Are you one of those people who wakes up feeling anything but well rested? Do you stumble out of bed wishing you could roll over and doze for another hour or two? Does your IPod, alarm clock or family member nudge you to get going long before your body is ready? Does this leave you feeling fatigued and grouchy? If so, you are at risk for early burnout.
Here’s Brad’s story:
Brad begins most mornings as a walking zombie. On good days he’s grumpy; on bad days he’s consistently snarling at his wife and kids. Everything seems to get on his nerves. If anyone calls him on his behavior, he offers the lame excuse of. “you know I’m not a morning person.”
Brad views an 8-hour workday as a luxury. Typically he works more like a 12-hour day. He arrives home to his “sanctuary,” wanting nothing more than to eat, check the mail and watch TV. If anyone in his family needs his attention, he feels weighed down. If his wife wants to tell him about her day, his mind meanders. After the 11 o’clock news, he’s exhausted, climbs into bed, still grumbling about how tough his day was.
Brad was headed for a physical breakdown, a nervous breakdown, or a seismic explosion at home. It was a Saturday afternoon on a warm spring day when all three happened. Brad had promised his 10-year-old son that he’d shoot hoops with him. Though Brad often “forgot” his promises, this day he felt fully justified in telling his son “not today.” His head was pounding; his stomach was queasy; his back was killing him and he was in no mood for play.
When his wife noticed their son sulking, she became so enraged at Brad’s broken promise that she threatened him with the deadly “D” word. Brad was devastated. He had never acknowledged how shaky their relationship had become. Nor was he aware of how much he had distanced himself from his family.
Brad’s first response was to retaliate in anger. “You don’t appreciate how hard I work.”
His second response was to sink into a depression. “Nothing I do is ever good enough.”
His third response, thankfully, was to view his wife’s threat as a wake-up call.
He recognized that he was living a life that just wasn’t working. Insufficient sleep, excess work, limited attention to relationships and zero time for fun. How much longer could he go on like this? How much longer would his wife be patient with him? How much longer would his kids want to be with him? He needed to do better.
Despite her outburst, Brad’s wife did not want a divorce. What she longed for was a husband who was “present,” meaning interested in her, involved with the kids, good-natured and fun-loving.
Heeding the wake-up call, Brad determined to make significant changes in his overloaded life. He spent time figuring out how to do so. Since he had a responsible position, he couldn’t just up and leave. Nor could he say, “ok, I’ll just arrive at work an hour later, leave an hour earlier.” However, after brainstorming with his team, they did conjure up ways he could put in less hours without cutting down on his productivity.
Working hard is an admirable trait. Working too hard is not.
Feeling tired at day’s end is fine. Feeling exhausted is not.
Feeling grumpy, at times, is ok. Being a grumpy person is not.
Though Brad’s wife was initially upset with herself for getting so emotional, she was pleased that it jump-started a change that benefited everyone. Often, meaningful change begins with one family member drawing a line in the sand so that every family member benefits.
“The art of living lies in a fine mingling of letting go and holding on.”
Linda Sapadin, Ph.D. is a psychologist in private practice who specializes in helping people enrich their lives, enhance their relationships and overcome self-defeating patterns of behavior.