In her framing editorial for our theme of burnout and balance, Sophy Banks asked:
"What should leaders in our groups and our movement be modelling to show that well being and balance are more important than always doing? To model that it’s not acceptable to override one’s health to give a bit more, again and again? To give value to downtime, social time, listening, stillness, caring in our relationships, honouring and celebrating what really matters in our lives".
So, in the same spirit that George Monbiot publishes his ‘Registry of Interests’ showing who pays him to do what, I am going to attempt an honest evaluation, rising to Sophy’s challenge, of how, as one of the ‘leaders’ of this movement, I manage balance and burnout in my own life. Feels like a useful thing to do as our burn out theme draws to a close. It is hopefully something I will do on a regular basis, and something, whatever your role in Transition, that I invite you to have a go at too. Ideally you would do this in pairs with someone else, as it’d be useful to get their insights and feedback, but I’ve just given this a stab on my own.
Drawing on on Sophy Bank’s model of what needs balancing, Claire Milne (new Inner Transition co-ordinator) and I have formulated 8 measures, 8 areas where we are trying to achieve balance. I did try to do a score for each one, but found it really difficult to score these in a way that made sense. So how am I ‘doing’?
1. Doing: Being
[By ‘Doing’ we refer to work, fast-paced, mission-related activity, and by ‘Being’ to slowing down, resting, meditating and other nourishing practices, reflecting].
I am probably not very good at this, certainly not as good as I used to be. Having a family, when I am not ‘doing’ Transition, I am ‘doing’ being a Dad and playing my part in running a household. Generally time when I would be meditating, I am too tired to keep my eyes open.
For me, my ‘being’ time takes the form of walks on Dartmoor (about once a fortnight, see right), riding my bicycle (most days, but just into town and back), working in my garden, listening to football on the radio (oddly meditative), listening to new music (might I recommend Max Richter’s recent piece ‘Sleep’ as some extremely fine ‘Being’ music), time just hanging out with family, the rare occasions I get to do any sketching, or rare trips away with Emma (my wife). I do also try to go swimming most lunchtimes, not something I always manage, but it is my conscious effort to try to keep in some kind of shape and to make the space for that.
However, I do think I am quite good at ringfencing my family time: I try to be home no later than 5.30 every work day, and try very hard to not work on weekends. I also try to model this for the organisation by deliberately taking all of August off work, and switching everything off. I think that would put my score up a little had I figured out a way to score these…
But striving for balance between being and doing isn’t just something that happens at home. In the context of my work, I am fortunate enough to work in an organisation that values being, that has bi-monthly ‘Being’ meetings, and in which speaking about feelings of overwhelm and stretch is welcomed. At times when I have felt overwhelmed, I have also felt overwhelming support. When I visit Transition groups to speak, I always speak up for finding a balance, as a group and as individuals, between doing and being.
One of our Being/Doing activities at work that I rather enjoy is having a Caption Competition in the office loo … a suitably daft photo of one of us that invites peoples’s comments. For me, it adds a quality of playfulness to our working culture that is really precious.
2. Thinking: Feeling
[By ‘Thinking’ we mean generating meaning and knowing through mind, body and rational, logical thought and by ‘Feeling’, generating meaning and knowing through intuition, embodied (in our body) feelings and dreams].
I think it is fair to say that I am more rooted in ‘thinking’, and I do hold to the sense that ideas and thoughts need to be rooted in evidence and research, leaning me more towards ‘Thinking’. However, I do feel like I put a lot of feeling into my writing, speaking honestly and personally, and reflecting a lot on how things impact me personally, something that is also a key element of when I give talks. I have even been known to write blogs about dreams I had.
3. Giving: Receiving
[By ‘Giving’, we mean giving our time, energy, money, commitment, attention, and by ‘Receiving’, we mean accepting appreciation, connection, warmth, money, (self) care] .
I’m probably not that great at this, if I’m honest. I am definitely better at giving than receiving. I tend to deflect appreciation onto other people, out of concern at appearing big-headed or ego-driven. I am good at accepting warmth from people, at least that’s the feedback I get, but the fact that I have, after 10 years of doing Transition, not really managed to save any money during that time suggests that perhaps accepting money is something I have some kind of a block around (!). I do think I am good at giving time, energy and attention, albeit in the context of the boundaries around family life as described in 1. above.
4. Talking: Listening
[By ‘Talking’ we mean taking space, sharing our ideas, opinions and feelings, and by ‘Listening’, we mean leaving space to listen to other people’s ideas, opinions and feelings].
Creating the life-sized Agony Aunt for the 2015 Transition Network conference.
