On Sunday, I began listening to The Burnout Generation by Anne Helen Petersen. I stopped it after ten minutes. Not to quit, mind you, but to digest what I had just heard in the introduction. To be perfectly honest, I felt as though we might as well have been sitting at a table with coffee cups in our hands because the only thing she was leaving out was my name. Everything Anne said about burnout could have easily dropped from my own lips. I was stunned but…honestly? I was not wholly surprised.
Burnout was not something I had considered while trying to put a name to what I have been feeling for a few years. Honestly, I had never imagined burnout to be anything other than an absolute breakdown, a dramatic, debilitating inability to carry on. The one and only year I worked in a high school as an English/Etymology teacher, I was told that the teacher I was replacing had suffered a “total emotional breakdown, disappeared after Christmas; we had a sub for the rest of the year”. So. That was fun. By the end of that year, I think I began to understand the reasons.
This spark of considering of burnout, coupled with turning directly to a chapter in Emily P. Freeman’s The Next Right Thing entitled “Quit Something”, definitely caused my eyebrows to shoot up today. There are adages everywhere that tell us to quit what doesn’t feed our joy, to quit what isn’t good for us, to not be afraid to walk away from what isn’t for us or is no longer. A hobby, a job, perhaps even a relationship. We are told repeatedly that there is no shame in quitting what has ceased to be good for us.
This always causes a bit of a train wreck in my brain. Quit? Is that possible? Is that a thing? Is that allowed? In the Practice section of the aforementioned chapter, Freeman encourages the reader to meditate on a few questions to help determine if it is indeed time for them to quit something:
Are you working hard toward something only to realize it isn’t quite right anymore?
Has your heart changed on an issue but your mind hasn’t gotten the memo?
Have you been tricked into believing that doing more and working harder will lead to finally having or being enough?
I found (and still find) myself lingering over those questions and over my own fears associated with quitting, particularly even approaching the idea of considering (can you tell it makes me nervous) quitting the one career that I worked more than half my life to be able to do. How could I possibly even contemplate leaving that? (My adversarial question: What else could I even do? What am I even qualified to be able to do?) And yet…what if that’s what has been hiding in that corner of my heart for years? That unsettledness? What if it is this nudge towards something else? What if…?
These are the things that cause me such anxiety and worry that I want to cry and give up on the whole idea of a new chapter. As I was reading, as usual, Emily seems to have seen my heart ahead of time (she has the cheat codes for my soul, I promise!) because there are two sentences in this chapter that I have highlighted in bright, bold purple.
Just because things change doesn’t mean that you chose wrong in the first place.
Just because you’re good at something doesn’t mean you have to do it forever.
As I try to listen to that nudge of my own life and calling in God, I know that I need courage. Courage enough perhaps to stay but also, if I am led, the courage to walk away. The courage to quit.
**Postcript Note: I have linked Emily P. Freeman’s Podcast episode “Quit Something”, which was the inspiration for this chapter of her book. Please, do click the link above and give it a listen.