Resisting American burnout (the great resentment)
I’ve seen a lot of tired and stressed workers in my time. I’m a little tired myself, despite having the easiest and sweetest job in the world, so I’m taking my first American staycation next week.
I’m eager to avoid the fate of my American peers, teachers and business-owners alike, who work so intensely and relentlessly that they end up burning out.
Marissa Meyer said that burnout is just resentment over missing the important stuff (as long as you’re able to leave work in time to see your kid’s soccer practice, you can work as much as you like — like Einstein!). At first glance that sounds both overly simplistic and misunderstanding how American workers are treated to a staggering degree, but Marissa is CEO of Yahoo! and I’m CEO of my basement classroom, so maybe she’s onto something.
Resentment is an interesting word in the United States. In Britain, we resent pretty much everything. Friends, for having the cheek to make us leave our homes for social events. Family, for being right sometimes and forgiving us when we mess up. Employers, of course, for daring to expect a full day’s work. Even things, like buses, rain clouds, a flickering light bulb. The British resent it all, and more than that, they will resent any attempt by you to fix it.
The intern has spent 10.5 weeks chirping at me, chasing string, drooling on my mouse and running after ghosts. No wonder he’s feeling the burn.
In the United States of Positivity, resent is a bigger deal.
I remember a business meeting I had when the big issue was how much a particular task was worth in $. The company gave me what I was asking for (this doesn’t always happen — otherwise I guess I’d just walk into Marissa Meyer’s office and ask for her stock options) and I thought all was well, but before I could shake hands and escape, he asked whether there was anything else I wanted to talk about, because he didn’t want any resentment.
To be honest, I resented the question, because I felt as though it painted me as harboring all these negative feelings. But I understand now, that plenty of American workers, especially those working for large companies, private or public, are resenting their employer.
If we define ourselves, our status, by the work that we do (and the US does this all the time) then resenting our job — for what it makes us do, what it makes us miss, the opportunity cost of turning up — then I can see how resentment and burnout can look similar.
I work for myself. My clients. My cats. And sometimes in partnership. Which means I would have to resent…myself? The people I’ve specifically chose to help? Fortunately, I’m not that messed up.
My staycation isn’t really my solution to burnout. Holidays or vacations never helped my stress levels in the UK (the British, save for those on zero-hours contracts, tend to have significantly longer vacations than Americans)
I think you can help avoid burnout with the choices you make every day. Do you have control over your schedule? Over your diet? Do you get enough sleep? Do you have friends that don’t talk to you about work? (And if so, can I borrow one?)
The smart cookies in Silicon Valley know a few things about burnout (in the same way that they don’t know how to reduce homelessness). Employers are introducing nap pods, incentives for taking medication classes and walking groups.
I don’t nap, having successfully outsourced that to my cats — but I’m still way ahead of Silicon Valley.
My Burnout Avoidance Technique (‘BAT’ — copyright Teacher Hamish) is the same in the United States as it was in my home country.
I walk. I walk by myself, I walk with my classroom assistants, I walk around my neighborhood and I walk around my places of business.
I’ve been told that I work hard, sometimes too hard, but I’m not a 24/7 kind of worker. And what I’ve noticed is that for the majority of people who do try to work that way, it doesn’t end well. America is a country filled with people who aren’t about to tell you that they took it easy today — but they probably should.
Next week’s staycation is more about getting stuff done in my house than fixing any work issues. It does take a small leap of faith, of course, for me to accept that my clients are going to survive without me for six days. But they will, and I will return and we’ll catch-up. And maybe they’ll ask, “Where’s Bob?” and I’ll have to let them down easy; the intern has left.
Bob is immune to burnout. 11 weeks of chasing and chirping and just being so damn pleased to see me every time I enter the classroom that he falls down at my feet — I think he could continue for another 111 weeks. But his internship ends next Tuesday and he will return to his forever home.
Which means the regular classroom assistants are coming back. Will they remember their respective positions and responsibilities, after 3 months off the job? I guess we’ll find out. But cats don’t burnout and cats don’t quit, so I’m certain they will be a good influence on all of us.
Maisy’s coming back to the classroom. She’s pretty excited. When I say “excited” I mean she’s pretty annoyed. But that’s Maisy.
Take it easy next week, whether you’re working or not. Stay true to your own method of keeping yourself sane and balanced — watch out of for the resentment monster — he will make you feel guilty about the 101st thing you didn’t get to, and suspicious of the people who can help you succeed.
Take a breath, right now, in through the nose and out through the mouth. And I’ll see you soon.
Tried Working English?