Fear is one of the biggest drivers of burnout.
Fear puts you on the defensive. Fear makes you reactive rather than proactive. When you’re constantly finding yourself on your heels and swinging wildly at every hurdle thrown your way instead of being able to tackle problems in a planful way, it’s easy to feel helpless, powerless, and like everyone and everything is out to get you.
Fear has you cradling your padded mallet and playing an impossible game of four-sided Wack-A-Mole with all your problems and stressors; one after another, after another, after another, with no time to regroup, and more importantly no time to deal with the stress itself. As we know, when we can’t let emotions complete their natural cycle and leave our bodies, burnout is as inevitable as the annual “War on Christmas.”
Fear also fuels burnout by binding and gagging our creativity, which is the expression of our inner authentic self. And anytime the authentic self is bound, gagged, and silenced, it creates a huge drain on our personal energy. And there’s nothing burnout loves more than an energy drain.
But fear is also natural. It has served a very important purpose over the millennia of our development as human beings. It kept our ancestors safe from predators and allowed them to pass their precious genetic material down to us. Its job is to keep us safe. And it takes that job very, very seriously.
But fear can also be irrational. And stupid. And a little bit blind.
To beat burnout, we’re going to have to cultivate a little bit of courage when it comes to living our lives and creating our best work. Because living a meaningful life is a path for the brave. We know this in our bones, but it can be hard to know where to start. There are undoubtedly millions of little fear that pick apart our confidence and dismantle our courage.
See if any of these sound familiar to you:
You’re afraid you’ll be found out as a phony, a hack, or a fool.
You’re afraid of offending your parents or relatives with your work.
You’re afraid you’re not smart enough.
You’re afraid you’ll fall flat on your face.
You’re afraid you’ll fail.
You’re afraid you’ll succeed.
You’re afraid your clients will think you’re incompetent.
You’re afraid your clients will think you’re taking advantage of them.
You’re afraid of overcharging for your works, products, or services.
You’re afraid of undercharging for things.
You’re afraid no one will like your works, thoughts, or ideas.
You’re afraid no one will take you seriously.
You’re afraid people will ignore your works, thoughts, or ideas.
You’re afraid no one will care.
You’re afraid you’re too old to begin something new.
You’re afraid you’re too young to start.
You’re afraid of being in the spotlight.
You’re afraid of being forgotten.
You’re afraid you don't have enough talent.
You’re afraid someone has already had your idea before.
You’re afraid everyone’s had your same idea before.
I could keep going, but we don’t have all day. It’s a bottomless list, and it would literally take a lifetime to unpack every single one of these.
Instead, over the next several blog entries, I’m going to tackle what I consider to be The Big Three: the three most burnout-inducing fears. Each of these contains lots of other little fears, and pours gas onto the flames of burnout more so than any other kind of fear; keeping the blaze burning hotter, longer, and making it impossible to control.
By the time we reach the end of this journey, we’ll learn to be brave and relegate fear to the back seat on this road trip called life. It might grumble back there and occasionally yell at you for making a wrong turn, but it is in no way allowed to drive, get its sticky fingers on the map, or even pick the radio station. Because overcoming fear to beat burnout isn't about being fearless– it’s not about getting rid of fear altogether, that would be impossible. Instead, it's about acknowledging when you’re scared and pushing forward anyway.
That is bravery.