In my seminars I have worked intensively with many people in the helping professions, including doctors, nurses, teachers, ministers, psychologists, and social workers. The most pervasive problem I observe among this population is burnout. Most of them are fried.
They spend so much time helping other people that they forget to help themselves. They become so embroiled in their clients' problems that they take them on as their own. They measure their success by the number of people they service or the income they generate, at the expense of their aliveness and the gifts that issue from it.
Being True to Your Passion?
If you are not true to your passion, you turn into a lifeless, hollow-eyed automaton and you present your students, patients, or clients with a horrific model of self-annihilation. (If this doesn't sound attractive, don't try it at home.) I learned this lesson by depleting myself when I over-scheduled many seminars in different cities and spent more time in airplanes and sterile hotels than in my heart.
By the time I arrived at my programs, I was a walking tape player. I went through the motions, said all the right things, smiled, shook hands, hugged, and gave a good presentation. There was only one problem: I was not there. Everyone else went home with a smile, while I was parched as driftwood. Yes, I was expanding my career, but in the process I was shrinking my soul. That sucked.
One night I arrived home from an intensive seminar tour and just lay in my bathtub. My head hurt. My back hurt. My butt hurt. An inner voice spoke: "This can't be it." No shit, Sherlock. It went on: "You can't be teaching people to find peace and joy when you are missing it yourself. Get your life force back, and then you will be in a position to teach from authority. In fact, don't do anything until you find your center again." Okay, okay.
Fried from Doing Too Much
I looked around at my peers teaching self-development, and many of them were fried too. One gave up his multi-million dollar church ministry and nationally syndicated TV show to raise emus. One developed a devastating gambling habit and publicly bragged about the women he fucked (his own language) in the back of taxicabs. Another cancelled a major lecture tour when she collapsed from exhaustion.
These were people who had started out as teachers of peace, and good ones at that. They had passion and strong messages to share. But they built a treadmill and then could not keep up with it. Is there a message here? Like the size of a drive-in theater screen?
Learning the Balance
Former Beatle George Harrison owned a gorgeous estate near where I live. A friend of mine went to dinner there with George. I asked her, "Did he talk about his music?" "Not at all," she answered. "All he wants to do is garden."
A few years later George participated in an online chat on AOL. He broke the record for the number of people online with him: over 300,000. The questions to which he responded most enthusiastically were not about The Beatles, but gardening. I'm sure many chatters were disappointed, but I fully understand.
When George and The Beatles were in the limelight, fans (the word is short for "fanatic") bestowed the group with fantastic amounts of power that no human being could gracefully field. After George wrestled for years with nutty fans and frenzied financiers, he turned for solace from his guitar to gardenias. It all makes perfect sense. He summed it all up: "They used us as an excuse to go mad, and then they blamed it on us."
Many helping professionals suffer the consequences of playing God, or at least dealing with people who expect them to be God. In the process of saving other's lives and souls, many lose their own. Currently the average expected life span of an American physician is ten years less than the national average. Is there a clue here?
Get The Latest From InnerSelf
Was Aristotle on to something when he advised, "Physician, heal thyself?" In a sense, we are all physicians. We are all in service to others, whether as a mother, waitress, or auto mechanic. The critical question is: Do you own your service or does your service own you? Does your vocation empower you, or do you feel like you are hauling a hundred-car freight train?
Experiencing Livelihood or Deadlihood?
Any career short of electric creativity means you have compromised. If all you are receiving for your work is money, you are being grossly underpaid. Most people do not experience livelihood; they are more familiar with deadlihood. So it's time to move to a new `hood. When you allow your passion to guide you to your right livelihood, you will be hard-pressed to call it "work." While the Wright brothers were developing the first airplane, one of them told a reporter, "We can't wait to get up in the morning!"
People who have found their true calling report that they are having so much fun, they feel like they should be paying people to let them do it. Yet they are paid well for their services, and rightfully so. Their gifts go far beyond the obvious service they perform; they are teaching (by example) authentic self-expression, which cannot be translated into dollars.
You don't need to be a Wright brother to be able to look forward to your day. Just be you. Heed your natural instincts. Tell the truth about how your work feels. When something lights you up, pursue it. When something shuts you down, step back. The world will not fall apart if you take care of yourself before your clients. It will come together.
Reprinted with permission of the publisher,
Jodere Group, Inc. ©2002
New edition published by Bantam, ©2005.
Why Your Life Sucks -- and what you can do about it
by Alan H. Cohen.
When your life sucks, it’s a wake-up call. Now self-help guru and bestselling author Alan Cohen invites you to answer that call, change your course, and enjoy the life you were meant to live. In ten compelling chapters, Cohen shows you how to stop wasting your energy on people and things that deaden you–and use it for things you love. With great humor, great examples, and exhilarating directness, Why Your Life Sucks doesn’t just spell out the ways in which you undermine your power, purpose, and creativity – it shows you how to reverse the damage.
Info/Order this book (newer edition/different cover). Also available as a Kindle edition.
About The Author
Alan Cohen is the author of many inspirational books including A Course in Miracles Made Easy and of the newly-released Spirit Means Business. Join Alan for his life-changing Holistic Life Coach Training beginning September 1, 2020. For information on this program and Alan’s books, videos, audios, online courses, retreats, and other inspirational events and materials, visit www.alancohen.com