Throughout my life, I've struggled with burnout. I've had trouble completing projects and sticking to my passion-driven pursuits. I'm an "off the charts" Enthusiast on the enneagram personality test, so there's a part of me that's impulsive and likes to bounce from one exciting adventure to the next, one project to the next. While this trait has provided for a dynamic life, sometimes I worry that I will not be able to create anything sustainable or meaningful due to "life ADHD".
Thankfully, I'm fully aware of my burnout track-record and my desire to create something meaningful and sustainable. With this awareness, I'm learning what I need to do reach my long term goals without loosing interest or enthusiasm.
This Enthusiast part of my personality has always been there to protect me from boredom (and I appreciate that)! Unfortunately, it's also been a source of a lot of frustration and inconsistency. When I first started coaching, I would create these intensive programs, workshops and online modules, and I'd rarely see them to fruition. I'd attack them with so much vigor and passion that I'd soon burn out and want NOTHING to do with what I had just created.
As a recovering fly-by-the-seat-of-her-pants-gal, here's what I've learned to keep myself from quitting or burning out.
1) Get clear on your end game (end game) - When I quit my awesome day job to pursue a half-baked plan of becoming a "coach," I had no clear vision or business established for my career, just a blind passion and fierce idealism of being my own boss (which isn't a sustainable motivator, by the way). It's only been 2.5 years since I took that "leap of faith" and you know what? I've had to grimace, shrug my shoulders and take several steps back before finding the clarity I have now. The key to finding clarity is taking the time to learn more about yourself and what motivates you.
2) Have patience- When you really want something, it’s natural to want it immediately. Having an intense sense of urgency and making rash decisions is like falling in love on The Bachelor. It’s important to notice impulsive ego-waves and give them more than enough time to "simmer" in your brain before acting on them. Take time to prepare and let your vision develop . Think of yourself as a brick layer- one brick a day will eventually build the house you need. Befriend time, and recognize that there's an abundance of it. Furthermore, you cannot control time.
2) Protect your energy and enthusiasm- Take one small step towards your goal at a time and think realistically about what you can manage. When you bite off more than you can chew, nothing gets done well. I have been taking one grad school class at a time. I would love to finish my degree quickly and take 3 classes at a time, but I am aware that I would most likely burn out fast. One class at a time is really all I can digest at the moment; however my high level of energy and enthusiasm remains. If fact, it's increasing.
3) Add manageable structure- When I lived in New York City there was no structure to my life. Every day might as well have been the weekend because I'd stay up late, sleep in late, socialize and then maybe work. To my surprise, that sort of freedom made me less productive. Now that I have structure again, I seek to maximize my free time and am more productive. Adding routine adds consistency, which produces results. When you start seeing results, they prove that your behavior matters and with that proof, your motivation will naturally increase.
4) Be flexible and forgiving with yourself- Discipline is good but there is rarely ever a need for militaristic willpower. The negative feelings that build up when you judge yourself for making a mistake will inevitably accumulate and cause burn out (ahem, this is why strict diets never last)! Mistakes are here to teach us. They can also be the most direct path to learning and growth when you forgive yourself for doing them. With forgiveness, it's easier to pick up the pieces and keep going, confidence and vision intact.
5) Embrace the lulls (Do not quit)!- You are going to want to quit sometimes, especially when you're feeling uninspired or exhausted. However, If what you're doing still fits your vision somehow don’t quit! Experiencing a lull doesn't mean you've lost interest forever. Instead of quitting, take on a little less responsibility for now or take a break. When a roadblock hits, be like a basketball player...just shuffle, pivot (or whatever basketball players do) and execute a different play. With a long term perspective, taking a break or taking on less might be exactly what you need to re-energize.