Turning inward -- from burnout to self-love
A few weeks ago, I went to Fuckup Nights Toronto for the first time. It was refreshing and inspiring to hear speakers sharing their fuckups, setbacks and failures in the process of building their businesses. It was fascinating to witness and experience how openly sharing failures can break down the stigma and allow us to treat our flaws with compassion and care.
One of the speakers that night, Sarah Stockdale, shared her story of an intense burnout, which resonated with me deeply. Sarah used to work at various early-stage technology start-ups where sleepless nights and extensive long hours were normal. Working those high-pressure hours not only led to physical exhaustion, but mental and emotional stress. Ignoring all the signs her body desperately sending her, Sarah pushed through and eventually she, the enthusiastic, passionate and energetic person, felt nothing – complete apathy about situations which would have pissed her off or broken her heart. That was when Sarah knew something was wrong and went to the doctor. The prescription was simple: quit your job. That was what she did. In the long healing process that followed she turned inward: she started to honor her body, value her needs, and give herself acknowledgment and love.
I adore this story because it is raw, it is real, it is vulnerable and it is universal. Sarah is you and me, and everyone around us. We all have a certain degree of Sarah within us. As a society, we value output, efficiency and productivity, and we let those external measurements define who we are. We tie our self-worth to the products we deliver, the money we make, the title we have, the compliments we receive, etc. etc. etc. This belief is addictive and destructive. We are compelled to do more because that is the only way that we know how to feel good about ourselves. The more positive feedback we receive, the better we feel, the further it reinforces the belief we have, and the more we push ourselves. When our entire self-worth system is built upon extrinsic factors, we will pretend and defend to get rewards and protect our ego. This farce will continue until we stop it or we ourselves crush and crumble. Undoubtedly we will make mistakes, receive critical feedback, disappoint others, and fail. When all the external measures go against us, we don’t even hesitate to criticize and judge ourselves; how we have done it wrong and what a failure we are. We are lost: don’t know who we are and what our value is.
Sarah turned inward. So can we. We don’t need to work hard to earn love. We can give that to ourselves. Even when we don’t finish all the things we want to do or reach the goals we set, we still are worthy of love and belonging. I am not saying that we should maintain the status quo or stop improving. Oppositely, I believe that taking actions and striving for success from an intrinsic place, a place of grounded confidence and inner trust, are healthy, sustainable and powerful. It takes practice to relate to ourselves that way, but when we give ourselves permission to slow down, we allow ourselves to listen to our body and treat it with care. When we are not interested in pleasing others at the expense of ourselves, we acknowledge our needs and set up healthy boundaries. When we stop tying our worth to our output, we show up most boldly, beautifully and authentically.
What practice do you want to take on to turn inward?