Renewal in the Time of Burnout: Releasing Your ‘Shoulds,’ Embracing Your ‘Musts’

Have you ever thought of how many “shoulds” you have in a single workday?

“I should get this report in before my deadline; I should skip lunch so that I can do more work; I should take this super pill so I can be that dude in the movie Limitless – dolla, dolla bill y’all.”

Ok, so that last one was slightly over the top, but I think you get my point. Have you ever thought about your musts? ::crickets::

Let me take a moment to distinguish between the two. “Shoulds” are all of those things that hold some sway over you. The “should” is almost always driven by fear and anxiety around what could happen if you don’t do it. “Musts” are things like exercise, sleep, and making sure you stay away from Limitless-pills, because “drugs are bad, mmkay.”

The problem for most of us is that we often reverse the “musts” and the “shoulds,” and then end up sick, burned out, and on the verge of stealing our company fish as we pull a Jerry Maguire and get blackballed by our industry. This reversal happens when we ignore our personal needs (“musts”) for external demands (“shoulds”). “Shoulds” are the reason the World Health Organization just updated its definition of “burnout” in its forthcoming bestseller, ICD-11. I hear the summary is “chronic work stress is bad.” The solution is attending to your “musts.”

Your “musts” actually help you accomplish the “shoulds” in your work world AND in your personal world. While a fair portion of your musts are basic physical needs located at the bottom of Maslow’s Hierarchy, such as adequate sleep, exercise, and good nutrition, there are also mental, emotional and spiritual needs to meet in order to reach the pinnacle of Maslow’s pyramid – think the greatest spiritual leaders: Buddha, Bill Gates, Keanu Reeves.

At The Energy Project, we believe these needs are sources of energy, and therefore need to be replenished and renewed. All of those sources of energy need to be fueled to full capacity for you to continue to meet the demands of life’s “shoulds,” which for many of us requires building new habits or rituals around what we prioritize to make the most of what we have to give.

Sounds counterintuitive, right? We all think that if we push ourselves a little harder, have an extra cup of coffee or four, work a little later, or miss that yoga class, that somehow, all of the work that’s waiting for us will magically catch up. The reality is that we live in a world where that won’t happen if you’re not attending to your self-care. Before you know it, you’re 67, you need a hip replacement because you never went back to yoga, you have high blood pressure from excessive caffeine, and your kid hates you because you missed that dance recital back in ’18. As for your job? Well, had you paid a little more attention to renewing your capacity, you might not have been replaced by that robot named Chad. They even programmed Chad to answer the phone in your voice. (Who names a robot “Chad” anyway?) Bet now you wish you’d left at 5 pm for yoga.

Don’t feel too bad – we live in a society that has built this culture of work over time. As an HR professional, I can tell you that the only thing that results from giving 150% to your work schedule all the time is burnout, turnover, replacement, and lack of engagement. I know this, I’ve seen this, I’ve done this; I DON’T recommend it. I assure you nobody has to do this, and it creates the opposite of what we try to achieve with that strategy. We need to build new mental models around what it means to be successful and fulfilled at work and at life. Old habits die hard. We’re here to help you and your teams build new ones.

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