More and more high-achieving, sensitive people I know are burning out. They are suffering a combination of depression, anxiety, eating disorders, addictions, poor relationships and ill health. It’s very painful to hear their stories. These feelings are a healthy and appropriate response to a system out of balance. Our deeper selves are telling us to “Change course”. Yes, but in what direction and how can we keep things going whilst we change?
The first point to make is that it isn’t you, it is IT! The ‘system’ is breaking down and we are caught in the middle. Our culture of ‘have it all’ caffeinated capitalism is eroding our souls. The more sensitive we are the greater the pain. We are increasingly split between two seemingly irreconcilable impulses.
The first craves ‘success’ in the world, or at least success as we have been trained to understand it.
The second, more hidden, but deeper, part of ourselves yearns for peace, connection, flow, meaning and joy.
Since we were little we were told “Work really hard, concentrate, focus, seek opportunities, compete, climb the ladder and you will succeed”.
Under this idea lies an unhealthy belief system which pitches one person against another. We have come to believe that in a world of limited resources and opportunities, only the fittest, most resilient and determined will thrive. It sets Me against You.
The ‘head down’ approach has increasingly manifested in crazy hours, the foregoing of personal time and space, stress and dislocation. Being ‘professional’ has come to mean cutting off our feelings and blindly supporting a corporate ethos we don’t believe in
We sacrifice peace and happiness now for a supposedly more secure future. We slave for organisations that provide ‘security’ and maybe some excitement, superficial status and glamour but not the meaning, authentic connection and values that we crave. We learn to present a brave face, grit our teeth and ‘get on with it’. Exhaustion and a feeling of emptiness curse us and sap our depleting energy.
To make matters even worse, we blame ourselves. Our devilish self-critic turbocharges the angst we feel and morphs into catastrophic fantasies: “I’m a failure, it’s my fault”, “If I don’t succeed, I’ll be exposed as a fraud”, “I’ll end up selling the Big Issue”.
We are heading fast towards a brick wall.
Whilst we fret over our failings, powerful and healthy existential questions emerge in the quiet hours.
“How can I live a simpler life, and become the happy and relaxed me I used to be?”
“How can I still pay the bills and change to work that matters to me?”
“How do I develop deep, authentic, honest relationships which support and challenge me?”
The poet Mary Oliver’s famous challenge unsettles us:
“Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”
These questions are the harbinger of what the ‘Sacred Economist’ Charles Eisenstein wisely calls ‘The More Beautiful World our Hearts Know is Possible. Or, as I call it, the shift from a Me to a We society.
If we don’t listen to the whispers of our deep selves, the problem gets solved for us. Crisis, collapse or burn out follow.
We can only avoid the crash if we listen profoundly to what our bodies, minds and dreams are telling us and act! Some tough decisions may need to be taken to change course. We need to wrestle our lives back from a toxic culture and trust that we will be OK, even if we don’t have all the answers. More good news: we can do it one step at a time.
Practice 1. Care for oneself. Coming back to one's self
Slowing down and creating space and time for our physical, psychological, and spiritual wellness is a must. Being kind to ourselves and managing the self-critic.
Practice 2. Care for our loved ones
Taking time to develop a more meaningful and loving connection to our family, friends, colleagues and our community. Being willing to have overdue courageous conversations. Showing more of ourselves, our vulnerability as well as our hopes and dreams
Practice 3. Care in our work
What we do with our work lives matters deeply. We want to know and be fully known by our community of colleagues, so taking the lead! Asking for support and challenge. Involving yourself in shared endeavours that have real integrity and align with your values. Having the courage to express more creativity.
Practice 4. Care for our shared planet
Spending time in nature, taking time to deeply appreciate and have gratitude for the beauty, majesty and vast wealth provided by the miracle of the natural world.
There are no alternatives, there are no short cuts. This is the path to the More Beautiful World our Hearts know is Possible. Take action today.