“You know the antidote to exhaustion is not necessarily rest?…The antidote to exhaustion is wholeheartedness.” – David Whyte
I’ve mentioned this quote before and in fact have written about it, but I find myself coming back to this. I think for many of us, it feels like there is no amount of rest that is enough. We are not rejuvenated after a good night’s sleep or a weekend away. No, this does not mean that we are lazy or unwilling to work hard. Continuing to feel worn down physically, mentally, and emotionally is a red flag that something isn’t right. We deserve to feel better. And the work gets better when we feel better in the work.
Wholeheartedness likely means a lot of things to a lot of different people. According to Brene Brown’s Wholehearted Living program, there are three areas that encompass wholeheartedness: love, belonging, and vulnerability.
When we are feeling the kind of exhaustion that rest cannot relieve, it’s important to ask ourselves if one one of these areas need attention in our work.
According to Brene Brown, “Love is deep connection that operates on respect, affection, and kindness.” Certainly this looks different at work than it does at home, but it is important to have something we love in our work every day. Much like water, we can only go for so long without it. Some days are going to be filled with more of what we don’t love than others, and that’s just part of the world of work. However, we can create moments that truly fill us up and bring us joy in our work.
It is also important to feel appreciated, cared for, and like our unique contributions truly matter. Relationships are everything.
Here are a few of questions to help you identify whether you are feeling the love in your work:
When was the last time you felt excited about something you were doing at work? The kind of excitement that makes the day go by quickly and causes you to lose yourself in the moment. When was the last time you felt that?
When was the last time you felt appreciated, cared for, and like your unique contributions truly mattered to others?
Are you thinking good things about yourself and your work? If not, when was the last time you can remember feeling that way? Self-love is important too.
If you cannot remember the last time for some of these questions, how might you incorporate something that you love into your work? For example, I love taking care of people. When I’m feeling low and have meetings coming up, I enjoy offering to make people a cup of coffee just the way they like it and serve it during our meeting. “Can I make you a cup of coffee? Cream and sugar?” It’s such a small move, but I genuinely enjoy it, and it instantly lifts my spirits.
According to Brene Brown, “Belonging is our intrinsic desire to be a part of something larger than ourselves.” Sometimes, our exhaustion doesn’t come from a place of not doing things we love at work but rather a sense that what we are working on or working on with other people really matters in the bigger picture. Sometimes, we lack a sense that our voice matters to others. Other times, we have a sense that the mission at hand is not the right mission. Or a double hitter, we feel like we are on the wrong mission and use our voice to share our concerns and thoughts for a different direction, and we don’t get the sense that we are heard or that our concerns or ideas are taken into consideration.
Here are a couple of questions to help you identify whether you are feeling a sense of belonging in your work:
When was the last time you felt energized to work on something with others at work?
When was the last time you had something hard to say and upon saying it, you had a sense that other people valued your perspective?
If you cannot remember the last time for one or either of these questions, this is a challenging place to be. If you have the ability to make decisions in your work, how might you do more work that feels like it can make a meaningful impact? Might you find others to join you who share those interests and passions? If you aren’t feeling heard or like your voice matters, it’s important to identify if this is occurring with the same people over and over again or if it’s an isolated matter. The topic and how much it matters to you and your core beliefs matters too. Only you can decide in the end what this all means as far as next steps.
According to Brene Brown, “Vulnerability is the willingness to show up and share your authentic self while knowing you have no control over the outcomes.” Often, our exhaustion comes from a place of feeling inauthentic. We are tired from acting the way we want to feel or acting the way we think other people expect us to act. Likely, there are good reasons for this. Perhaps, others have perceived us negatively when we have shown up in authentic ways. It is critical that we uncover what may be causing us to shy away from vulnerability and then determine how, where, and with whom in our work we want to demonstrate vulnerability. We all need places and spaces in our work where we feel like our real selves. Vulnerability proceeds trust. It does not follow it. Someone has to go first. It’s critical we determine where we can go first or where someone else has demonstrated vulnerability and in turn, we might extend trust and follow suit.
Here are a couple of questions to help you identify whether you are experiencing vulnerability in your work:
When was the last time you felt like our authentic self at work or in your work?
When was the last time you can remember noticing that someone else was demonstrating vulnerability at work?
If you cannot remember the last time for either of these questions, it may be time to get curious about root causes. Is there past experience or trauma that’s causing you to feel like you cannot be your authentic self at work or with certain groups? Is there something that has occurred with certain individuals or in certain settings that has made vulnerability unsafe? Understanding the root cause of the feeling is the first step in uncovering how to move forward. There’s the 5 WHY’s exercise where you identify something that want to better understand. Then you ask, “Why is that true?” Then, you look at that thought and ask again. Five times until you determine something a more specific root cause.
For me, sometimes the best way to feel better is counterintuitive. To give that which I’m lacking. If I’m not feeling wholehearted in my work and not feeling the love, I give love. If I’m not feeling like I belong, I create belonging for others. For example, ensuring equity of voice in meetings, paying attention to how I respond to the contributions of others, and sitting in circles are all small moves for belonging that I talk about in the draft of my book. And finally, vulnerability. Someone has to go first. Sometimes, that someone is you.
Whether it be rest or more wholeheartedness in your work, I hope you find it.
You can find the blog post with references to Brene Brown’s Wholehearted Living program here.