What causes burnout? For many people the causes seem clear: no work-life balance, too many things to do, a boss that puts too much pressure on, unhelpful or even bullying colleagues, responsibility without sufficient power to actually influence outcomes.
All of these things can indeed often lead to high anxiety, depression and eventually burnout, and I would be the first to agree that it is vital that schools and other workplaces take steps to look after their staff properly. However, all of these are external causes, and, if we really want to make deep lasting changes in our lives, we have to be honest enough to also look at the internal causes.
Lack of control
Consider why exactly you are feeling this lack of control. Is it due to expectations you cannot realistically meet, or does it stem from a lack of boundaries? Consider to what extent you have allowed or even set yourself up for your boundaries to be constantly breached. What part of you feels that you need to live like this? How can you change things? Of course, sometimes there really is no way to change things and no way to even leave the job, but mostly, once we step back and start to look honestly at ourselves we will see that it is possible to make changes.
While being freelance can sometimes be isolating, there are some aspects of some of the places I’ve worked that I definitely don’t miss. Without a doubt some workplace cultures are toxic. This can manifest in different ways. For example, there may be a macho culture of everyone priding themselves on always being super busy, or everyone may spend all their time complaining, or there may be back-stabbing, or your boss may be micro-managing you in a way that suggests they don’t have much respect for your abilities. You’re probably not imagining any of those things, but do you have the courage to look honestly at how you might be contributing to the situation?
A high workload is almost certainly an objective fact, but it is vital to ask ourselves why our workload is so high and to what extent this is the result of decisions we have made. Are we perhaps taking on too much responsibility because we believe deep down that we have to ‘save’ everyone? Or are we secretly getting something out of feeling like a victim? Or do we believe that if we aren’t perfect we will be rejected? Or is our identity too closely bound up with our job? These are hard questions, and I’m not denying the reality of crap jobs and bosses, but why are you in this situation and to what extent have you chosen it?
So, what causes burnout? External circumstances can certainly set us on the path, but for us to get to that point we have to participate. I first reached burnout when I was in my late 20s. I removed myself from the situation, but I didn’t learn the lessons I needed to learn, and ended up burning out again a few years later in a new situation. At that point, I finally realised that if I didn’t do the inner work, this would keep happening to me, because I would keep choosing and recreating the situations that had caused it.
A good place to start would be to join Lightbulb Moments, my free Facebook group for ELT professionals who want to reduce stress and gain more balance in their lives. Click on the image below to join. See you in there?
So true!! I am a serial burnout victim!! and yes I totally agree with you, now looking back, I can absolutely see that I was contributing to the problem by trying to be all things to all people. This just really came from a place of me wanting to help people, but I’m not gonna lie – I used to get a huge thrill from helping everybody – it wasn’t entirely altruistic!! Nowadays, I always think twice before committing to something by asking myself if it’s realistic to take something on – and the answer is usually no!!
It takes guts to really look and assess ourselves like this- well done. Ultimately we don’t do anyone any favours by taking too much on as it negatively impacts on those around us as well as ourselves- and even the people we’re trying to help if we get resentful, or end up not being able to do a good job.
Excellent article !