I would like to think I am a good listener, and am very open to hearing and working with other people’s ideas and thoughts. That is a culture that runs through Transition Network and how we work, and through most of the other projects I am involved in. It is also something I try to bring to projects I am part of outside of Transition. I would like to think that I am alert and attentive to other peoples’ feelings about things, although I’m not always perfect at it.
Feedback I get from places I go to visit is quite often that they felt I listened well and that they felt heard. When needed, I can take space, share my ideas, but I do try, within that, to be attentive to where those listening are at and how they are receiving what I’m saying.
5. Positivity and strength: Vulnerability
[By ‘Positivity and strength’ we mean feeling solid and optimistic, and by ‘Vulnerability’ we mean allowing ourselves/re-learning how to feel a sense of ‘not knowing’, despair, helplessness and fear].
Sometimes people imagine that, given the nature of what I do, I am somehow relentlessly upbeat and positive, but that’s not the case. Like anyone reading about what’s happening in the world (and receiving Peter Lipman’s ‘Email List of Doom’), I have down days, and moments of overwhelm. But they are surprisingly few and far between. No idea why. Just as my brother-in-law is capable of drinking amounts of beer that would put me under that table several times over without even appearing intoxicated, I seem to be able to digest that stuff and transmute it into doing things.
But life generally can be very overwhelming sometimes. There have been times, which I have written about elsewhere, when coming under attack can be very stressful and exhausting. Or when family pressures and demands, combined with work life, and an overcommitment to too many things, can leave me feeling stretch taught like the skin on a drum. Or when I feel like the work I’m doing isn’t sufficiently challenging or stretching, or like I’m just treading water. At such moments, I have good people to talk to, and TTT’s Mentoring Project, both of which have proved extremely helpful.
So for me, despair isn’t somewhere I go very often.. that could either be because I am somehow in denial, or because I am unusually able to transmute it into something else, I can’t be quite sure, so if I had figured out a way to score this, it would either be a high mark, or quite a low one…
6. Time alone: time with others
[By ‘Time alone’ we mean time spent digesting, resting, nourishing, self care and expressing our boundaries, and by ‘Time with others’ we mean relating and engaging].
I don’t get much time alone, in fact virtually none. What free time I have when I’m not working or away meeting Transition groups I spend with my kids or with Emma. My time alone is time walking the dog, riding my bicycle or swimming. I accept that while I still have kids at home that’s just how it is, they need me more than I need me. I notice that sometime when I am away, such as when I was in Paris for COP21, I give myself entirely to ‘Time with Others’, which over a period of time can be deeply exhausting, so ensuring that ‘Time alone’ is valued and designed into itineraries for trips is a key strategy moving forward. Not a great deal of balance in my life around this one.
7. Screen time/indoors; creativity/in nature
I’m not very good at this one either. I tend to check my phone first thing when I wake up, just to check that while I was asleep nothing utterly disastrous happened in the world (not that there’s much I could about it anyway between then and breakfast…). A screen is often the last thing I see before I fall asleep, and is usually a key part of the time in between too.
Finding time for sketching is a great antidote to burnout for me.
I do try though to keep to a strict rule of not working at home once I’m home, and to put my computer away during the weekends, because that time belongs to my family. During August, I aim to take the whole month off, and generally manage to put both my laptop and my mobile away for the full 4 weeks. It is wonderful. I do seek regular time in nature. I would score myself higher on this, but I am aware that my smartphone catches my attention more than it really should, and I need to get better at ignoring it.
8. Self-directed action/ Collaboration
[By ‘Self-directed action’ we mean individualistic expression, protected from group and power dynamics, hero culture, power over etc, and by ‘Collaboration’ we mean working with others collaboratively, observing and engaging with group dynamics].
This is a tricky balance for me. I am, by nature, a self-starter, a do-er, someone who likes to just go for things under my own steam. I am also an artist, and for me, my work is very similar to an arts practice, my blog is my sketchbook and so on, so I have that driven need to create. I think that I used to have more of a bull-in-a-china-shop approach of just getting on with stuff which impacted on those around me.
But my 10 years of being part of Transition Network, with the remarkable team of people I work, and have worked with, has taken me on a real journey into collaboration, and learning many of the skills needed to make it work. I think, in spite of my profile, that I am quite good at undermining any "hero culture" that arises around me, or perhaps just quite good at ignoring it. I would like to think that I am a good team player.
Of course, people who know me may entirely disagree with what I have written above, and feel I am deeply deluded and in huge denial. That may be so, and doing this in discussion with others would have helped. My relationship to burnout has been, until recently, a fairly regular one. Once every three -four years I tend to get some kind of bug that flattens me for about 3 weeks. Hasn’t happened for a while though, so perhaps I’m developing a new pattern? Let’s hope so. Perhaps some of the changes I’ve made, outlined above, have contributed to that. What would your Burnout Audit look like?