Preserving the Candle

Matchstick burning from both endsA brave assertion: “By burning the candle at both ends, I can make twice as much light.”

The thoughtful rejoinder: “True, but for only half the time.”

Sound familiar?

Who are these foolish people who are busy doing everything and are constantly tired? Probably us. Since 1985 we Americans have consistently spent more time at work, and we work more hours in the week instead of less. Forty percent of Americans do not use our allotted vacation time. And our work hours and the volunteer hours have increased faster than the population growth.

Result? Burnout – physically, mentally, socially and spiritually.

We don’t hear what is being said to us and/or can’t remember it an hour later. We feel tired and listless after only a couple of hours at work. We drive ourselves with high-energy drinks and quick-pick-me-up donuts and skip lunch and try to survive on five or less hours of sleep. And we experience more illness as our immune systems weaken. Our families don’t know us and our co-workers can’t stand us (unless we are helping them do their jobs.)

These sincere and goal-oriented people (that’s us!) are over committed and stressed out because:

  • We are unclear as to what is and what is not our job and we are unable to separate work time and personal/family life time.
  • We make very little time for self-improvement, hobbies or relaxation.
  • We ignore the basics of a physically healthy lifestyle.
  • We are high achievers who hold idealistically rigid standards for ourselves and are never satisfied with our efforts.
  • We allow our work efforts to isolate us from supportive people and from deserved praise for success.

So how can you recover from burnout? How do you preserve their candle?

  1. Recognize your own monkey. Determine if the job is your responsibility or someone else’s. Learn to say, “That’s not my monkey” and walk away.
  2. Set personal boundaries. Know your limitations of time, energy and skills. Live within the limits of each of these boundaries. Learn to say, “No.”
  3. Make time for yourself, for your family and for God.
  4. Avoid being hypercritical of yourself and others. Refuse to react to uninvolved people or to things that don’t matter. Don’t keep score.
  5. Don’t wallow in the past. Remain objective. Learn from past mistakes. Then move on!
  6. Develop healthy relationships in the work place, church and family. Look for those who rejuvenate and support you. Avoid people and relationships which are toxic – pessimistic, critical, whining and gossiping.
  7. Delegate more responsibility. Organize and share the load. Decide if this job is important for you to do or important for someone else to do or if it’s just an energy-sucking distraction.
  8. Take a nap. Eat and exercise on a regular schedule. Drink water.
  9. Spend time in a relationship with God. Remember, real relationships take time.

Stewardship is not about money. Stewardship is about life – and life is not to be spent or wasted. Life is to be invested, with preservation and building of capital (value and meaning) and the earning of interest and dividends (relationships and personal worth and health).

The candle should be getting longer, not shorter.