Pronounce me guilty. I discovered this morning that I have used a word grossly out of context for quite some time. The word is: burnout. I would love to eradicate that term from my vocabulary completely, but that is probably not going to happen. I have expressed on more than one occasion: I am burned out! It is usually a reference to work related matters. Occasionally I might mention it in regard to some volunteer driven project. I realized this morning that I have been applying the word incorrectly.
I have repeatedly used the word burnout, when it would be more accurate to state that I am simply exhausted. I am tired. I need a break. A few days off might be the solution, but in such instances I am most likely not burned out. In her recent work, Mad Church Disease, Anne Jackson describes actual characteristics of burnout.
• Burnout is a defense characterized by disengagement.
• The exhaustion of burnout affects motivation and drive.
• Burnout produces demoralization.
• Burnout can be best understood as a loss of ideals and hope.
• The depression of burnout is caused by the grief engendered by the loss of ideals and hope.
• Burnout produces a sense of helplessness and hopelessness. (Jackson, p. 95)
Jackson’s analysis of burnout caused me to rethink my use of the term. Exhaustion has a fairly easy cure. A weekend away does wonders. Going to bed early does not hurt anything. A round of golf on my day off usually helps me feel better after a particularly challenging Sunday of preaching and working with people. But burnout is a different issue.
I am convinced burnout stealthily creeps up on us like a criminal lurking in a gloomy alley. Its sinister intent catches us off guard and we find ourselves fighting for our well being, as it hurls its darts of hopelessness. We start wondering if we will even survive the unexpected attack? Burnout comes prepared with the weapons of demoralization and depression. The alley is dark, the foe is formidable, and no one hears our desperate cries for help.
There is actually no reason to give up hope. The felon known as burnout that ambushes in the dark alleys of life can be cuffed and stuffed. Anne Jackson outlines some specific strategies in her excellent book. I plan to share her thoughts tomorrow in part II of this little essay. But for now I would simply encourage all of us distinguish between mere exhaustion and burnout. That is imperative if the proper solution is to be sought. Of course I fully realize that chronic fatigue paroles the criminal known as burnout, so he can be free to do his damage. If you are suffering from real burnout, be assured that help is on the way.