Phew. I have just completed a quiz in a national newspaper, the results of which promise to tell me if I have mid-life burn out. It turns out that I do not. In fact I scored only 18 out of 75 which may mean that I am a liar, but also earns me the encouraging news, ‘ No signs of burnout here!’
Out of interest, it is a good job that I am not competitive because if I had scored myself 60-75 marks the alert would have read, ‘You are at very severe risk of burnout – do something urgently.’ This must be an oxymoron; if you are burnt out, the last thing you need is an urgent task to complete. I also notice that the journalist doesn’t actually offer any advice about what to do if you are in the danger zone.
In truth, I cannot give you any advice either, and, if you are feeling burnt out, knowing that I am ‘officially’ not, is unlikely to make you feel any better. Anyway, I was feeling so tired after a very busy school term that it was not until I allowed myself to sleep around the clock that I found time to read a newspaper (see above) or ponder what ‘lived experience’ I could ‘reach out to you’ with to help you become a slow burner.
Wait, I imagine that phrases like, ‘lived experience’ (how else do you experience it?) and, ‘reaching out’ (sounds creepy) will wind you up as much as they do me and do little to help you claw back some sense of peace. In truth I am relieved to know that I am not burnt out (I have self-diagnosed myself with so many other conditions that I am too busy for this) but also wonder if ‘burn out’ is another of these peak diagnoses supported by Dr Google. ‘Burn out’ sounds alarmist and very final however I do recognise that we all need to know ourself well enough to recognise when we need to tune out, recharge and when it is ok to say ‘no’ without feeling guilty.
I do know that I have been too busy to blog for weeks and that my mind has been too frenetic and my tank of goodwill too empty to attempt anything hinting at entertainment. Still, this is the only ‘window’ that I have to bring my learning off the back burner. If the newspaper quiz is accurate, perhaps unwittingly I have performed some subconscious in-flight refuelling that I can share with you here. I will share my reflections in case there are any ‘takeaways’ (sorry, this over-used phrase also raises my blood pressure but I am too tired to find an alternative). If all else fails, you can shout at the blog’s patronising tone and this may prove cathartic.
As ever, I acknowledge, that my story is not your story and that the following may either preach to the choir or irritate because it sounds so smug. My defence is a life of learning what doesn’t work for me and finally training myself to fall forward. I should also say that I lived a huge chunk of my life believing that I was crying my eyes out in the topless photo that accompanies this blog – turns out that I was actually smiling. Slow burner, slow learner I guess.
- Exercise: Because I am bloody minded, I manage to squeeze a lot of fresh air and exercise into my working week. This makes me sound nauseatingly worthy, however anyone can do this with practice, it just needs to become a habit. Over the years my body has acclimatised to early mornings – meaning that I can bank some endomorphins before the sun goes up. Personally I find that it is easier to tick such sweaty martyrdom off my ‘to do’ list first thing because it takes much less energy than coaxing myself into sporty lycra at the end of the working day – a meeting will overrun, I will eat my lunch too late, or ‘The Bake Off’ will be calling. It is exhausting resisting these excuses.
Under the heading of exercise, I would also separate exercise into different activities so that your you can outwit your inner sloth into thinking that there is some choice. Need to roll in the mud with friends? Choose bootcamp (sorry Bemilitaryfit is not a boot camp, it just feels that way). Need to unravel that busy head? Go for a run. Need to lie on a mat and breath? Choose yoga my friend.
Note: just read that back and I’m not sure that, ‘roll in the mud with friends,’ conjures the image I was looking for. Let’s stick with it and move on. I’ve got nothing else.
- Work Life:I am lucky enough to have a really interesting job and to work with very good people – both students and staff (sometimes even the parents behave). This doesn’t mean that work is not bonkers and that there is no frazzle. Some days I feel much, much too old and weary to be working in this environment.
