Updated: Jun 30
The thing I hear the most from burned out people is...
"I don't have time for self-care." I said it too. It's the reason I got so far down the rabbit hole, I didn't know how to come back.
It was an honor to take on the position of Director of Youth and Community Programs at a local arts non-profit that I had been an artist instructor for for 4 years.
In my mid-30's, four months into the position, I was having chest pains. I went in for a stress test and was told that my heart was heathy, and that it was stress. The doctor recommended I find a way to cut down on stress in my job. I actually laughed, and said, "Yeah, that's not possible." The excuses I had were many... I had just started this job, was training in multiple staff, and no one would know how to cover for me. Also, if I couldn't handle it this early on, I'm sure they'll find someone who can.
In truth I was over scheduled, trying to make sure I didn't forget anything, and fill the shoes of a beloved predecessor without any real on-the-job support. No one but the old Director would be able to answer any of the questions I had about my job. Asking the Executive Director quickly led me to the conclusion that I was on my own.
On her way out, the former Director had told me that this job was like spinning plates. You didn't have to be touching them all at once and you wouldn't have time to do that anyway, but you needed to be aware of all of them all the time, and you had to make sure they all stayed up in the air, moving from one to the next, keeping their momentum going... some weekly, some daily, some annually.
My job was to not break the plates.
I pushed myself even harder. It was my job, and I would do it all and do it well. My mind at the time was a steal trap and I used it to remember every little detail about the days, weeks, and months ahead at work. If someone in the studio would ask me a scheduling question about a group coming in or an event, I could recall it easily. This was a point of pride for me.
Two years into my position, and I could no longer recall these dates and times. Even small things overwhelmed me, and I wouldn't even try to hold them in my brain. Folks would ask me questions, and I would tell them to go check the scheduling calendar (a giant binder full of dates and times and staff appointments) on my desk. It was more than a little disappointing, it fell into the category of despair in my body. I felt that I had lost something very precious.
The plates weren't the things that broke.
I was terrified that I wouldn't do it right, that I would forget something, that my staff and I wouldn't be ready for a school group of 150 kids when they arrived, that I would miss my window to set up the annual workshops that kept our budget in the black, that my programs wouldn't bring in the revenue that the organization relied on, that I would forget to order the materials we needed or not tell the staff to cut them down correctly, that I would ruin an important client relationship, make the wrong hiring move, not pull the right reports for the grants, that a child or staff person would be injured in our studios and the correct next steps wouldn't be taken, that we would be sued for something we did or didn't do and it would be my fault, that my staff would not be well trained, that the reputation of these programs, and thus the organization, would be marred because of me or something I chose to do or not to do... terrified that I would drop one of the many spinning plates.
I don't remember dropping any of them. (Although my mind wasn't what it used to be.)
I do remember feeling more and more fragile.
I remember panic attacks and emptiness.
I remember rage and confusion and feeling trapped.
I remember punching walls in empty rooms and nursing bruised knuckles.
I remember falling apart.
Subtle feelings faded into numbness only to be replaced with anger and deep despair. I continued to shove my emotions down and pretend I was fine whenever I could. Waking up in the morning, I would cry just thinking about having to get up and get to work. It really was just a progression of days, marching on, one foot in front of the other... just getting through it.
And I did.
My staff loved me and I them. I not only kept our programs in the black, they grew. I loved the schools I worked with and had great working relationships with teachers all over Minnesota.
I was incredibly proud of the work I'd done for 3 years. And so burned out, I didn't know what to do.
Luckily, I didn't have to decide. The Universe intervened.
The end and the beginning.
I finished running the reports for a grant on a Saturday. The following week I came into work, and I was let go. They were eliminating my position along with two others in the organization for financial reasons. They had what they needed from me. I had served my purpose.
I sat in my car... in my parking spot... no longer my parking spot... feeling stunned... feeing relieved... in shock.
I had "done it right", right?
Hadn't I done everything right? Balanced all the schedules? Created the budgets and stayed on track? Done all the reports on time? Brought in more than enough money? Trained an extraordinary staff? Upheld the organizational reputation in communities across Minnesota? Worked tirelessly to do all I could to make positive changes for the programs and the staff?
I didn't break any plates.
Nope, not one.
My mind kept trying to find the reason.
All that. For what? I had worked so hard and what did I have to show for it? Not even a proper goodbye party. When I came in to collect my things a few days later, I was monitored in my office as if I would steal something from a place I loved so much. No "thank you". A very corporate "get out, we're done with you now" from such a small organization. It was so strange and unfamiliar, this treatment. I'd never experienced it before and it hurt me deeply.
Wow. What now?
And then it was over and there I was... sitting on our couch... broken in a way I couldn't describe to anyone. So you know what I did? Called my friend who read tarot cards to ask for guidance.
Here's what I said... "I need to know what to do next. What job to lean into, or what path to take." She read my cards and said that I wasn't meant to be doing anything right now. I needed a break.
I thought, well, I don't think I can take a break, I mean, we need money. So I asked the same question three times throughout the reading... "what about our finances?". The cards kept saying the same thing. She said it three times. "This is not about that."
She didn't say, it's going to be okay. She didn't say the money would come from some wonderful other source. She said, this isn't about that.
Hmm. I don't like uncertainty.
So I talked to my wife about it and to my surprise, they said, yeah, I was thinking you were going to take a break.
So I did.
That was the start of the new me.
The time I spent healing was sacred time. It was truly a blessing. I found my balance.
My wife and I are just fine. We didn't lose our apartment or have one month of missing a bill payment.
I started True You Tapping after healing myself of burnout, depression, and so much more.
I even created programs to help others recover from burnout and find their balance.
Here's the best lesson from it all... I'm enough.
You see, I'm the one who actually broke me. I pushed too hard and didn't give my body the time and rest I needed. I denied myself love and kindness. I didn't speak up for myself, advocate for my own wellbeing and balance.
Because. I was living with the idea that I wasn't enough. In all the work I did, I was hoping someone would see me and acknowledge my worth. (Truth: they may never acknowledge your worth. You're still worthy.)