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Even Fulfilling Work Is Not Immune To Burnout

Written by: Britt-Mari Sykes, Executive Contributor

Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.

Executive Contributor Britt-Mari Sykes

We often assume that fulfilling work, work we feel enthusiastic about, and work we are fully engaged in, will provide us with a protective barrier and immunity from stress and burnout.

Shot of a young businesswoman looking stressed out in an office

It may seem counterintuitive but there is a strong link between fulfilling work and burnout. I have witnessed this frequently in the helping professions, among caregivers, relief, and aid workers, and first responders. But I have also witnessed this link in clients from quite different professions.

Common to all these individuals is the difficulty they have in reconciling the passion they have/had for their work with the very real symptoms of stress and burnout that they are experiencing. Quite understandably burnout feels incongruent with a valued professional identity and valued work.

When we love our work

  • We feel highly motivated and we enthusiastically pour ourselves into our work each day.

  • We feel energized by being engaged in work that very often aligns with our values and how we see ourselves.

  • We feel we are contributing and that adds to the value we feel for our work.

  • We feel devoted to our work and we do not hesitate to invest our time and energy.

  • We feel uplifted by our work and we willingly take on additional projects, an extra bit of work, or responsibility.

  • We readily offer our support, advice, and help to colleagues.

  • We regularly go above and beyond because we love what we do.

All of this is positive of course. When we develop our career lives, we strive to create this kind of alignment. When we feel connected to our work, when we feel connected to its purpose and value, when we experience our work as personally meaningful, we experience fulfillment. Burnout, therefore, seems impossible when we experience fulfillment in our work and careers.

What we may not notice

What we may not notice is that the number of hours or days we are working is progressively increasing, or that the boundary between work and the rest of our lives is becoming increasingly blurred.

We may not be as attentive to our feelings or to any day to day fluctuations in our motivation, focus, emotional, cognitive, or physical fatigue.

While enthusiastically engaging in work and careers we love, we can also inadvertently stretch, or even abandon, the very boundaries we need for self-care, rest, rejuvenation, perspective-taking, and personal balance.

Keeping things in perspective

A shift in our energy, focus, or motivation, for example, does not mean we are no longer engaged in our work. It is not a sign that we are no longer committed to the work we love. It is not a sign that our skills, our expertise, our work ethic, or our professionalism have diminished. These shifts are simply calling attention to what we are experiencing, calling attention to boundaries that may have collapsed.

We need boundaries to be present, to be engaged and even to flourish day to day. We need boundaries to continue to experience fulfillment from the work we love.

And we need to regularly assess and re-assess our boundaries throughout our career lives.

Even fulfilling work requires healthy boundaries to prevent burnout

Healthy boundaries are appropriate and necessary in any work in which we are engaged. So too is tending compassionately to those boundaries by being aware of the shifts taking place in our energy, emotions, relationships, attitudes, and behaviors.

We need clear demarcations in our lives to allow for time and space away from work, even work we love.

Consider these 10 examples

  • We need time and space to explore and participate in other activities in our lives.

  • We need time and space to express our other skills and capacities.

  • We need time and space to attend to our emotional and relational well-being by connecting with, contributing to, and nourishing our relationships outside of work.

  • We need time and space to attend to our physical and mental well-being through movement, exercise, nutrition, and sleep.

  • We need time and space to pay attention to our emotions, and to our thoughts and draw insight from them.

  • We need time and space to seek out and benefit from different forms of support in our lives.

  • We need time and space to rest and relax, time to be quiet and still.

  • We need time and space to reflect and process each day.

  • We need time and space for perspective-taking.

  • We need time and unstructured space to activate our imaginations and our creativity.

We need time and space away from work to feel the value of our lives while also bringing perspective to our work. Without these demarcations, without personal boundaries, we endanger the very work we love and open ourselves to burnout.

Career Counselling can help at any stage of your career life. Start a conversation. Contact here for more information or to book a consultation.

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Britt-Mari Sykes Brainz Magazine

Britt-Mari Sykes, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine

Britt-Mari Sykes Ph.D. is a Career Counsellor and founder of CANVAS Career Counselling working remotely with clients across Canada. Britt-Mari offers a reflective and strategic process to clients, one that integrates their lived experiences, values, and aspirations. This experiential approach to career counselling helps clients gain greater clarity and perspective and design practical steps towards a more meaningful relationship with work and career.



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