How do you care without burning out?

Dearest ECN community,

Tell me: how do you care without burning out? Send me an email or leave a comment; I read every message.

It wasn’t too long ago that I burned out hard.

I crashed so hard that I was forced to take time off from work in order to rest and unfrazzle my frazzled nerves. This happened officially in April of 2018, though I had been burning out for years before that and didn’t think anything of it. I mean, come on. Wasn’t everyone working in education completely burnt out by mid-year? What was so special about me?

BY THE WAY, it’s a red flag when feeling burnt out is normalized in your industry.

The fatigue I experienced back then was deep and heavy. On top of being the eldest daughter from an East Asian family, I was also a teacher with a saviour complex, and that was 1000% a recipe for high anxiety. I ate up all the toxic messaging, including Ellen Gruell’s Freedom Writer mentality – EVEN THOUGH Ms. G’s personal life fell apart when work completely consumed her. There’s caring, and then there’s THAT.

This was my ol’ mug back in January of 2020, unable to get off the couch because my organs felt like they were dying. Yes, a year and a half after my bout with shingles and I was still randomly hit with this fatigue.

It actually took burning out for me to finally realize that my need to solve everyone’s problems perfectly in every way possible was making me sick. Articulating it this way makes me seem like I was insane, but there you have it. My close friend Helen even called me from San Francisco, California the week I got shingles. “Kay,” she yelled at me, “do you really need to drop dead in front of your classroom before you give yourself a break?” It’s one of Helen’s favourite moments, because it was the kick in the arse I needed to finally put my health first and get my head right (thank you, squidgette).

It’s now 2022. 4 years later, I’m healthier, calmer, and happier than I’ve ever been.

It took a lot of hard work in therapy, deep introspection of who I was going crazy for and why, untangling self-worth issues, and reimagining the kind of person I want to be. But I did it. 

And I’m still me. Just… 2.0 ☺️

Happy me!

I tell you this story, dear community, because it’s one that is so common in our profession. We’re worked to the bone and told we do it for the kids at all cost, even if it’s to the detriment to our mental and physical health. It’s the same with nurses, social workers, PSWs, and many other caregiving frontline workers. The guilt imposed on us when we try to live a rich life is overwhelming.

(And the impacts of this are ever amplified when you consider the intersectionality of marginalized identities in North America, aka everyone except middle-upper class cisgendered straight white men.)

So we normalize endless sacrifice. We normalize burdening ourselves with the problems of those under our care. We normalize becoming martyrs for our work.

Something has to change. But how?

If you’ve been following along on our socials over the last month, you’ll notice that basically all the content has been geared towards making sure y’all take care of yourselves this summer. Because you deserve the rest. And on top of that, our next Discussion Panel is all about how to care without burning out, aka fighting the Culture of Martyrdom that pervades the education industry. Everyone who’s caught wind of the discussion topic had the same response: “Whoa. That’s quite a topic.” And it is.

We’re going to unpack it with Michelle Gordon and Gabriel Malquisto during our Discussion Panel on Wednesday August 17th at 8pm EST/5pm PST.

Our hope is that you won’t feel so alone in your struggle. Please send us your questions for our panelists when you RSVP and we’ll do our best to answer them! And if you’ve got any tips for us that work well for you, feel free to share in the comments or email us. We’ll be sure to pass it along to our audience.

We’re all very excited to be hosting this much needed conversation. We hope you can join us.

Until August 17th, we’re sending you Love in the name of Peace and Justice.

Have a wonderful rest of your week 💖

– Karen and the Educator’s Coaching Network