School life is all-consuming, relentless and varied; I am a little addicted to this cocktail. I have discovered that a huge jar of jelly babies on my desk means that both students and colleagues will drop by to get a sugar fix when they have reached peak overwhelm and this jar serves as a good visual for how the ‘team’ is feeling. It is time to take note when the whole supply has been raided. It is not difficult to keep the jar topped up – the difficulty is finding the self-restraint not to face plant myself into the jar when my own plates spin too fast. I have discovered that my Year 10 students are more than willing to carry two heavy book bags back from my classroom to my office knowing that they have permission to raid my jelly baby jar once this mission is accomplished. This allows me to conserve some energy – remember, I will be knackered from all that early morning exercise. (Investigations into an AWOL bag of Maltesers will begin afresh next term because I keep my chocolate stash separate from my jellied friends. Let us just say that I have two Year 10 boys on my ‘Most Wanted’ list for this heinous crime).
- Friends: I have the most amazing band of brothers and they are always inviting me to do interesting things with them. I used to give my apologies when I was feeling shattered but I have reviewed this approach. I realise that it is two way traffic and that you need to avoid gridlock. I often work with young people who tell me how isolated they are feeling but they always seem to be waiting for someone to get in touch with them and tell me that it is not their ‘job’ to contact their friends to say that they are sitting at home and feeling lonely.
Because I worship at the altar of Whatsapp it is easy to be a strong – and prompt – communicator; it is perfectly ok to ask someone to come to an event with you. People rarely take offence if an invitation needs to be declined. In my experience, responding to invites – either in the affirmative or negative – builds up a little wave of goodwill that keeps you buoyed when life gets tough. Without wishing to brag, November and December are looking very sociable indeed in my diary; I could argue that I will be too tired to attend these events because of work, but I also know that I rarely feel worse for attending something interesting with good people. I have a play, a book club, a light show, a firework party and a fundraiser to go to over the next month; I just have to promise myself that these will not become an excuse for non-attendance at 6 am bootcamp (#Bristolmilitaryfit) because that would be counter-productive.
- Kids: Mine are too old to be called kids now, but I have two brilliant cheer leaders in the shape of my son and daughter (bless them further for choosing lush partners). I realise that they cannot be cloned and added to anyone else’s wellbeing list, but if you are lucky enough to have kids – whatever their age – spend time with them. When I am on my knees and doubting myself, my two just seem to ‘get me’. When I thought that the recent train strike would scupper a trip to London and that I was too tired to find a solution, they reminded me – firmly – that I was more than capable of driving my sorry arse up to the metropolis. Best weekend in ages. Best chat, best food, best people. That weekend propelled me through the last two weeks of term.
- Disco naps: A cheeky little afternoon snooze at the weekend is one of the best pep ups in the world. Just saying.
- My mum: Again, sadly I realise that many my age have now lost their parents. Indeed, I haven’t written about mum much lately because we thought – once again – that we might lose her this summer but she is nicknamed Lazarus for a reason. Sharing a birthday and being the same age as HRH, the state funeral was quite an event to navigate through with mum, but it was also a privilege to watch the state gathering with her and to hear new memories prompted by the footage being played of the Queen’s life. Mum rose to the occassion by discussing plans for her own funeral; she refuses to believe that we have taken any notes when she has discussed this previously. In case you are interested, she is saying no to ‘lying in state’ – she doesn’t want people traipsing through her sun lounge to pay their last respects, she remains open to the thought of bag pipes and formal dress is absolutely non-negotiable.
Seriously, I have been blessed to spend a lot of weekend time with mum recently and I think any lack of burn out should be attributed to my good maternal genes and my mother’s relentless 96 year resolve to remain curious and engaged with life. I did ask for her ‘life hacks’ (sorry) and she tells me, ‘get over yourself, keep busy and ignore any advice that tells you that caffeine is the work of the devil.’ She also told me to stop parroting irritating phrases like, ‘life hacks’.
During this week off school I intend to do very little and I know that this is just fine for my proverbial jelly baby jar is in need of a replenish. If I can train my body to respond to an early alarm call, I can also train it to listen to my inner sloth – this sloth unashamedly loves a sofa, a good book and a hot water bottle just as much as she loves a bit of action. Slowly burning is the way to go if I want to fire things up a little.