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Recently, I have been reflecting on the topic of burnout. It’s as if it has become an accepted part of life – whether cramming in every college class and extracurricular activity possible, straining for a work accomplishment, or managing all the aspects of personal life – burnout is alive and well in society. Add an enduring global pandemic and I am willing to bet you have had up close experiences with burnout, either personally or within someone you know. Caregivers especially are prone to burnout.
What I have come to understand is that burnout is a result of ‘human doingness’. It is a symptom that rears its nasty head when one is so consumed with the mechanics of life – the doing – that s/he loses sight of the truth that s/he is in fact a ‘human being’ – a person who has needs and wants beyond taking care of the nuts and bolts of life. Burnout is an indicator that it is time to recalibrate what you do and who you are. This is especially necessary for caregivers.
If I may, I would like to share an important lesson I learned from my maternal grandfather. I believe it offers perspective on the concept of recalibrating the human being and human doingness of life.
Grandpa was a farmer. He grew, harvested, and sold sweet corn. Every year, he would plant the seeds in the field. He also did the work of tending to the corn throughout the growing season, so he could ultimately harvest and reap the reward of his work. Yet if my grandpa had not planted the right and best seed, he would not have had a crop worthy of his needs and aspirations. If he had been so consumed with the mechanics, he could have run the risk of planting a different seed, perhaps popcorn – which would not have been what he or his customers needed. He would have grown something, but it would not have been what he wanted.
My grandpa’s business was all about finding and planting the right and best seed to accomplish what he desired. It was not my grandpa’s business to make the seeds grow. He did not stand over each seed and whisper, “grow, grow, grow” all season long. Rather, he committed to what was his business – knowing what he desired and doing the work of planting that seed.
The lesson of this seemingly obvious story only recently came into clear view for me. Sure, the right and best seed must be planted for a farmer to create his ideal life. Yet, the deeper message pertains to all of us, and perhaps especially to caregivers. Our work – every person’s work – is to plant the right and best seed. To do so, you must know what it is you desire. The right and best seed is the life you would love to live! Sure, there are everyday realities such as sleep, nutrition, and adulting. The question, however, is – are you paying ANY attention to the life you want? Or are you trying so hard to do the work of making the seeds grow – (Who will watch mom so I can facilitate a work meeting? How will I prevent dad from wandering out of the house? Have I completed all the necessary end of life paperwork? etc.) – that year after year of caregiving the crop you harvest is not at all what you want? Do you have any picture of how you want to feel, who you want surrounding you, how strong and healthy you want to be, what memories you want to create? If your answer is no, I suspect you are spending far too much time frantically planting seeds, yet never harvesting the crop you want. You are offering a disproportionate amount of time, energy, and attention to all the doingness and not nearly enough to the beingness of life. And you are not alone.
Our culture teaches us to manage as many details as possible. We have been brain washed to believe we are at our best when we are organized, responsible, and ensuring everyone else is okay. While these attributes are often helpful when caring for an aging loved one, raising a family, and juggling everyday life, you must also embrace the reality that you are not in control of every little thing. You must come to terms with the fact that your level of organization and responsibility are subjective. Wouldn’t it be meaningful to consider what you need to feel fulfilled, peaceful, joyful, and every good feeling you desire? Instead of continually investing every ounce of energy in the external situation and expectations, try shifting just a portion of that energy internally to assess what it is that makes you tick. Those are the right and best seeds of your life. Those are the seeds begging to be recognized and planted within every caregiver!
The details of caring for an aging loved one will persist. There will always be an amount of human doingness that gets to be tended to. Yet, when you are planting the right and best seeds for yourself, you will have doses of energy that create clarity as you pursue resources and access support. You will not be alone. You will not be burnt out. You will be growing, even if slowly, through this season of life.
Every day is a new day for planting. No matter your age or situation, you can and should be planting the right and best seeds to live the life you love living. Spring is a season of planting and growth – now is the time to plant the right and best seeds in the areas of your life where you crave growth. Now is the time to recalibrate your human being and human doingness! You have permission to embrace the truth that you are a human being too!
Krista Powers has been a primary caregiver for a partner as well as an integral part of care teams for many individuals. She has experienced being consumed and lost while caregiving and has learned how to grow in a way that has rekindled her mind, heart, and spirit.
Krista Powers offers 23 years of experience moving beyond surface solutions and diving into the deep work of innovation and transformation in healthcare, nonprofit, education, and business. As the CEO and Founder of Potere Coaching, Krista is dedicated to supporting individuals and organizations with tools to accomplish immediate momentum and enduring success especially during important and transformational moments of life, such as caring for an aging loved one.