My accidental five-year goal of trading burnout for peace
Five years ago today, I posted this photo to Facebook. The details of that particular morning are fading, but I remember the feeling of burnout and frustration that had begun building over the past year.
Maybe I’d just hit the bottom of the U-Curve at 49. Maybe I was feeling the need to focus my attention on my kid instead of on my career. Maybe I was rebelling against pressures building in my marriage. Maybe I was feeling the early effects of the company’s culture deterioration that would ultimately lead me to quit. Perhaps all of these.
Whatever it was, that morning I jotted down a core personal value that has guided me for the past five years, to this new phase of life and career. Without realizing it, I had already decided to start trading burnout for peace.
But what is peace, exactly?
The first three items in Merriam-Webster’s definition of peace pretty much describe what was on my mind when I scribbled it down five years ago:
- a state of tranquility or quiet
- freedom from disquieting or oppressive thoughts or emotions
- harmony in personal relations
Whatever word you use to describe such a feeling—happiness, balance, alignment, harmony, flow, peace—we all have some understanding of how we feel when we’re experiencing it. And, most of us want more of that feeling and less feeling of conflict, strife, disquiet, and discord.
Peace is most present in our lives under three primary conditions:
- When we are free of fear and insecurity
Not long ago I read an article about highly successful, up-and-coming C-Suite executives quitting their high profile jobs due to burnout. Honestly? I found it hard to take the article seriously when those people all had multimillion dollar homes and large investment accounts without debt. It’s a lot easier to quit your job to pursue a life of peace when you’ve already got financial security. But so much of our own fear and insecurity is driven by outside influence and cultural expectations. Who wouldn’t want to live in a 6,000 square foot home with a panoramic view, pool, hot tub, gourmet kitchen, and sports court? But who really needs that? In our achievement-oriented culture, we spend so much time looking up the ladder at those who have more than we do, that we rarely pause to reflect how we truly feel about right where we are. And it’s almost considered a sign of weakness to think about intentionally climbing down a few rungs on that ladder. But often, that’s what trading achievement for peace looks like.
- When we can live according to our core values
Conflict and disharmony intensify the farther we get from our core values. If family is critically important to you, taking a great job in another state may feel worse than taking a lesser job near home. If being creative is most important, giving in to pressure to take over the family shop may be soul-crushing. When we suppress our core values because management, family, society, or anyone else tells us how we should feel, we end up constantly torn, disappointed, and resentful. And we may not even know why. This can show up not just in work but whenever we give over our own inner desires to societal norms. For example, “everyone knows” that “it’s better” to spend the last years of life in the home you’ve lived in for decades, right? The reality is that many people may be better served by trading their lonely, cavernous house for communal living, but cultural norms don’t always make room for people to even talk about what is truly important to them. When the pressure of “everyone knows” dictates your decisions against your own core values, peace is hard to find.
- When we can rely on our strengths
People are complex and unique. Although we can adapt and even thrive in many situations, peace is much more present in our lives when we’re doing what we’re naturally good at. Highly analytical, intellectual people can be effective kindergarten teachers, but it is unlikely to be very peaceful or satisfying for them. It will probably be a lot of work compared to someone whose natural abilities align with interacting with and caring for small children. There are many assessment tools out there to help you articulate your strengths and understand how to position yourself in alignment with them. Staying in roles and activities that aren’t in your wheelhouse can create a constant struggle, making life harder than it needs to be.
But why is peace better than achievement?
It isn’t! In fact, sometimes pursuit of peace can get in the way when what you should be focused on is achievement. If every inventor, artist, and explorer in history had focused on peace instead of pursuing great achievements, where would we as a society be today?
Had I scribbled myself a note 15 years ago, it wouldn’t have mentioned peace at all. In my late 30s, I was all about achievement. I was rocking a huge, highly visible job with a national reputation. I wrote seven novels during that time (I only published three of them). I volunteered as a soccer coach and scout leader, traveled all over, did some big home improvement projects.
Looking back now, I know those things were right for that season of my life. Five years ago, I recognized I needed a change… in large part because things around me had changed. The job I’d been thriving in for a decade had suddenly become something different, working with different people. The pathways to success in the role suddenly required a different set of strengths and values. That new role no longer aligned with my own strengths and values, and that created discord and conflict.
It would be nearly a year before I made a change, though, and I wouldn’t really understand that note for a few more. In fact, I’d entirely forgotten the note until Facebook reminded me of it this morning.
Today, as I’m making another career change into coaching, I find it interesting to look back and recall how I felt that morning. Something was misaligned. I could sense it, but I didn’t fully understand it. I now know I was on the right track, even though I hadn’t figured it out yet. That morning in 2017, I began breaking out of a cycle of rumination and negative thinking, and began moving from discord into greater clarity.
It all started with identifying a core value (peace, harmony, balance) that was being suppressed under the weight of a cultural expectation (achievement).
While the next year did not play out as I would have wanted it to—some burned bridges, unfortunately—I am very glad the journey has led me to the place I am now.
I’d appreciate your thoughts in the comments, or pop over to my contact page to set up some time to talk if you’re going through a period of uncertainty, ambivalence, or change.