A Report From the Valley of the Shadow of Burnout

The last year has been really difficult for a number of reasons, most of which have to do with my work life and not with my personal life.

A couple of months ago, my attitude and overall emotional health hit a sort of “rock bottom.” I couldn’t put my finger on what the problem was, but I was more discouraged than I had ever been.

“Is it anxiety?” *Googles signs of anxiety* “Maybe…but not really.”

“Is it depression?” *Googles signs of depression* “Nope.”

“If it isn’t anxiety or depression,” I wondered, “What is going on? Why I do I feel frustrated and tired like I cannot make any progress in anything I do?”

“Ah!” A light bulb went off in my head. “I bet I’m experiencing burnout!”

“Is it burnout?” *Googles signs of burnout* “THAT’S IT!”

 

I couldn’t believe how happy I was to discover I was feeling burned out. It was the happiest I had been in weeks. The irony.

Eric Geiger, senior pastor of Mariners Church in Irvine, CA wrote back in 2015 about signs of burnout. When I was evaluating my feelings a couple months back, I checked every single one of these boxes:

  1. Frustration with people
  2. Difficulty focusing
  3. Physical signs of stress
  4. Feeling exhausted

When I finally recognized that burnout was what I was facing, I had been experiencing all of these symptoms in varying degrees of intensity for months. While I am still in the throes of burnout and have not yet exited the valley, identifying burnout as the culprit of my feelings was emancipating.

Like I said, I am still in the midst of feeling super burnt out. I feel better now than I did a month or so ago, but the feelings of inadequacy, frustration, and exhaustion still persist. However, some relief has come because of a few steps I’ve taken to find shelter in the valley of burnout. Below are a few ways I have fought and am currently fighting my burnout. I don’t know if they will all help you, but they have helped me.

I cling to the Scripture like never before.

Most of the time I have been a Christian, daily Bible reading has been difficult. Historically, if I get in God’s Word five times in a week it is a good week, and if I feel “refreshed” by it three of those five times, it feels “worth it.” Reading Scripture and praying each day has often felt burdensome to me in the past.

Since about this summer, though, when I started to really feel discouraged and spent, I have clung to my Bible reading like it is water in the desert. I have never felt like I need to read Scripture like I have the last six months or so.

Lately, reading Scripture in the morning has truly felt like inhaling as much oxygen as I can before I dive underwater for the day.

Being reminded of who God is and what he wants for me has been everything to me the last six months. It really puts the rest of my day into perspective and it reminds me that nothing that happens in a given day can make the truth of the Scripture untrue.

I had to take time off work.

Thankfully, Susie and I have had a vacation scheduled for the end of September since this summer because, if we hadn’t, I think I still would have found a way to take some time off. Spending last week in Southern California was refreshing. I’m typically not a big fan of the beach—sitting out in the sun for hours and sweating isn’t my idea of “relaxing”—but a few days of 75 degree temperatures with a good book on an empty beach was good.

One of the most important parts of the trip for me was abandoning my email for a week and reminding myself (and others) that life will go on if I cannot respond to emails for six days. It is good for us to be reminded often that our little worlds will continue to operate if we are absent from them.

I exercise almost every single day.

Last winter a Planet Fitness opened about a half mile away from my house and I usually go about five times a week. I also try to go for walks around my neighborhood regularly, especially if I can’t get to the gym on a particular day.

I start working about 6 AM most days and commuting at about 5 AM, so working out in the morning isn’t really practical for me. I prefer to work out around 3-4 PM if I can manage it as it is a nice transition from my typical work day to whatever ministry commitments I have in the evening.

Getting ready to go work out is a struggle every single time. It doesn’t really ever sound appealing. But it feels great to have worked out just about every time as well. It helps me reflect on the day and physically work out any built up frustration (of which there is plenty in my burnt out state) that I may have.

I voraciously protect and enjoy my Sabbath.

Susie and I try to keep Saturday as our Sabbath day. Obviously Monday through Friday don’t work as a Sabbath for us, and we have the high schoolers from our youth group over every Sunday for lunch after church, so Sunday usually isn’t very restful. We try to do as much housework, grocery shopping, and the like on Sundays or the weekdays, and we leave Saturday as open as we can, often hanging out with friends in the evening.

Christians have different ideas of what Sabbath should look like, but my Sabbath generally consists of spending plenty of time reading Scripture, praying, and enjoying the gifts God has given me. I try to eat a nice breakfast on Saturdays (like Cinnamon Toast Crunch), one I wouldn’t normally eat other days. I may make an extra cup of coffee. I read good books or play video games with friends. I just try to enjoy what the Lord has given me while praising him for what he’s given me at the same time.

