Today, I have a new article published in Inside Higher Ed: “Honoring Ourselves and Each Other Through Burnout.”
In the past few months, nearly all my conversations have focused on burnout. One friend is running on fumes, another wonders how to keep teaching when her body says no and still another rattles off a near-endless list of what’s not getting done. Such stories are nearly endless, too. The recent Inside Higher Ed opinion piece “Academe, Hear Me. I Am Crying Uncle” captures the experiences of many people I know.
Though conversation after conversation focuses on burnout, and though the World Health Organization recognizes burnout as an occupational phenomenon, we still treat it primarily as an individual matter. And in many ways, burnout can feel very isolating and lonely. This was the case for me in the years before tenure, when I was deciding to leave my faculty position, and in the months that followed, when I fell into an even messier chrysalis period.
Despite being personally experienced, burnout is collectively constructed through dehumanizing systems. It cumulates as institutions and interactions signal disregard and disrespect. Truly, burnout is rooted in and related to the systems of oppression meant to undermine humanity and wholeness. So, for those of us committed to justice, how might we honor ourselves and each other through experiences of burnout? How might we honor our shared humanity and act in ways that are rehumanizing?
I seek answers to these questions with humility, as a white cisgender woman with a lot to learn and unlearn as well as a lot of relative power to name and rename, to heal and counter burnout. The answers to these questions include, for me, reframing how we understand burnout and seeking collective—not only individual—responses. If we can imagine collective actions, such as blocking harm through saying no, then we can better honor ourselves and each other.”
I hope you’ll read the full piece, which raises questions to consider, conditions to name, and actions to take. My hope is that the piece helps with renaming and reframing burnout, recognizing it as a collective experience.
I’m especially grateful for this piece finding its way into the world because it’s an extended response to a question I received about career discernment. This question appeared in a past month’s Q&A newsletter for Patreon subscribers. Thanks to subscribers who make this work possible.
Additional and special appreciation for Rasha Diab and Candace Epps-Robertson for your friendship, feedback, and support throughout writing and publishing this piece. And thank you to Sarah Bray for always-supportive editing and to Briana Mohan for encouraging me to pitch to Inside Higher Ed.
And deep gratitude for writing community—writers in writing groups and writing retreats—who keep me grounded and remind me to prioritize writing. And for people who choose to work together through coaching: you continue to teach me about experiencing, moving through, and reframing burnout. Truly, burnout is not an individual experience. Thank you for holding space for collaborative learning and unlearning.
More on burnout:
Burnout is not a new subject in this blog. To read additional pieces on burnout—toward honoring ourselves and each other—check out these past posts:
- “It’s More than End-of-the-Year Exhaustion: Semester Rhythms and Recurring Burnout”
- “Disrupting the Mind-Body Split”
- “Exploring Exhaustion and Energy Loss”
- “Responding to Microaggressions”
- “Announcing the Decision to Leave Higher Ed: 3 Responses that Surprised Me”
- “Attending to Anger”
- “Inside the Chrysalis, or Experiencing Mess, Mess, and More Mess”
To connect this summer, consider joining one-with-one or small-group coaching on aligning career with commitments, one-day writing retreats, and the workshop “Planning Summer Writing Projects.” All are hosted online, so join from wherever you are.