Monday, May 30, 2011

Why Christians should take job burnout seriously

I sometimes think Christians are slow to admit dissatisfaction with or burden from their work life...kind of like mothers are reluctant to say they're tired or frustrated in their duties caring for children...they feel as if admission, even to themselves, will bring judgement and is an indication of inferiority on some level. Here's a list of reasons that I think it's essential that we be honest with ourselves and others about how job burnout affects us:

  • It's not a sign of weakness or a deficient relationship with God. Yes, you may need to focus more in a time of employment crisis but the fact that you're not skipping and singing through a minefield doesn't make you a bad Christian. 
  • It doesn't make you ungrateful. It's a tricky dichotomy. Situations in life are seldom clean cut blessings or difficulties. Family is a support system, a blessing and sometimes a burden. Financial success is great, but brings with it additional responsibilities and changed reactions from those around us. Why would a job be any less complex? Even in difficult economic times, it's possible to be thankful that you have a job that provides for your physical needs, but still be worn down by the psychological and emotional effects that it brings. Those too, are real. 
  • Job burnout affects your relationships. With your coworkers, your parents, your wife, kids, friends, strangers, all of them. How exactly depends on an individual, but if you are emotionally drained from work, you don't instantly become a wellspring of positive interaction when dealing with people. Ignoring it will take a toll on your life. All of it. 
  • Job burnout can weigh on your physical and mental health. These are probably the first symptoms people are willing to admit. A failing gland and lost hair were my call to the reality of the weight of the work environment. 
  • If affects your job. Most people need their jobs for things they need AND things that make them happy. Even though you might not be trying to buy your happiness in diamonds, pearls and really sweet rides, chances are there are simple things in life that bring you small pleasures that do cost a few dollars. Unfortunately, if you're burnt-out, your performance will suffer, which will likely add pressure from higher ups and, if you're the kind of person that's likely to suffer from burnout, will weigh on you in the form of anxiety and personal doubt.
  • It may be a sign of something bigger. I don't believe burnout just happens. It's there for you to learn. It's there to nudge you closer to God. It's there to show you what you need. It's never just there.
  • It will change your relationship with God. This has been the trickiest for me. Personally, I'm not one of those people who runs to God when things are bad. My first instinct is to solve problems myself. For good or bad though, it does shake things up.

So yeah...guilt, shame, fear, denial, whatever the reason, we all owe it to ourselves to be honest about this "phenomenon" of modern life. 

Sunday, May 29, 2011

"I'll go to church, but I'm not getting to know anybody."

A friend of mine said that to me this week. Voices echoed in my head "you need to get to know people" "People in church are flawed just like anywhere else." I couldn't bring myself to pass any of that on though, because, despite my recent renewed efforts to connect with Christians I attend church with, I knew, and felt, exactly what she meant...and I honestly didn't have an answer.

From youth activities to volunteer projects to singles Bible studies to young adult groups and women's dinners, I've done and been involved with probably every type of function a church can possibly have to offer. I've been burned and disappointed the same way there that I have been at work and in social activities, so when she shared to me how she'd been turned off by the gossip and backstabbing she'd recently witnessed first hand at a friend's church, all I could do was listen.

Writing about this though, I'm realizing it's not just about the church. I'm dealing with, and have dealt with the same efforts to degrade and wear down self-esteem and well being in others in the secular areas of my life. There, I've had the same apprehensions, misgivings and overall wear in my resolve of getting to know, and getting involved with new groups.

Long story short, I'm tired, my friend is tired. A lot of the world is tired.

I think this issue is especially relevant to singles and those who don't have children because we inherently have more time and resources to connect with groups. That though, also puts us in a position where we're more frequently exposed to environments that wear down our social tolerances. Those of us that are introverted or socially shy, wear down more quickly because there are fewer benefits offered us in group participation. What's more, with time and age (I'm calling 30 as the magic age) the prospect and hope of "new" sparkles less and less.

I'm at a point in my life where I'm genuinely beginning to question the benefit of planned, large group interaction, aside from the satiation of some extrovert needs. I'm reminded of the fact that around him Jesus had a relatively small group of connections, and even within that small group, he kept a few apostles closer than others.

When I look at all the problems, all the willing bodies lost to bad environments, all the hurt feelings and crushed enthusiasm, I do see one common theme that this book addresses. Basically, it's a no tolerance policy for rudeness, abruptness, callousness, meanness, underhanded behavior and the like. That means that people entering an organization know it's not tolerated and when it's seen, it's addressed immediately with a warning. Repeat behavior earns an expulsion.

I know that doing this in the church wouldn't work the same as it does in business, but I think the spirit of dealing with detrimental and poisonous behavior is one that all organizations, business or otherwise, would benefit from.

All of this makes me beyond thankful for the friends and Christians that I do have in my life, since the idea of building those types of connections and trust at this age seems, though not impossible, incredibly difficult. 

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Why aren't you drinking?!?!