I completely detach myself from my work on Saturday. Sometimes I mow the grass on Saturdays if I feel like it. Sometimes I’ll write a sermon for youth group. But most “chores” are usually left for Sunday if possible.

I remind myself that my value is not found in my work.

I try to do a good job at everything I do. Like most people, I often have unrealistic expectations for myself. I can be a critical person in general, and there is no one I criticize more than I criticize myself. I battle constant feelings of unworthiness, impostor syndrome, and the general feeling that I am not good enough to be where I am or doing what I am doing. It’s pretty torturous, honestly.

It is easy for me to try to find my value in my work—to be defined by my successes and my failures. This last year has been difficult not because I’ve failed, but because the success I’ve achieved has felt meaningless. Success hasn’t delivered value, and like with any idol, it has left me feeling empty.

So the last couple of months, through my time in the Scripture and in talking with friends, I have been reminded that my value, for good or for bad, is not found in my work. This has helped me fight my burnout a lot.

A Final Thought

Through all of this, what I have learned is that my burnout is not due to having too much work to do. Sure, I have plenty of work to do and sometimes it feels as though I will never be able to keep up with everything. But that isn’t what led to burnout. I think my burnout, and perhaps the burnout of many others, is not due to workload and overwork, but attitude and priorities.

The last year or so, I think I’ve cared too much about work. I’ve sought meaning and value in the wrong places, and my misplaced seeking has found exhaustion and frustration.

Don’t wallow in burnout. Fight it with truth and cling to God’s Word. Find your value in Christ’s finished work, not your unfinished work.

The Most Popular YouTuber on the Planet Is Burned Out…Are You?

The last six or seven months, I’ve been trying to learn everything I can about YouTube. I’ve subscribed to a number of the most popular channels on YouTube and have tried to watch a couple of videos a day. I’m doing it for a number of reasons: I work in social media, and technically YouTube is a social media platform, students these days are watching more YouTube than they are real television (I want to know why), and more.

YouTube is a cultural behemoth, and it has been for a while. Until recently, I just saw YouTube as a platform to host video content—it is much, much more than that. I am late to the game, but I want to learn as much about it as I can so that I can leverage it for the people I serve.

PewDiePie: An Introduction

The most popular YouTuber in the world is PewDiePie. His real name is Felix Kjellberg, and he’s originally from Sweden, but he lives in England now.

He uploaded his first video in 2010 and became the most subscribed YouTuber in the world in 2013 with five million subscribers. His YouTube success began while he was a student at a prestigious European university, so he dropped out of college to make YouTube videos—he had to work a hot dog stand on the side to pay the bills.

Now he gets at least three or four million views on each video he posts every single day.

He is the godfather (but not creator) of the “let’s play” genre of YouTube videos, which was virtually non-existent when he began and is now one of most popular genre of videos on YouTube. The basis of the genre is simple: people watch other people (like PewDiePie) play video games.

It may sound really silly, but it is incredibly popular and profitable, as PewDiePie reportedly makes approximately $15 million(!!) per year, but he’s very uncomfortable about how much people talk about his money, so we’ll stop there.

As I wrote above, PewDiePie is the most popular YouTuber in the world: he has over 52 million subscribers. The primary way he accrued these subscribers is through people watching him play video games and scream, yell, and otherwise goof around.

I started watching PewDiePie’s videos regularly in November, when he pranked a lot of people by saying he was going to delete his account when he hit 50 million subscribers. I thought the prank was brilliant, so I was intrigued to learn as much about him as I could—he shapes YouTube culture unlike anyone else on the platform.

Someday, I would love to do a mini-biography on PewDiePie similar to what I did on Justin Bieber, but that will have to wait.

I have really enjoyed watching his videos and getting to know him a bit, and I am bummed about how much flak he can catch from all kinds of people. Though, I will say that his videos tend to be quite vulgar, just to give you fair warning if you want to watch.

What Happens When Your Passion Burns You Out?

Recently, PewDiePie uploaded a video I found to be simultaneously sad and insightful. Here it is (language warning):

If you didn’t want to watch the video, the gist is this: PewDiePie is getting sick of playing video games and acting like he’s scared/excited/having fun. He used to enjoy playing video games, but he has trouble playing them for YouTube or for fun on his own anymore.

The key takeaway from this video for me has nothing to do with PewDiePie or video games.

The key takeaway for me was this question: how close am I to burning out? 

Burnout is awful. Thankfully, I haven’t been stuck in a rut doing anything long enough yet to be burnt out (except for maybe school), so I haven’t had to experience what PewDiePie describes above.

My boss, Eric Geiger, has shared four warning signs you’re approaching burnout: 1) frustration with people, 2) difficulty focusing, 3) physical signs, 4) feeling exhausted.

