I grew up in a giving family. We didn't have a lot of money to give extravagantly but we valued the act of giving of our time, talents and energy to others. My home was a Christian home and I remember hearing "The Lord loves a cheerful giver." To me, this meant that I needed to joyfully give of myself in all things-- whether it be sharing with my sister, doing my chores, working hard on the volleyball court, or giving part of my allowance to the offering plate at church. It also meant that if I found myself unhappy about having to give, then I was probably doing something wrong. (I'll get back to the significance of this faulty thinking.) Looking back I don't recall ever talking about the relationship between giving and receiving. I just grew up believing that it was the giving that mattered. It is now my belief that the loving energy inherent in the act of giving is actually the same energy of lovingly receiving and it is a beautiful dance that makes the world go round.
But, it took me a while to get to this place. In fact, I spent most of my life giving of myself to show my love and appreciation. It became my identity, a value, and ultimately my ticket to burnout.
I GAVE myself to burnout.
The truth is , I have received a lot over the years- love, shelter, food, good financial compensation, etc.- and it sustained me...for awhile. But, as I became an adult, went into the practice of medicine, continued to identify with being a "cheerful giver"- possibly to prove my worth and that I wasn't a selfish, egotistical, greedy doctor- I further lost sight of the energetic connection between the act of giving and receiving. Ultimately, I gave away more than I was actively receiving, and I burned myself out. I had all the classic signs:
physical, mental, and emotional exhaustion;
a sense of being unfeeling, negative, callous, and detached; and
a decreased sense of competence in my work.
I am thankfully on the other side of burnout and several years down the road, having been through counselling and life coaching and even becoming a certified life coach myself. I now hold the belief that
the years of giving of myself was not the problem. The problem was that I never prioritized the restoration of my energy stores- I hadn't made receiving a priority at all. I simply did not know how important it was to intentionally receive and to restore myself so that I had enough left to do all the giving that I wanted to do as a doctor, mom, wife, friend, daughter, sister, etc. The result-burnout- I used up my stores and I had nothing left.
I am at a very different place in my life now, and I always try to give from my abundance rather than from sacrifice. The operative word here is TRY. I still have to try, to practice, and to be compassionate with myself when I feel myself giving too much. I am a work in progress. Similarly, burnout didn't come overnight, and there were certainly many factors that contributed to it. However, for me the greatest of these factors was an imbalance between what I was giving and what I was receiving.
As a life coach I now coach my clients that one way to avoid burnout is to start focusing on what they are receiving. In fact, I will go so far as to challenge my clients to actually STOP GIVING and ONLY RECEIVE. At first blush you might think this an impossible request because "frankly, people need us". But, in actuality it can happen very quickly and it really just represents a simple shift in thinking. Once the client starts to BE RECEPTIVE, then they can quickly get back to the DOING OF GIVING. The caveat is that their giving will now only be from a place of abundance and will no longer be from a place of sacrifice.
Having been down that road of burnout myself, I have learned a lot and I continue to learn and grow as a human being. Some of the more profound lessons are these:
One of the most important sources of restorative energy is actually in the gifts we give ourselves in the form of quality sleep, a healthy diet, robust relationships, stress management, etc. We must intentionally gift ourselves with these basics in order to have a solid foundation from which we can continue to do our work in the world.
There are an awful lot of lovely things that people are lovingly doing for each other in the world. When we open our eyes and our hearts and begin noticing, appreciating and honoring these kindnesses, we not only honor each other as human beings, we also get to take on this loving energy and we can choose how we want to pay that energy forward. Beautiful.
And finally, remember when I told you earlier that as a kid I thought "I am bad if I can't be a cheerful giver"? Well, I don't feel that way anymore. The difference is that now if I am unhappy about giving, then rather than feeling "bad", I take the opportunity to check in with myself and ask:
Am I trying to give from a place of depletion?
(i.e. Am i burned out?)
Is this act of giving actually just serving to deplete me?
Am I aware of that which is restorative in my
life and am I actively receiving it?
Am I giving from abundance or sacrifice?
Basically, I am now in choice around giving, and this is so important because when I choose to give, I can now give lovingly, and when I choose to receive, replenish and restore, I give myself permission to choose to do so with love for myself and for those who have chosen to give to me.
It is my dream that we can grow a culture in healthcare that encourages doctors and other healthcare professionals to prioritize wellness. Not only is it important that doctors model healthy behaviors, but also that they begin to account for their energy stores and begin to exhibit a "healthy" balance between Giving and Receiving. I believe that this can be a game changer in healthcare today.