I’ve Never Quit Anything Before

May 26, 2021

self-work

I’ve Never Quit Anything Before
BY TAYLOR VEST

I have never quit anything before. I have naturally transitioned with changing seasons, but I never straight up quit – until this week when I quit – twice.

burnout

Manageable to Burnout

My workload has always been active, but I have been able to manage the demands. I enjoy wearing many hats and building diverse skills. At 10 years old, I created business cards to advertise my babysitting services and passed them out. The day I turned 15 years old, I applied for a worker’s permit so that I could teach swim lessons. I believed that my effectiveness in all my areas was due to being so busy I had to manage my time so closely, which left me no choice but to be productive. Sink or swim. Probably more like sink or doggy-paddle. 

It’s safe to say that 2020 was demanding. I worked full-time, in-person in an academic hospital intensive care unit while also volunteering around 75 hours a month as an emergency medical technician (EMT). While society was adjusting to the “work from home” life, my life became more demanding due to my involvement in healthcare, where obligations increased. After a year of non-stop demands and overnight shifts, the burnout began to set in.  

As a clinical social worker by trade, I can recite the signs and symptoms of burnout verbatim, but could not identify them within myself until I entered the fifth stage of burnout, “habitual burnout.” Burnout is defined as “syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed. It is characterized by three dimensions: feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion; increased mental distance from one’s job; feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job; and reduced professional efficacy. Burnout refers specifically to phenomena in the occupational context and should not be applied to describe experiences in other areas of life (2021).

Putting in “The Work”

I have been working on myself for a long time. Therapy began for the first time in 2016 while in college and started again in 2017 while in graduate school. When I started the second time, I received a therapist recommendation from a trusted friend and drove two hours round trip once a week for six months. After graduation, I relocated to my therapist’s city to begin my professional career, where we continued to meet until the fall of 2020. She guided me tirelessly on developing skills and tools for self-advocacy, establishing and maintaining boundaries, conflict management and resolution, and navigating life and relationships as a newly professionally employed, seemingly constantly transitioning 20-something-year-old female. 

Establishing Essentialism

Since I “graduated” from therapy, I have been diligent in prioritizing my continued personal growth and development. This past October, I read “Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less” by Greg McKeown, and my life-long perspective was challenged. “Essentialism” confronts readers to discern what in their life is absolutely essential and eliminate all else in an effort to prioritize the absolutely essential. These stringent selective criteria gave me new eyes when assessing my priorities and obligations. Maybe I didn’t have to wear so many hats? What are my long-term goals? Are the areas I’m devoting my now limited time and energy towards worth the investment? Do these areas line up with my long-term goals? Time is a non-renewable resource. How do I want to spend it? How can I get the most value out of my time? Every time I say yes to one thing, I say no to something else.  

I spent a week at the beach, and until I got away, took a step back, and evaluated my time commitments, I was unable to realize all I was unintentionally saying no to by saying yes to the non-essential.  

Did I find value in and enjoy the non-essential? Sure, but once I was pushed so far past the burnout phase, I entered crisis mode, and the non-essential fell away quickly by way of self-preservation. Crisis mode is not a sustainable space to live, and after evaluating my obligations, I said “no more” to two formerly “essential” obligations.  

Evaluating Commitments

A common phrase I frequently use as a measurement for whether I should commit to an obligation: “If it doesn’t bring you peace, profit, or purpose, it doesn’t deserve your time, energy, or attention” allowed me to evaluate these two commitments further. Neither of these obligations were bringing me peace or profit, so they were not deemed essential for me. My peace is too high a price to pay. As a child, I was raised to see my obligations through, no matter the personal cost. My mother always explained that breaking a commitment will likely inconvenience others or let someone else down. Thanks to therapy, I’ve learned to critically evaluate commitments and the personal implications of saying yes. Therapy helped me unlearn I have to stay in situations even if they compromise me, either mentally or emotionally. My primary obligation is to myself and my well-being. I quit twice this week, and I am so proud of myself.

Here are some steps I used to evaluate my obligations and eliminate the Non-Essential.

How to Eliminate the Non-Essential:

  1. List all your time commitments and obligations
    You have to know all that’s on your plate to evaluate your obligations. Look at your calendar from the last month. What are your standing monthly obligations? (Book club? Volunteer meeting?) What are your weekly obligations? (Workout classes? Running group?) Make a comprehensive list of where and how you spend your time and energy.
  2. Prioritize your obligations – establish what is essential
    What absolutely has to be done? What do you truly love? What is of utmost importance to you? Rank your commitments with the most essential at the top.
  3. Seek trusted counsel
    Discuss your thoughts with trusted friends who have your best interest in mind. Seek their perspectives, but trust yourself to make the best decision for you.
  4. Eliminate the non-Essential
    This is often an unpleasant step because it requires saying no and establishing boundaries. Sometimes, those being told no will not understand your decision but trust you have made the best decision for yourself and stand firm in your choice.
    “A non-Essentialist deems almost everything is essential. An Essentialist deems almost everything is non-essential.”
  5. Take a deep breath
    You have taken a huge step towards establishing and prioritizing the essential. Celebrate doing the tremendous task of evaluating your life and obligations. 

I am proud of you! Know that priorities can be different in different seasons, and that your identity as an individual is not dependent on your obligations. Feel confident in making decisions that allow you to flourish and focus on the Essential. 

Burnout is Now an Official Medical Condition. The American Institute of Stress. (2021, May 7).

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