Risking Fear, Risking Burnout: The Connection Between Burnout and Visibility

Speaking up carries risks, but it’s worth it

How many times in the past weeks have you seen photos of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford in the news or your newsfeed? And looking at her – how did you feel?

It’s likely that you, like many women, had a mixture of emotions – admiration, fear, inspiration, and anger, to name a few. The more closely your own experience paralleled hers, the more complex your feelings of shame, fury, and helplessness probably became.

Much has been written about how courageous Dr. Ford was to come forward, and the price she would pay for doing so. I’d like to look at her story – and yours – from another perspective: the burnout we risk when we remain silent. Because while it takes a lot of energy to speak up and stand in your truth, it takes more energy to be silent. It takes more energy to “hide your light.”

It’s true that speaking up requires you to risk being visible – being seen, using your voice, taking up space. More and more, our culture encourages visibility online, in the workplace, in reality television shows, in the media. Visibility gets us noticed and earns us labels like “engaging” and “hard working”. For those who want to spend all of their energy working and socializing, and who have lots of confidence speaking their mind, visibility is not so often an issue.

But for many women, our relationship with visibility is problematic. There is a strong potential for rejection, gaslighting, and judgment when you put yourself in the spotlight.

Some women can easily shrug the judgment and rejection off, but for others, the negative reactions can have much more impact. And yet, here I am urging you to show up, take up space, and be seen. I’m urging you, as a practice, to speak your mind and let your words come from your alignment with your values and passion. Because over time, when your beliefs and your actions are at odds, you lose touch with yourself. And that’s a sure path to burnout – not just burnout in your work, but in your soul.

Consider this observation by psychologist and social critic Bruce Levine, in his book Get Up, Stand Up: Uniting Populists, Energizing the Defeated, and Battling the Corporate Elite: “In a psychological sense, believing one thing and acting another way is called incongruence. Incongruence between our beliefs and our actions means we are not whole. When we lose our wholeness, our integrity, our congruence, we become weaker. The weaker we get, the less strength we have to resist pressure. It is a vicious cycle, and at some point we can completely spiral into abject brokenness.

I will add that it’s a cycle that leads to helplessness, brokenness, and burnout.

That’s a lot to risk – but I’m aware, there’s also a lot to risk in speaking your truth. Like many women, you may have been encouraged to toe the line, to act against your self-interests, because when you were congruent and you spoke your mind, you were shamed. Because of that shame, the thought of speaking out may bring up fear. And fear my be shouting at you to keep silent for good reason – it wants to protect you.

So what can you do? First of all, question everything you’ve learned about what’s acceptable for you and what’s not. Chances are those limits were placed on you by a culture that simply wants you to keep your head down and play along. It’s a culture that wants you to burnout so that you don’t speak out.

If you’re in that place of burnout, but you’re ready to be seen, take it one small step at a time. What that means will vary from person to person, but you’ll know what feels right and what doesn’t. You’ll know what to share, and with whom.

Open a space in which you’re willing to be aware of the ways in which you’ve been encouraged to act against your own self-interests. Give it some time. The resulting insight will energize you to do more, so – like Dr. Ford – you can rise and inspire others to rise as well, to speak out for who they are, what they believe in, and what their hopes are for the future of our country.

If you’d like a companion on your journey to insight and self-discovery, contact me. I’d be glad to walk it alongside you, listen, and mirror back to you what you find.

Felicia Baucom
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