He has also shared four practical ways to avoid burnout: 1) listen to your body, 2) exercise, 3) spend quality time with people who love you, 4) learn the rhythms of your work.

I find both of these posts/lists to be helpful and have referred people to them often the last couple of years.

What Can We Learn From PewDiePie?

PewDiePie seems like a nice guy who wants to use the gifts he’s been given to entertain people, even if he’s more vulgar than people like me are comfortable with.

But he’s burned out, at least when it comes to making “let’s play” videos, and watching the above video last week made me check myself and evaluate how close I am to burning out of work, studies, or otherwise.

What can we learn from PewDiePie?

I think we can learn a lot from PewDiePie—he’s really brilliant in a lot of ways—but when it comes to burning out, I think we can learn the importance of diversifying our time.

PewDiePie even says it in his video, “I think I’m addicted to video games and I’m over it now.” A lot of us get addicted not to video games, but to work, or to success, or to affirmation from our loved ones or bosses.

We burn out when we aren’t careful enough about diversifying how we spend our time.

If all you ever do is work, you’re going to come to loathe your work.

If all you ever do is play video games or basketball or the violin or whatever, you’re going to come to hate those things.

If you recognize you’re getting burnt out, find ways to recuperate and back away from whatever is burning you out.

Don’t try to push through burnout, or you’ll just end up getting burned.

Diversify your time: work, read, get coffee with people, play basketball, go for a jog, learn an instrument.

Don’t get so obsessed with something, however good or bad it might be, that you come to hate it later.

Open Tabs 4/16/15

Six Ways Millennials Are Educating Their Churches TheologicallyThom Rainer

Great stuff from Dr. Rainer on Millennials in ministry.

Over the past few decades, the seeker-sensitive movement, and before that the church growth movement, taught us much about the importance of contextualization in the church.

The strengths of these movements included a relentless evangelistic focus and a willingness to question status quo methodology and some extra-biblical traditions. On the other hand, their weaknesses were exposed as well. There was a tendency by some to downplay the importance of biblical truths and theological education. The practical sometimes overshadowed the theological.

In recent years, however, I have noticed a remarkable—and welcomed—return by younger leaders to the fundamentals of the faith, basic theological education, and the deepening of doctrinal roots.

American Views of Gay Marriage Are Divided by Faith and FriendshipLifeWay Research

New research released today by my employer on how Americans view gay marriage.

Americans who say they have gay or lesbian friends are twice as likely to say gay marriage should be legal.

Fewer than half of Americans say homosexuality is sinful.

And evangelicals are increasingly at odds with American culture over same-sex relationships.

Those are among the findings of a phone survey of 2,000 Americans about gay marriage from Nashville-based Lifeway Research. Researchers found that friendship and faith play an influential role in how Americans view gay marriage.

“When it comes to support for gay marriage, a lot of it depends on who you know,” says Ed Stetzer, executive director of LifeWay Research. “Those who say they have gay or lesbian friends are the most open to gay marriage. Also, regardless of friends, evangelicals are more likely to consider homosexual behavior sinful.”

3 primary factors in Millennials and burnoutDean Inserra

I really don’t know what to think about this article. I think Dean makes great points, especially at the end, but I think the sweeping generalities he makes about the spoiled nature of Millennials is perhaps a bit much.

Also, when Dean addresses the fact that Millennials want to enjoy their work and that they try to find jobs in areas they enjoy, he says that few people get that privilege, implying that to want such a job is perhaps being “picky” pointing back to the spoiled nature of the generation.

What I see in this piece is a high value placed on our fathers and grandfathers who got their hands dirty, played the hand they were dealt, and didn’t care whether or not they enjoyed their job, as if somehow all of that is more valuable than someone looking for a job they like, changing the hand they’re dealt, and trying to enjoy every part of life, including work.

That’s cool because it makes you sound manly and stuff, but I don’t think there’s any less value in the latter than in the former, unless you’re whiny about it (which is where Dean and I would agree Millennials are struggling).

Anyway, it’s worth reading to get the perspective.

Have you noticed that a common claim among the millennial generation is that many of them are “burned out”? Blog posts are popping up everywhere voicing concerns over burnout and giving people various ways to avoid this feared state. While being burned out is certainly not something we should desire for ourselves or others, I’m confused by this generation’s serious focus on this subject.

I never, ever heard my dad or grandfather claim they were “burned out” by their jobs, responsibilities or commitments, which were numerous. I’m not even certain they would know what burnout means. They had families to support, bills to pay, a job that required they show up on time and leave at a certain time, and came home to have dinner with their families by 6:00 p.m.

KINDLE DEAL: The Catalyst Leader by Brad Lomenick ($1.99)

Awesome.