It’s been a long, cold spring. After what felt like a long, cold winter. (And I like winter!) I don’t know about you, but if you’re anything like me, life has felt really hard for quite some time now. It’s been a trying several months for many, in myriad ways…from burnout do to overwork to burnout do to lack of work to war to ongoing pandemic fatigue to the everyday but never easy usual suspects of company downsizes, layoffs, illnesses, family demands, etc….it’s been a lot, and a great many folks that I know are feeling the effects of the times. On a personal level, for months and months I have been dealing with persistent injuries that kept me from staying as active as I like to be, and that, along with persistent rainy and unseasonably cold weather (and the ongoing expectation of constant professional growth) has made for a tough several months. I’ve struggled with work burnout and compassion fatigue off and on during my fifteen years as a wellness coach, and it got pretty bad there for awhile when the days were dark and cold. The last thing I felt capable of doing was asking someone else how I could best support them, and then, you know, supporting them. I wanted someone to support me instead. I wanted a break, preferably one that closely resembled retirement.
Today, though, the sun is shining, and it’s been warmer the last week or so. Birds of all kinds are chirping together in a chorus of glee, and the grass is suddently a vibrant green. The forsythia is blazingly yellow and the fiddleheads are poking up their scrolls with confidence. The beavers have reclaimed their evening swimming routes around the lake, intent on collecting new wood for whatever repairs are needed to their lodge. Herons stalk in the shallows and the geese settle into nests in the reeds. It’s like a new chapter has suddently come into being, and it’s a chapter that feels lighter and more uplifting, despite no massive changes to my day to day list of responsibilities.
Instead of spending time on the exercise bike while watching the OC during the icy and rainy part of spring, I’ve been taking to the trails again. Not always running like I want to, but moving my activity back outside has made a marked difference in how I’m able to deal with my daily task list. I still don’t feel excited about starting my work day, but I don’t dread it either. I no longer feel like I’m continually running into a brick wall with no option but to climb over it and keep going. Reclaiming my place outside away from screens and made up dramas and constant pings has rekindled my inner flame enough to remember that no feeling is permanent. (To be clear, there’s nothing wrong with watching a show while riding an exercise bike—I just realized that doing so, instead of going outside, was contributing to my feelings of burnout.)
Do I want to take a three month sabbatical from all the things? Yes. That would be ideal. But until I figure out how to get my employer to allow such a thing, or someone else agrees to do all of my book marketing, my plan is to continue opting outside. To heal what needs healing through hiking the trails that are close to home. There still may be days when doing so isn’t a great option (like yesterday when my area was experiencing severe weather) yet there will also be plenty of days when heading outside to hike is the best choice. As Charles Eisenstein wrote, “Even the most thorough change happens one choice at a time.”
I’d like to see some big changes in my lifetime—from shifts in public policy to climate disruption mitigation to making true reparations to historically and presently marginalized groups, there’s a lot that needs work. And that work, even at the scale it needs to be at, will get done one choice at a time. On a smaller scale, I’ve love to spend more time writing and poking around outside with my family and less time meeting performance metrics and jumping through various quality assurance hoops. Even the busy work that doesn’t always feel necessary still gets done one choice at a time. (And sometimes the choice is opting out of what doesn’t feel life-giving and sustainable for what your life needs.)
Going outside, hiking a trail, and breathing fresh air doesn’t change what’s wrong, or make what I want come into being. But it does change how I respond to what’s going on. As Viktor Frankl said, “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and freedom.” When I’m not stuck thinking that I’ll feel burnt out forever, when I can pause to reorient my perspective enough to make the choice that’ll serve me best, I’m more equipped to do my part when it comes to contributing to the healing of the world.