I worked at a church for 13 months from the summer of 2002 to the summer of 2003. It was a great church, with a great mission, and great people. It really was. The problem was me. The actual job for which I was hired was not a great fit, but that didn’t matter, I reasoned. Soon, they’ll see what a great speaker I am, and they’ll promote me.
I actually thought this. I’m not making it up.
At this great church, I didn’t fit. I didn’t resonate with their mission, but I was trying very hard to be noticed and admired. That’s not a great combination. Very soon into it, I began to feel lost and neglected, which led to depression, which led to burnout. I never got that promotion, and I quit. I will never forget the humiliating drive from Michigan to Minnesota, without a job, without any passion, and without a future. I was bitter and crispy with the smell of burnout all over me.
Have you ever experienced burnout?
If you have, most of the time, you can see it coming before it actually hits. Your passion begins to wane, then your energy, and last, your ability to even show up. Burnout is the condition in which we find ourselves when we realize that we’ve given everything we have, and now we’re so empty that we have to stop, or we will die.
Parker Palmer, in his vulnerable little book Let Your Life Speak, believes burnout is something very different. Let Your Life Speak is the story of his journey towards discovering his vocation by listening, and then being faithful to, his actual nature; his true self. He writes,
“One sign that I am violating my own nature in the name of nobility is a condition called burnout. Though usually regarded as the result of trying to give too much, burnout in my experience results from trying to give what I do not possess – the ultimate in giving too little! Burnout is a state of emptiness, to be sure, but it does not result from giving all I have: it merely reveals the nothingness from which I was trying to give in the first place.”
What do you have to offer?
That can be a threatening and taunting question.
What if the greatest thing you have to offer comes from the very place where you have been wounded, and where you have opened that place up for healing?
What if the beautiful truth about burnout is that you can finally stop trying to give from a place of nothingness? What if you could start offering what you actually have? And what if the very best thing you can offer comes from the very place of woundedness that you’ve been trying to hide all along?
I gave a talk at Open Door last weekend and tried to answer that question. Watch it below, and I’d love to hear what you’d add to the conversation.