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Tackling Work-Life Balance in the Nonprofit Sector

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Idealist Guest

A burning wire.

I see it ALL THE TIME. Burnout. It happens to the best of ‘em. Burnout creeps up like a silent ninja in the night. You don’t even know it’s hit you until it’s too late.

Let’s pretend there is a recipe for Burnout. Take the following 10 ingredients, mix them together in any order you like, and just let it bake. For some it takes days, for others, months, and for still others, years. Whatever the case, without fail, you’ll find you have a classic case of Burnout on your hands.

  1. Say “yes” to everything. Just say “no” to boundaries. #Overrated
  2. Don’t have a hobby.
  3. Spread yourself thin. Try to do too many things at once.
  4. Do everything yourself. Why delegate? No one can do your job as well as you.
  5. Eat, sleep, and drink your job. Stay at it all day, even on the weekends and during vacations.
  6. Find your self-worth only in your job. Success = staying super busy.
  7. Complain lots. Why see the positive?
  8. Don’t take vacations. Personal days are for sissies, that’s a whole day you could be getting things done.
  9. Don’t take care of yourself. The gym is too expensive, going to bed early is for old people, and fast food is cheap.
  10. Spend the bulk of your working time doing things that you really don’t care about.

I’ve been “nonprofiting” since I was a sophomore in college – that’s 15 years now. I’ve trained employees and volunteers. I’ve served as an area director in two different states for one nonprofit, been on staff with a church as a local outreach pastor, and worked alongside those who work for nonprofits all over this country as well as overseas. If there’s one thing I know, it’s how to recognize Burnout.  Over the years, I’ve shared literally thousands of cups of coffee with friends and colleagues who talk about the hardships of their jobs and describe how fried they feel. It’s one thing to be tired and complain a little bit – everyone has to vent sometimes – but it’s quite another thing to be burned out. Sometimes you know it’s creeping in, but often times you have no idea just how bad it is.

When I was a younger man full of gusto and desire to change the world, I had a supervisor named Justine, a woman I greatly admired. I didn’t realize it then, but she saw in me what I could not see for myself. Every time I saw her, she asked me the same questions: “What are you doing for fun, Mike? What are your hobbies?” I was doing my job, I told her. Early morning meetings. Working lunches. Happy hours after work. Late nights. I was running, running, running and staying busy, busy, busy. I was being productive in the world: networking, building relationships, strengthening my organization. My answers always revolved around work. I liked what I was doing. I was having fun. But I didn’t have a life/work balance. There was no “me time.” I didn’t have time for ME, because I was too busy with other things. #Aintnobodygottimeforthat

Nowadays, I have coffee almost every single morning. I don’t really need it, because I’m one of those “morning types,” but I enjoy it. I don’t make it at home. I go out and buy a cup of coffee. It’s one of the most important things I can do in my day. You see, it’s not about what’s in the cup. It’s about my time. My coffee hour is my hour. It’s a small practice, a change I have made in my life that keeps me from Burnout no matter how hectic life gets.

Do you have a life/work balance? Are you able to check out when you’re not in the office or at a meeting? Are you able to be fully present with your friends, family, and loved ones? What practices are you cultivating in your life simply because you enjoy them? Do you have relationships with others that are completely unrelated to your job?

Build time for yourself into your daily routine. Cultivating YOU is the best thing you can do, and it will have healthy repercussions into your job as well. Bottom line: If you want a good life/work balance: Get a life. Choose your life as much as you choose your job.

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