avoiding it is wise, because it can turn you off your your dreams and values altogether. Burn out exhausts our capacity to care and strive, so it should be handled with extreme care. If possible, always take a break when suffering from burn out, because decisions made during this time will be coloured by cynicism and a lack of caring. It’s only after you have recharged your batteries that you will be able to really trust what your heart is telling you once more.

The secret to doing what you love long term: pace yourself and care for yourself along the way. You don’t have to be a machine pumping out achievement and/or service to others on a non-stop basis. You don’t have to conquer the world in a day, save everyone or be perfect. Real accomplishments take time and involve set backs and mistakes. Go slowly and cherish the journey. Keep your batteries charged and you won’t burn out.