Today’s article is written for the Reach To Teach Teach Abroad Blog Carnival, a monthly series that focuses on providing helpful tips and advice to ESL teachers around the globe. I’ll be posting a new ESL related article on my blog on the 5th of every month. Check back for more articles, and if you’d like to contribute to next month’s Blog Carnival, please contact Dean at firstname.lastname@example.org, and he will let you know how you can start participating.
“Live in each season as it passes; breathe the air, drink the drink, taste the fruit, and resign yourself to the influence of the earth.”
Henry David Thoreau
“[A person] must be careful to not allow over-responsibility (or over-respectability) to steal her necessary creative rests, riffs, and raptures. She simply must put her foot down and say no to half of what she believes she “should” be doing. Art is not meant to be created in stolen moments only.”
Clarissa Pinkola Estés
Burn-out is an insidious beast with a thousand faces, simmering in your subconscious, waiting for a fissure in your armor, a crack through which to seep and spoil your plans and sully your intentions. It can happen any time, in any circumstances, and oftentimes without warning. You wake up one morning with a sluggishness caffeine can’t touch and the outside world is muted and far away; it’s as though you’re being pulled out to sea. Work is nearly intolerable, you feel like Atlas underneath a monstrous to-do list, the book you were engrossed in yesterday leaves you cold, the music on your playlist all sounds the same and it all sounds like apathy.
Even when you’re on the road, when you’re ostensibly free from drudgery and full of excitement, you’re not immune. Fatigue can creep up on you all the same. You become templed out, hosteled out, and churning through the same conversation with fellow travelers over and over again (where are from, how long have you been traveling for, wocka wocka) is turning you into a misanthrope. You begin to have visions of pulling a Thoreau and holing up in a cabin far, far way from small talk.
It’s happened. Your give-a-damn is broken. You are burnt out, frazzled, bored but too tired to do anything about it, succumbed to ennui like a disillusioned rock star. So what to do?
The terrible ennui beast comes calling for a reason. And actually, he’s not so terrible. He’s got your best interests at heart. He’s telling you to stop and re-calibrate. Just as we have sleep-wake cycles, we have an internal rhythm for work and play and creativity and being social and being alone and everything else that makes up our lives. It’s when you ignore your natural cycles and put too much energy into one aspect — whether it’s idling in a sandy paradise for too long or spending day after day after day herding small children in a class room — you become unbalanced, a wagon with only one working wheel.
My ennui beast surfaced again last month, on the heels of a particularly brutal and lingering Canadian winter. Just when I thought we’d seen the back of it, winter slammed into us again. I could almost hear the wind being sucked out of the city’s sails. The cold, while not nearly as awful as when we approached absolute zero in December, weighed me down like concrete shoes. I was listless before my eyes fully opened in the morning. And yet, I was secretly grateful that I had a good excuse to stay inside, in my sweats, in front of the television.
As usual, the beast invited his hateful friend, writer’s block, and I had a helluva time scrounging up the motivation to write this post. I’d sit down to write, and the blank page mocked me, so I’d spend the next few hours tumbling down the rabbit hole of internet inanity, feeling as though my brain was leaching out through my eyeballs. A wretched mix of apathy and restlessness had overtaken me, and I wanted to crawl out of my skin. I can’t even pinpoint when it started. It crept up on me slowly, like a bogeyman with social anxiety. As familiar as the beast and I are, it still took me a few days to realize what was going on. And a couple of days after that to do anything about it.
The antidote will, necessarily, be different for everybody. It’s whatever helps you hit the reset button, where you recharge your batteries, where you immerse yourself in things that inspire you and fill you up. For me, it starts with de-cluttering and cleaning (‘clean house, clean mind’, as someone once told me). The work of sifting through my stuff, keeping what serves me and chucking what doesn’t and finding a place for everything has an analogous effect on my brain. Sometimes the ennui beast is a signal that something in your life isn’t working for you anymore and you should get rid of it. Other times, it wants to introduce something new. And sometimes it just means you need to tidy up.
After cleaning house, I applied the same rigorous purging to my email and social media. I made fresh to-do lists and updated my calendar. I even filed my taxes. And then I switched off. I put my cell phone on silent and tucked it away, turned the computer off, crawled into bed with a book that read like candy, and I stayed there for the rest of the night. The following day I went for a drive, to nowhere in particular, just to listen to a good program on the radio and to feel the road thrumming underneath me. And the day after that I made myself start writing again.
If I were a wise person, I would carve out time like this every week, or even every day, to sit with the beast that’s not really a beast. Because he’s actually my inner guide, my personal metronome, who, if I’ll listen, tells me when to work and when to play, when to be social and when to be alone, when to create and when to percolate.
“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”
Henry David Thoreau