I recently read a great blog by Tom Hillingsworth called Racing on the Edge of Burnout, and it was one of those reads that made me sit and think for a while. Then I read it again and thought a bit more. I began to wonder if the article was about me, whether now or at any point in my career. I think it’s about a lot of us. And when I think of what burnout can do to a person, I am reminded of Josh Fidel’s story.
I recently took a vacation. Long drives are perfect for audio books (when I’m allowed to be antisocial in the car, that is). Upon recommendation from Josh Duffney, I started reading Give and Take by Adam Grant. I had heard the name Adam Grant after recently reading Deep Work by Cal Newport, and when someone I know and respect makes a book recommendation, it gets my attention.
Grant talks about 3 reciprocity styles in his book – givers, matchers, and takers. Within the giver category we have the selfless giver and the otherish giver. The selfless giver provides so much time to others without concern for their own needs that it can end up harming them as a result (feeling drained, no progress on professional projects, things feel too much like an obligation, etc.). The otherish giver gets energy from giving but doesn’t make it to the point of feeling drained. Where do you draw the line?
In chapter 6 of the book (The Art of Motivation Maintenance), Grant makes some very interesting points about how otherish givers may be more resistant to burn out than all the others. That got my attention. People who have reached burnout struggle to get through a day’s work. In many cases the person has lost connection with the impact they are making through their work (very similar to what we find in Three Signs of a Miserable Job by Patrick Lencioni). If you have more days where you wonder why you’re doing what you are doing, what the work is even for, or who / what it is helping than days where you feel energized and happy…you, my friend are burning out.
Is My Creative Outlet Missing the Mark?
Someone may say you need to take up a hobby or find something that sparks a creative interest. And make it something a little different than your normal job. Would that do the trick to protect you from burnout? It might help, and it might give you energy. But think a little harder. Think about why that likely won’t sustain you long term. If there’s no way to provide meaning and awareness of impact, you’re missing it. You will still be lacking what led you to burn out in the first place.
What if you could do something in a fresh, new domain that you know would help someone or a greater cause? This has the potential to give you sustainable energy. In fact, it has the potential to breathe energy and excitement back into what you do each day for work and boost your productivity. The only way to get there is to give…more.
I know what you may be thinking. Wait! I’m already giving it my all at work. I’m putting in extra hours and still cannot finish everything. You’re telling me to add something EXTRA to my plate? Yes. Adam Grant is telling you, actually. And so am I.
Guidelines for Giving
This extra giving is NOT an exercise in giving more to work. You’re probably already doing that and not seeing the return on your investment. If you work for company XYZ, you control how, what, and when you give (time and effort) to that employer. But you are giving out of a sense of duty and obligation to the employer. It’s part of the job, right?
I think Grant is telling us to take complete control of our giving of time and resources. He’s saying we should give to a cause (someone / something) of our own choosing (i.e. exercising free will) based on our values, interests, and the benefits we can get from the act of giving. The quantity of time and resources would also be determined by the giver. Is this selfish? You might think it is, but there are psychological benefits to giving that need to be considered here too.
Before you get overwhelmed, put some training wheels on the bike you’re about to start riding. No one is suggesting you need to give 10, 20, 30 hours per week to something outside work. If you’re putting in 50+ hours per week already and having trouble staying motivated in general, you don’t have that kind of time. Guard against giving so much that it feels like an obligation (or you will be right back where you started). Grant shares with us that the sweet spot to reap peak benefits is 100 hours per year or roughly 2 hours per week. Giving more than that isn’t bad, and you can certainly do so. But there’s not a greater benefit to the giver over this 100 hour threshold. Could you find 2 hours per week that didn’t steal from work, family, church, existing other obligations, and sleep? I bet you could if you really thought about how you’re spending your time.
Investing time in a hobby is a great thing, and I am not saying don’t do it. But what if that hobby could allow you to make an impact? Take that hobby that energizes you, and use it in a slightly different way. What if, instead of playing in a recreational basketball league you spent time playing basketball with a group of kids who need a positive influence? If you measured the amount of energy and excitement gained from this small change, I bet it would be more than just playing recreational basketball. That’s just one example. There are many others, including those from Grant’s book.
In my mind, starting to give in this way this creates a snowball effect. Once you start to gain that energy from being an otherish giver in your own way, you will begin to see opportunities to be an otherish giver in your job. Maybe they aren’t things that are officially in your job description, but they can make an impact (i.e. mentoring new hires, training your peers, a special project, etc.). And the impact on your overall energy, job satisfaction, and happiness will be substantial.
If you’re close to burn out or feel you are there now, maybe it’s time to do a little experiment to see how being an otherish giver can change your situation. And even if you are nowhere close to burn out, being an otherish giver has potential to increase the quality and quantity of your output and make you happier too. As you conduct the experiment, don’t lose sight of the impact of your giving.