I was watching the George Lopez show last night...he was demonstrating to his wife how people from his family deal with issues, which in this case, was by taking two shots of tequila. Both times, the audience hooted and clapped. My first thought was, Really? That's what we're clapping for now? The consumption of alcohol? Something that happens every day, in every city and has been for thousands of years? 

Yes. Yes it is what we're clapping for now. It truly baffles me how American society today seems to see alcohol consumption as expected, yet simultaneously worthy of praise. If you've ever been to a networking event, dinner meeting, meet and greet or even just out with coworkers after work, there's no doubt you've been confronted with this issue, most likely quite directly. Most Christians I know are teetotalers, some even refraining from food cooked with alcohol (or so they think), so I know this has to be a problem a lot of us run into. 

Personally, I don't take issue with alcohol consumption. I love the culinary arts and keep 10-15 bottles of wine, sake and various beers on hand at a time for cooking and will occasionally have a glass with dinner when out. Though I don't like hard liquor, I come from a family that doesn't drink, but that does believe in grapefruit toddies when ill...and I just finished making a bourbon chess pie. So basically I believe in the Ephesians 5:18 take on alcohol:

Ephesians 5:18 

18 Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit

Basically it falls into the same category as money...not inherently wrong, but the issue is the overuse/abuse.

I've dealt with it this problem for years, but lately people seem to be getting more direct. The conversation usually goes like this:

You're not having anything to drink?
Not tonight
Why not??
I'm not a big drinker.
I bet you are! 
I'm really not.

And don't think having a glass of wine in your hand will stave off the questions...

You're only having one?
Yeah. I'm not a big drinker.
Why not? I'm going to get you another drink.
No thanks.
No really, I'm fine with this. 

Now...I know these conversations aren't generally meant with any ill will. People usually just want you to join in the party because, for some odd reason, they feel that if everyone isn't participating, drinking isn't quite as enjoyable. If I had to take a guess though, I think there's something pretty sad going on. I think a large number of people need alcohol to deal with their true feelings and desires. Many people say they need alcohol to dance or perform, and I've even heard the statement that people who don't drink can't be trusted because they are hiding something and are scared it will slip out if they get drunk. In an age of supposed enlightenment and more focus on self, I'm really not sure how that came about.

But general policy on confrontation? Don't back down. I've got a decent amount of mass on me, so it takes a few glasses of wine to even get me tipsy, but I know my limits. I get my one glass that I sip VERY slowly (people do notice, despite what you may read in magazines and online). I may do a second, but regardless of who's offering, I turn down anything after I start to feel the effects. I once had to turn down our senior VP who insisted on getting me more drinks. Not gonna lie...he didn't like it.

I am looked upon strangely and people do remember. Some people have even taken it as a game to get me to drink more than I want. I've never gotten angry or offended, but have instead just maintained an even, light tone when turning people down, because honestly, a large number of people will take your limitations on drinking as you judging their personal behavior.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Christians and Job Burnout I think I'm officially suffering from job burnout.

A couple months ago I started taking some of those quizzes that seem to be everywhere online, and I tested moderate risk for burnout. I just took another one and I'm up to high risk. It's a little hard for me to believe because I've always associated the condition with working excessive hours (which I haven't been lately)...sure, that's one of the factors that contributes, but there are quite a few others (feeling like you make a difference, interest, feeling like you're part of a team working toward the same goal) that have been weighing on me lately.

Quizzes aside, I'm just tired of doing things. Not sleepy or physically tired...but my will is shot. I used to come home and immediately start my evening workout. I’d cook dinner then move on to some language studies. Next came my nightly 15 minutes of cleaning and that was my evening. I enjoyed it, it kept me energized, and I could watch Spanish news. My life wasn’t perfect, but the setup I had was nice.

Fast forward to today, more than a year after I finished business school. I fully expected to spend my days rested and ready to enjoy life like I did before I added school on top of a full time work schedule. Needless to say, that didn’t happen. I’m still careful to make sure I spend my free time doing things I enjoy…linguistic studies, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, cooking classes...but…it’s hard now. I find myself blanking out while sparring. I don’t want to practice my pronunciation. I find myself shying away from recipes that take too much work.

My first fear was that I was slipping back into the situational depression I believe I experienced in my first job out of undergrad, but that's not it either...I don't have even the slightest taste of the hollow hopelessness that came with that trip.

I thought that maybe I wasn’t sleeping enough. I never do honestly, but I decided to make sure I was getting at least 8 hrs a night. Strangely, I was still waking up tired, while on weekends, I felt fine after only six hours of sleep.

My next solution was a vacation. I took a week and a half around the holidays, hoping it would help from the traumatic introduction I had to my current assignment, but it was horrible. I spent the entire time short of breath, chest tight, checking to make sure my inhaler was close by.

So I ran to the internet to find some inspiration…some other Christians who’d struggled with the same issue. Unfortunately, I wouldn’t find much. It's kind of sad how little advice there is for Christians suffering from job burnout. Most of what I've seen mimics what you find on secular sites, replacing "your family and friends" with "your faith and relationship with God." Sometimes you find advice to find a new job, make your current work environment better or to determine what you need out of life.

