Are you feeling burned out?
By Daniella Sachs
I don’t know about you, but the realisation that it is already October has thrown me for a complete and utter loop. I mean there are only 2 and a half months left of this year, and I am barely through my 2021 to-do list. The growing sense of panic that is bubbling up inside me is becoming overwhelming. I feel it overtake me, and my arms start to shake as I lose the strength to continue pushing uphill this rock that is only getting heavier and heavier. Right now, achieving my goals honestly feels like a lost cause, and I don’t know if I have the energy to make it to the end of the year, let alone the end of the week or the day.
What I do know is that I am not alone. So many of my friends are struggling with burnout too, which leads me to believe that the reason I’m facing this might not be that I am just inept as a human being, though this is the conclusion I am extremely adept at jumping to. If something is not working, it must be me; I must be the problem. However, since I am not an isolated incident, even I have to admit that there must be more to this story.
According to a host of self-development books, one of the major reasons behind our collective exhaustion is that we are not taking enough time for self-love. I have to admit I really struggle with this concept. I don’t know about you, but so far, no amount of sugar-coated self-talk, luxurious bubble baths, walks in the park or deliciously indulgent chocolate has helped me to feel less exhausted. So if more self-love is not the answer, what is?
I’m going to be incredibly unpopular by saying that I think more selfishness might be the answer. Yes, I felt you cringe deeply there. From an early age, we are taught that being selfish is equal to being egotistical, self-serving, self-centred and narcissistic. We are taught that there are givers and takers in the world, and to be a good person, you must be a giver. We are taught that we are defined by the value that we bring to others, and that we must live our lives as leaders, parents and children in the service of others. To be selfish or to be accused of being selfish is a terrible thing that must be avoided at all costs. And I think this is where the problem lies.
Even in business, our aim is to create value for others. In fact, the top business books teach us that the key to success lies in having a strong ‘unique value proposition.’ While that makes perfect sense in a business setting, that definition, when applied to our lives, compounded with our fear of being labelled ‘selfish’, creates a very dangerous minefield. It leads us to pour all of our energy into our work, our families and our friends. And at the end of the day, we only get the leftovers, if there are any to be had at all.
We define our self-worth by how much we give to everyone around us. It is no wonder then that by the end of the day, the week, and the year, we are utterly and totally exhausted. We have burned up so much of our energy in the service of others that we have nothing left to sustain ourselves. We end up like Prometheus, being chained in a repetitive cycle of self-sacrifice, believing this ‘hero’s journey’ is the key to a fulfilling life.
How is sacrificing ourselves creating value, I have to ask? If we have one life to live, but no energy to live it, what use is that?
It seems to me that the real problem is that we are scared that someone is going to think we are selfish if we take a moment to focus on how we are bringing value to ourselves. We sugar-coat the issue and talk about self-love, but not self-benefit, as if a flowery plaster is going to plug the flames threatening to consume us.
How much of your life story is crafted for other people and how much are you crafting for yourself? Isn’t it time that we acknowledge that our ‘unique value proposition’ cannot be based only on the benefits we create for other people? As hard as it is, isn’t it time that we admit that we actually need to be more selfish? Because the truth of the matter is this: if we just continuously burn out, we can’t create value for anyone.
Daniella Sachs is a multidisciplinary tourism innovation expert, disruptor, Africanist and thought leader who publishes regularly on why we need to change the way we think about tourism. She is the co-founder of Know Your Tourist, a travel and tourism design and innovation house that collaborates with visionary business builders to bring bold new travel and tourism ideas to life.
Some of the many thought-provoking topics she has written on include: