Sharing the lessons along the way…

Passion to Burnout


When I was beginning as a referee in basketball, my mentors used to say, “Tawny, the score table cannot hear your calls, you have to speak with more authority.  Call it like you mean it!”

I was never a fan of raising my voice or situations that might require me to do so, but there I was, really enjoying refereeing and at the same time having to raise my voice a bit to be heard.  In officiating, sharing the call clearly and effectively is certainly important, and perhaps just as important, is appearing as if you are confident in the call you have just made.

Throughout my life, whether I really felt it or not, I could appear confident and I could appear assertive in just about everything I did.  Once my mom wrote me a letter (literally, only once and I still have it) when I was anxious about starting a new school, and within it, she said, “Walk in there like you own 50% of the stock in the place.”

And that is just what I tried to do, both back then and when walking onto a court to referee or into an agency with a client in need.  The appearance of such often helped me truly to feel it, or at least to feel good about the fact that I could act the part.

I was best at this on the court refereeing and in the field advocating for my clients.  I was able to feel it and with authority deliver whatever message was necessary to effectively meet my client’s needs when they were unable to advocate for themselves.

I never really had to raise my voice to be heard in these situations, it was more a shift in tone and presentation.  When the delivery has some oomph to it, it helps.  I could be heard just the same (or as effectively not heard) by changing the presentation of the message or by trying a different approach.

The effectiveness was usually proportionate to my ability not to become overly emotional about it, although this took me some years to figure out.  When I became overly emotional about a client or a case, it was more about my own emotional reaction than it was about the client at that point.

On the court, making a call does not require getting emotional.  If you have watched officials in any sport, you can see that this detachment makes for the most effective officials, and ultimately is the best for the player’s safety and the forward progress of the game.

I watched a game on television the other night where the refs were frustrated continuously by the malfunctioning clocks and dissatisfaction from the coaches.  In this same game, there were players getting hurt every other play and calls that were not very consistent at preventing these injuries.

They appeared to be allowing their emotions to prevent them from effectively doing the job they were charged to do.  They were reacting to the technical difficulties and coaches constantly yelling at them and did not appear to be able to focus on making calls in the game.

In the field, working with clients, I have become so passionate about a case that I would not be that effective in advocating with other agencies or even seeing the case clearly.

As I said, it took quite a few of those to make me realize that my passion, without any awareness, can be a blinding experience that is not likely to benefit anyone involved.

Taking just a small step back from the situation to gain some perspective can allow the passion to fuel more effective problem solving instead, or to initiate the creation of more effective approaches when advocating or working cooperatively with others.

As a referee, we literally had to step back to have a wider view of the situation/play at hand to call a game.

Passion is a wonderful thing and feeling passionate about whatever you might be doing in your life can be a wonderfully fulfilling experience.

Passion can also create a lack of awareness and a bit of a myopic perspective on your life at the same time, especially if there are no opportunities to take a step back and evaluate it from a distance.

Without this awareness, there is always a burnout inevitable because the passion is burning wildly without regard to anything else that might be important around it.

As the burnout begins, you can see a shift from it being about others, to it being more about the individual driven by the passion.  For the referees in the game the other night, it became about them and their reactions to others and not at all about the game or the players.

Working in the field back in the day, it was no longer about advocating to meet the needs of my clients, it was about me and me being heard or not and my emotional reaction to that.

When it becomes about me being heard, it is clear to me now that I am too emotionally involved and need to step away.  You can find evidence of this sort of thing in any of the service/helping professions or within any advocacy group.

Actually, you can find evidence of this just about anywhere you focus your awareness, both in professional settings and personal ones.  Anywhere there are strong emotional attachments or passions, you can likely find evidence of a burnout situation.

I do not think that the burnout necessarily is a negative thing or permanent, but it may provide a person with the ability to step away for a moment to reassess.  Without stepping away, we get into a pattern of reacting rather than acting or responding.

When we react, we are not really that aware or conscious.  When we choose an action, or we choose to respond in a particular manner, we have more awareness and it becomes a conscious choice.  Perhaps knowing that we need that small step away from a situation is one key to maintaining our passions in a more long-term, fulfilling, and productive manner.

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Comments on: "Passion to Burnout" (1)

  1. K, So like I was saying…”Compassion burnout’ is another term experienced by people who advocate and yes your passion can make you lose your focus on the issue/task/goal at hand and you can become ineffective, like the referees. You really must detach your emotions when speaking on another’s behalf, appear confident & not react emotionally at the same time expressing yourself genuinely and passionately. Whether you are advocating for humans or non-humans, it is important to have many other outlets and a wide circle of supportive friends so you are not expending all your energy on others while ignoring keeping your own well being in check. When I first started advocating for animals, I was defensive, argumentative, angry and people were not responding to me the way I wanted them to. This was basically me reacting to the emotions I felt for the particular animal issue I was speaking or writing about which would dredge up what I felt after reading undercover accounts and watching videos of animal suffering. I was not doing me or the animals any good.

    The challenge with non-human animals is they have no voice whatsoever. They can’t give you testimony, write it down, blow the whistle, step in to help their fellow brother, sister, mother, baby. The laws to protect are flimsy and hard to prove. They can only endure and when I say endure I mean not only to endure in the sense of meaning to go on, adapt, conform. They also must endure the constant suffering, misery, fear, and hopelessness in the chance that some one will bear witness to it and take action to rescue them, spare them, or save the next one. So you must completely put yourself and all that you know about that particular animal into their being and become them in a way to fully understand their perspective. This can be a very dark place to go not only in your mind, but your heart & being. I am now at the point where I don’t need to watch the videos, read the horror stories and put myself there anymore, I just learn the issue and know what I need to do or not do about it, for me.

    After awhile, this can take a few seconds and sometimes not at all, it’s just an immediate visceral reaction that brings you to an affective action to do your small part in speaking on their behalf. I tend now to focus on the positive aspects of the outcomes, rescues and progress being made and making sure I am part of that instead. I’ve also discovered that I really love people too and try to focus on helping both by helping the other in a sense. Anyway, I think I got off on a tangent, I reckon just one thought leads to another ha!

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