Recently, I had a nasty case of the flu. I haven’t felt that rotten for a long time. When you’re in that state, it is really hard to see the wood for the trees. It’s hard to see beyond the situation and it’s hard to know that you’ll feel better again. It made me think about resilience and how we find our way out of difficult situations.
When my burnout symptoms became obvious, I was confused about it because I thought I was quite resilient. How could someone so optimistic become so very sick just from stress? I read The Resilience Factor to gain an understanding of where I went wrong. And what I found was even more confusing.
There are many factors influencing our resilience. I scored high on most factors and average to high on the remainder. Certainly, serious illness affects both our happiness set point as well as our resilience. And yet I scored so high on almost all components. How did I get sick, then?
I’ve come to realise that I was in the perfect storm of unfavourable conditions for flourishing. My work was wrong. The work itself, the people and the industry. My relationships were not working for me. My boundaries were weak and I felt that I was being taken advantage of. My diet was wrong – healthy but wrong. There were many foods that were creating physical stress. And then I was training for ultramarathons on top of it all. I was swimming against the current in many areas of my life, and not taking any time to restore my energy after it was depleted.
Resilience has many aspects, examples being as follows:
- Do I blame others for what happens – is it someone or something else’s fault?
- Do I let one bad thing ruin my entire day, week, life?
- Do I take responsibility for everything that goes wrong? Blaming myself?
“Research shows that the essential ingredient in steering through chronic stress is self-efficacy – the belief that you can master your environment and effectively solve problems as they arise.” ~ The Resilience Factor (Karen Reivich and Andrew Shatte). In my efforts to turn the business profitable, I lost that belief along the way and I eventually gave up hope. I believe that is the time my body gave up too.
Of course when I was burning out, there were areas where I was not completely resilient and I was not functioning at my best. But I didn’t burn out because I’m weak or lacking in resilience. I burnt out because my life was broken, and I was the only one who was capable of fixing it.
Getting sick helped me to step away from everything and take a good look at my life. I tackled each area and two years later my life looks completely different. Now, I do work that I love and I find flow everyday. I surround myself with people who build me up and I avoid those who break me down. That goes for friends, colleagues and relatives. I eat according to what my body likes and I take care of myself. When I’ve pushed hard, I schedule down time.
I have found a joy that many people spend their lives looking for. I love my life and my family. I’m doing work that I enjoy thoroughly. I have moments where I am overwhelmed with gratitude for the past two years and what I have learnt. I don’t have to push or fight or struggle for my little slice of happiness. I’m immersed in waves of it every day. I think what led me there is the realisation that my fate lies in my own hands and that I am able to master my environment.