A Counterintuitive Approach That Saved Me From Burning Out…Again!
Focusing on the destination first and then on the journey.
A bit of context
I’ve always been competitive. For a long time, I thought that this trait of my character was a good thing. I thought that it gave me the strength to grit my teeth and accomplish something in life. I got it all wrong.
I was so fused with this rigid way of looking at life that I indeed accomplished a lot, but in the worst possible way. I constantly fought against everything and everybody. I climbed the educational ladder only to find myself in a deep depression and burnout.
When burnout hit me like an avalanche, I didn’t only feel exhausted, but also and above all meaningless. I felt completely drained from any drive, even the one to live. Still, I gritted my teeth. I changed career path, I changed continent, I changed life style.
Everything helped, but a second burnout was looming in the darkest corner of my soul. It hit me like a tsunami when I least expected it, as it usually happens. This second time was even more devastating than the first.
What the undertow took from me was not only meaning, but also trust. I did everything that I was supposed to do. I followed my passion of helping others, I dramatically improved my remote work skills, I took care of myself, I ate and slept well, I exercised. Still, I was an easy prey for an always hungry burnout.
I didn’t trust life anymore, I did everything right, why am I again in burnout? You can imagine the amount of frustration and anger I had, but didn’t know how to process.
I tried to focus on the journey, I really did, but it didn’t work. I tried to follow the guide lines that people much wiser than me shared with the world. Focusing on the present was always an intellectual process. I never really felt the present.
Until the day that something clicked. I am in one of my most meditative sessions of the day, sometimes not really the most dignified, but I work with what I get. Sitting on the toilet, a beam of enlightenment makes it’s way to the surface of my consciousness — “I don’t like winning at Scopa after all!!”
And it’s true. I realize that when I play Scopa (an Italian card game) with my girlfriend, I have to win. If I lose, my mind promptly reminds me that I am a loser and that I am so stupid to lose at a game that I have been playing since I was a child against someone who didn’t even know that the game existed until four years ago.
But when I win, the truth is that there is no real satisfaction. The gratification that I can feel vanishes in a split second and all the efforts I made to win suddenly seem useless. Even more, I feel disappointed that the win has a bitter taste since I was so focused on remembering the cards and developing the best possible strategy that I didn’t enjoy the game at all. Therefore, winning, a.k.a. the final destination, is en empty shiny box. It’s a trap, luring me into investing a lot of energy, having a lot of expectations, but when I finally hold it in my hands and I open it, emptiness envelopes me.
I realize now that a lot of destinations are really not so important because chances are that once I am there, I will hold another shiny box. I collected a lot of boxes over time, but only now I understand the true meaning of enjoying the journey, letting go and surrendering to life.
Enjoying the present moment can only happen if I choose a destination without clinging on it, otherwise I let life pass by and never travel with her.
Whatever life plan I make, whatever destination I decide to reach, it needs to be a value-based one. It can’t be a goal like having 30 clients per month or earning a four-zero amount of money, or buying a house. Those are only goals. Once I accomplish them, I will look forward to the next, but I won’t get anywhere as a person. I will only continue to fight and I will become a tasty snack for burnout.
Instead of winning at the card game, I aim to have some quality time with my girlfriend, using the game as a source of a good laughter and connection (in italics the values, to make the example even more clear). I am extending this approach to all the destinations I have and I feel much more at peace with myself, my choices and the consequences that stem from them.
Consequently, I don’t feel burnout waiting in ambush any more. I can fearlessly walk around, think, feel and be with my emotions, memories and dreams.
In the end, we all want to live a better life, but focusing on a meaningful and satisfying value-based destination is much more important than pursuing goals, as Russ Harris beautifully explains in his book The Happiness Trap. And then, we will naturally be able to enjoy the journey!
That’s what I wish you to intimately feel, that no matter how hard you play, the victory is always more fulfilling if you don’t cling on it and if it’s a value-based one. Allow yourself to shift perspective and destination, going along with life instead of fighting against it.