I’m not going to complain too much though, because even looking back on job issues I've overcome only through faith and divine intervention, I can't find much advice to give others but the trite, and somewhat dismissive "pray about it" and "listen to God". A friend of mine currently going through cancer treatments said something to me recently...he mentioned how painful it was to hear people simplify what he needs to do to get through his struggles, even if they'd been through similar situations themselves.

I've decided to turn my struggles into something more, so if you suffer through the same issues, check out my newest blog-venture that will hopefully help you out some.

I'm guessing a lot of authors out there are trying to avoid that. 

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Being an introvert and attenvion vs. interraction

I remember my first solo musical performance in front of a large was done at the height of popularity of my church in the community. We had a new, dynamic pastor that kept the building (that seated over 500) packed to the point people that people had to be sent to satellite areas downstairs to watch the service on a closed circuit feed. It was the Sunday before Christmas, and I'd been asked to reprise my performance of The Little Drummer Boy (that I'd played for the kids program) for the whole congregation. It was a beautiful, rich arrangement that did an amazing job of reflecting the meaning of the song. I spent the whole performance, terrified by the church's deafening silence while I played. (There aren't many instances in Black sacred music where there is not either clapping or singing or yelling...constant feedback from the audience, which is honestly characteristic of our culture as a whole.) 

I finished the song, stood, turned to bow and saw the entire congregation on its feet, roaring and clapping. It was a nice feeling to know that people had appreciated something I did so much, but honestly, not enough to draw me back. 

That's my favorite performance of the song. Bowie's voice still surprises me in its non pop-funk form.

At the church I was raised in, kids basically had two options for sang in the choir, or you ushered. My temperament in no way fit the energetic, attention-loving environment of the kids I knew that sang, so I became an usher. We had quiet meetings to coordinate our sitting, standing and door blocking, which I didn't mind too much, because we only met once a month, the meetings were only about 30 min and I had a massive crush on one of the guys.

Fast forward 15 years and lo and behold, I'm an usher again. Our recently arrived missions pastor came to me a couple months back and asked if I'd consider greeting for a couple of special occasions. He kept talking and said something that surprised me...genuinely surprised me...and I don't surprise easily by any measure. "You have such a positive welcoming energy, I was wondering if you'd help out." I swear I froze, waiting for a punch line. I know I've become more open in recent years (though not more extraverted), but I thought there must be some other 6' tall Black woman with natural hair that only shows up on days I'm not there that he THOUGHT he was talking to. (I might have brushed it off as flattery if someone at work hadn't said something similar a few days before.)

So I'm greeting today and it started to hit me what the real difference between ushering and singing at my old church was. If you'd asked me years ago, I would have said it was people who liked interacting with people (singers) and those who didn't (ushers). But today, realizing that I'd spoken to every person that set foot in the building, and remembering the faceless mass that had been behind me during that entire performance of The Little Drummer Boy, I understood that the position of greeting/ushering requires much more interaction on a one to one level than performing does.

Attention...I'm not sure what part it plays in the introversion-extroversion spectrum...I know many extroverts that enjoy attention and some that don't...can't say the same for introverts though...I know a lot (which is a big deal since we tend to stay in our little holes) and I can't name one that actually enjoys the attention of others. Yes, there are many introvert performance artists, but they seem to tolerate the attention as more of a hazard of the job than a reward (Johnny Depp comes to mind).

All I can think is that attention can translate as a sort of one-way, social interaction...because honestly, what is conversation but a series of alternating, mini-performances with cyclical feedback and what is performance besides a conversation?

Sunday, May 1, 2011

My favorite apostle

Yesterday, I went to see the exhibit, Vatican Splendors. If it comes to a city near you, I highly recommend it. I have a lot to write about the things I saw, but it was amazing to see the growth and change of the early Christian church...the influx of pagan culture...the efforts to remove it and get back to the church's true work. I have to credit my little Southern Baptist elementary and middle school for teaching us about the history of the Catholic church (along with other denominations and other religions)'s given me a different take on the institution than a lot of Protestants I've run into. I once dated a guy in college who considered it to be a satanic cult and had no idea that the Protestant church, though quite different now, was born as an effort to strip off the excesses and misdirections that the Catholic church of the time had gotten caught up in

The art though, was amazing. I almost cried when I rounded a corner and saw a reproduction of The Pietà . The use of images in churches does run the risk of promoting idolatry, but many of the works themselves, I found them helpful in remembering those Christians who had gone before and what had gone on in their lives...especially those of the apostles. I mean, there are twelve of them and no matter how hard or long you study them, it can be easy to get them confused.

St. Andrew by Francois Duquesnoy

I've always found myself drawn to two in particular: Paul and Andrew. Paul I've always known why...he was the thinker of the group. Andrew though...I realized that I knew nothing. I did some quick digging and found out he was the silent, even tempered apostle. Again...makes sense. I just find it funny that the attraction was subconscious. Now I want to see the MBTI for Christians who like specific apostles. Unfortunately, very little of his work survived the passing of time. I'm hoping I can learn more from this book that I just loaded into my Kindle.