We hear a lot in our field about burn-out and I wonder sometimes if talking about burn-out isn’t a simple way of saying “I failed to look after myself”. It seems to me that the people I have known who have burned out are those who, for whatever reason, weren’t able to monitor themselves well. They missed the waning energy, the slowly draining tank, the dwindling of the passion.
Some time ago, on CYC-Net we asked people to identify what it was that kept them going, how they “endured” in the field for long periods of time. As always the responses were generous. So on this occasion of the celebration of International Child and Youth Care Workers Day, we thought it would be appropriate to look at what people had to say. And what we discovered is that there is a difference between “enduring” in the field, and staying alive: staying alive is another. Alive, as in vibrant, energetic, passionate.
So below, coupled with some thoughts of our own, are some ideas about what we might do to “stay alive”. It is worth thinking about because surely the children, youth and their families deserve to work with people who are “alive” with the passion and joy of the field.
Be in control while knowing you cannot be in control “you can only control you, not others “our relationships are relationships of influence, not of control. Trying to control others wears you out.
Love yourself “do good things for yourself “give yourself frequent treats, behave towards yourself as if you are the most important person in your life. When you are tired rest or rejuvenate in some other way.
Balance the emotional demands. Sometimes we need to be close; sometimes not. Know when each is best for yourself, and for those you would help. Not all relationships require the same degree of intensity.
Live your work “throw yourself in to it “work from the “passion in your belly”. And have equal passion for other things. Passion in one area can fuel the passion in other areas. Bring some of that passion for something else to your work. If you paint, paint with kids; if you fish, fish with kids; dance, sing, laugh.
Know your relationships “there are therapeutic relationships, personal relationships, friendship relationships “and they are all not the same. Know what kind of relationships you want, when and with whom. Be clear about the boundaries of each.
Always re-fill the top of your tank. Don’t wait
until you are running on empty to fill up. No gauge is always
accurate, so it’s better to be safe.
Don’t be afraid of yourself “know that we all have weaknesses, fears and worries “and we all have joys, strengths and periods of calm. Don’t be afraid “these are only a part of who you are. Embrace them when they come. After all, you can’t run away from your self. And besides, you'll end up spending too much time defending yourself.
Do something different “make changes when they are necessary; find a new role; take a new position. Do something different in your daily work: set the table in a new way; play a different game; act in an unusual manner. Spend time with someone you usually avoid. Don’t be stuck in your own habits.
Play “have fun “laugh, tell a joke, roll on the floor, find humor in a difficult situation. Just because it’s serious, doesn’t mean it can’t also be a good time. Laughter re-fills the tank. Carry silly things in your pocket.
Learn something new “in the field, and in your life. Fill yourself with something different. Let a different part of yourself develop. As you explore yourself you will find new energy, or a new place of calm.
Don’t try so hard “give yourself a break “don’t push yourself so hard. When you place unrealistic demands on yourself, you often drain the resources from other parts of your life. Laugh at those mistakes; it opens you up to learning from them.
Practice what you preach “live your values at work and away from it “allow for integration across situations. Be consistent with yourself. Be “you” wherever you find yourself.
Love someone else “let there be a special person in your life who brings you joy just through their presence.
Hang out with people who care about you and are willing to let you talk “debrief “just don’t make that all of the relationship. We all need a place to connect and debrief around our work, especially at times when work is demanding.
Know that work is not your hobby “get a real hobby instead. Don’t spend all your time away from work focused on work.
Find a place where you belong “if you don’t feel like you belong where you work now, look for a different place. Belonging offers strength and a place where you feel that “being you” is a good thing.
Draw yourself close “to the profession, to other people who share common beliefs. Network with others. Join an association; work on a project with others. Be connected and you will feel like a part of something greater than yourself.
Celebrate beauty where you find it “in the moment with a youth or family, in the wonder of the struggle, in the small steps which come slowly. Be happy with the little things. Be grateful.
Live up to your own expectations “not to someone else’s “but keep them realistic. You can never really meet someone else’s expectations so you will always feel “behind” or incomplete when you try to live up to the expectations of others.
Teach something to a new worker “share your knowledge and skills “help others become good at what they do. There is satisfaction in helping others in different ways.
Leave politics to the politicians.
Keep up with the pack “don’t let yourself fall behind. Running to catch up, or watching yourself fall behind drains energy.
Mentor with someone who amazes you. Hopefully you will learn, but minimally it commits you to a process of growth, learning and continual development.
Don’t be any older than you have to be. If you are 24, be 24 and if you are 50, don’t be 62.
Based on a talk given to the Child and Youth Care Association of Newfound and Labrador on the occasion of the celebration of International Child and Youth Care Workers week: April 29, 2004.