Going Up in Flames

“I’m done. Toast. Stick a fork in me. It’s just not fun anymore.”

It broke my heart to hear one of my clients say that.  She’s one of the smartest women I know. She has more energy than the Energizer Bunny. She’s resilient, she’s creative, she’s strong.

FlamesAnd she’s burned out.  Going up in flames.

It’s sad to see a woman I admire lose her creative spirit, lose her drive and lose her joy for her profession.  It’s like watching a house burn.

How does it happen?

Our greatest strengths, when overused, become our greatest weaknesses.  When the strategic, action-oriented, goal driven part of who we are stays on overdrive for too long, it’s inevitable that we’ll hit the wall.

Picture an airplane on takeoff. There’s a tremendous strain on the engines as the plane climbs upward to gain altitude.

When the plane reaches cruising altitude the strain on the engines is reduced.  After cruising for a bit, If the pilot needs to climb to a higher altitude, that can be done safely.

But if the plane stays in acceleration mode indefinitely, the engines would give out.  Maybe even burst into flames.

That’s true for people too. 

Have your engines been in acceleration mode too long?

Just keeping up these days (let alone climbing!) is a challenge.  Economic uncertainty and competition have strained the engines of the business climate.  Information overload and more work than ever add to an epidemic of overwhelm.

Studies show that multi-tasking overloads your stress hormones, creating wear and tear on both your brain and your body (not to mention your spirit!).

Maybe it’s time to remember what’s really important.

“What would it be like to put strategy in service of the soul?” asks David Whyte, author of one of my favorite books, The Heart Aroused: Poetry and the Preservation of the Soul in Corporate America. 

Put strategy in service of the soul?  What does that mean? 

Work is about doing.  Soul is about being.  A healthy, balanced life respects both.  Neglecting the soul risks both.

I hope you won’t reach the point of saying, “I’m toast.”  If you want to avoid going up in flames, douse yourself in these five bits prevention: 

  • Pay attention to your heart’s desire in life.  That’s what David Whyte is really saying.  Strategy and goals get us nowhere if not driven by a higher purpose.  Success feels empty if it’s only about winning.  Be clear about your real priorities.
  • Make time to discuss matters of the heart.  Life is the sum total of the conversations that take place within it.  Listening to a friend and sharing your own feelings keeps you emotionally connected with what really matters.  Intimate friendships and relationships are cultivated with time.  The consequences of neglecting matters of the heart show up years down the road, sadly in isolation and loneliness.
  • Don’t neglect your creative side.  Every time I hear the word “creativity” I picture someone painting or sculpting and think, “I’m not creative.”  But creativity is found in so many more activities than art.  Some love to cook.  To garden.  Ride horses.  Shop for antiques.  Hike.  Decorate the bedroom.  Dance.  Learn to sail.  Write.  Take yoga.  Have interesting and meaningful conversations.  Knit.  Listen to music (or play it!).  Read.  Play golf.  Just sit and daydream.  Or go ahead and learn to paint!  Do anything that takes you out of the strategic goal-oriented part of the brain.  Do something for pure pleasure that feeds and nourishes your creative spirit.
  • Harness the ego.  It’s time for some tough questions.  How much of your striving, your goal-oriented action is about achieving some version of “success” that feeds your ego more than your spirit?
  • Don’t be seduced by material gains.  Women especially harbor a secret fear of becoming “the bag lady,” worrying that today’s success will disappear tomorrow.  Security is important, but at some point we all have to answer the question, “What is enough?”

Remember that old elementary school saying, “It takes one to know one”?  As a goal-oriented, action-driven woman, I too reach a point where I feel the balance has tipped too far from soul to strategy.  I too risk going up in flames.

When I do, I listen to this song, Seasons of Love.  The powerful refrain, “Measure your life in love” says it all.  So take 2:58 minutes to put strategy in service of YOUR soul – feed your spirit and LISTEN RIGHT HERE.

Take care, Darcie

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