Don't Ruin Yourself with a Nonprofit Job: Work/Life Balance

Here's a contribution I recently wrote for another blog (@YNPN of the Triangle NC) that I felt like I should include on my own blog page. Enjoy.

I see it ALL THE TIME. Burnout. It happens to the best of ‘em. Burnout creeps up like a silent ninja in the night. You don’t even know it hits you until it’s too late.

Let’s pretend there is a recipe for Burnout. Take the following 10 ingredients, mix them together in any order you’d like, and just let it bake. For some, it takes days, others months, and still others, years.  Whatever the case, without change, you’ll find you have a classic case of Burnout on your hands.

  1. Say “yes” to everything. Just say “no” to boundaries. #Overrated
  2. Don’t have a hobby.
  3. Spread yourself thin, Try to do many things at once.
  4. Do everything yourself. Why delegate? No one can do your job as well as you.
  5. Eat, Sleep, Drink your job. Stay at it all day, even on the weekends and on vacations.
  6. Find your self-worth only in your job. Success = staying super busy.
  7. Complain lots. Why see the positive?
  8. Don’t take vacations. Personal days are for sissies, that’s a whole day you could be getting things done.
  9. Don’t take care of yourself. The gym is too expensive, fast food is cheap and going to bed early is for old people.
  10. Spend the bulk of your working time doing things that you really don’t care about.

I’ve been “nonprofitting” since I was a sophomore in college - 15 years now. I’ve trained employees and volunteers. I served as an area director in two different states with one nonprofit, been on staff with a church as a local outreach pastor, and worked alongside those who work for nonprofits all over this country as well as overseas - if there’s one thing I know, it’s how to recognize Burnout.  Over the years,  I’ve literally shared thousands of cups of coffee with friends and colleagues who talk about the hardships of their jobs and describe how fried they feel. It’s one thing to be tired and complain a little bit, everyone has to vent a little bit; but it’s quite another thing to be burned out. Sometimes you know it, but often times you have no idea just how bad it is.

When I was a younger man full of gusto and desire to change the world, I had a supervisor, Justine, a woman I greatly admired. I didn’t realize it then, but she saw in me what I could not see for myself. Everytime I saw her she asked me the same questions, “What are you doing for fun Mike? What are your hobbies?” I was doing my job I told her.  Early morning meetings. Working lunches. Happy hours after work. Late nights. I was running, running, running and staying busy, busy, busy. I was being productive in the world: networking, building relationships, strengthening my organization. My answers always revolved around work. I liked what I was doing. I was having fun. But I didn’t have a work/life balance. There was no “me time.” I didn’t have time for ME, because I was too busy with other things. #Aintnobodygottimeforthat.

Nowadays, I have coffee almost every single morning. I don’t really need it, because I’m one of those “morning types,” but I enjoy it. I don’t just make it at home, but I go out and buy a cup of coffee. It’s one of the most important things I can do in my day. You see, it’s not about what’s in my cup. It’s about my time. My coffee hour is my hour. It’s a small practice and change I have made in my life that has kept me from burn out no matter how hectic life gets.

Do you have a work/life balance? Are you able to checkout when you’re not in the office or at a meeting? Are you able to be fully present with your friends, family and loved ones? What practices are you cultivating in your life simply because you enjoy them? Do you have relationships with others that are completely unrelated to your job?

Build time for yourself into your daily routine. Cultivating YOU is the best thing that can happen; and it will have healthy repercussions into your job as well. Bottom line: If you want a good work/life balance - Get a life. Choose your life as much as you choose your job.

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