Guest blogger Hollie Grimaldi-Flores warns about the dangers of too much giving, which can lead to burnout.
Many years ago, when I joined a service club for the first time, one of the members warned me to be careful about taking on too much, lest I burn out. At the time, I could not even imagine what she was talking about. How does one burn out from socializing in the name of community service? Frankly, my membership in the service club was my social life. It took more than twenty years, but I now see she had a valid point. Too much giving, without enough getting, leads to burnout. It is true in the workplace, as well.
According to psychologytoday.com, “Burnout is a state of chronic stress that leads to physical and emotional exhaustion, cynicism and detachment, and feelings of ineffectiveness and lack of accomplishment.” Each of these stages comes with its own set of symptoms, including fatigue, insomnia, loss of enjoyment, pessimism, detachment, feelings of apathy, and increased irritability.
These symptoms arise from caring too much, which is part of the problem. The article goes on to state, “Because high-achievers are often so passionate about what they do, they tend to ignore the fact that they’re working exceptionally long hours, taking on exceedingly heavy workloads, and putting enormous pressure on themselves to excel”—all behaviors that can cause burnout.
I used to call it the “east coast work ethic,” because many of the people who felt the way I did were also from the east. Surely it was the way we were brought up—to work hard and not complain. But now I see it all around me, with coastal upbringing a non sequitur. There are always people in any group who are the doers, just as there are those who are happy to let the doers take on all the work.
I worked for years in a place that gladly let me log as many hours as I possibly could, usually without extra pay. Once the workday was over, a few of my co-workers and I would represent our place of employment by engaging in community events—bowling or running for a cause, emceeing fundraisers, and attending numerous meetings. We did it with pride for the organization and for the pure joy of helping others. But it took its toll—on time away from family and on our own well-being.
I burned out, and I have no one to blame but myself. Because I didn’t recognize the symptoms, I didn’t see it coming. It’s likely that I never would have stopped if my body hadn’t held a mutiny. I was forced to surrender.
These days when I say yes, I do so gladly. I learned a valuable lesson and intend not to repeat my mistakes.
To those who do too much, I advise you to keep the risk of burnout in mind to protect your health and well-being. To those who are not quick to give, I encourage you to consider stepping up to the plate, at least occasionally. Find the cause that brings you joy or concern. Be part of the solution by giving your time, energy, or resources to the extent that you are able. That might just be the fan needed to keep the flame from burning out.
Following a career in broadcast and print media, Hollie Grimaldi Flores became a freelance writer. Originally from New York State, she has been in Northern California since 1985. She and her husband raised a blended family of six boys and one girl—now all grown. She is available for hire for ghostwriting, media content, and articles on a variety of topics. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.