What is deceptive, especially in the West, is our assumption that repetitive and mindless jobs are dehumanizing. On the other hand, the jobs that require us to use the abilities that are uniquely human, we assume to be humanizing. This is not necessarily true. The determining factor is not so much the nature of our jobs, but for whom they serve. ‘Burnout’ is a result of consuming yourself for something other than yourself. You could be burnt out for an abstract concept, ideal, or even nothing (predicament). You end up burning yourself as fuel for something or someone else. This is what feels dehumanizing. In repetitive physical jobs, you could burn out your body for something other than yourself. In creative jobs, you could burn out your soul. Either way, it would be dehumanizing. Completely mindless jobs and incessantly mindful jobs could both be harmful to us.
I’ve always struggled with the concept of burnout, having held both completely mindless and incessantly mindful jobs. In both cases, I’ve run out of patience and the will to continue.
When I was a Medical Records Coordinator (read: file clerk) at a hospital, I spent hours doing nothing but finding charts for people, organizing them, and putting them away afterward. All while listening to the same six songs on Lite 100.5 WRCH. That job, with its innumerable annoyances and excruciating monotony, was the most soul-crushing position I’ve ever held. I did it for two summers before I vowed never to return.
I’ve been a karate instructor for almost half my life, and in many ways it’s very rewarding. It keeps me in shape, enhances my own art, and I get to help children develop strong characters. But there are also times when I feel like if I have to tell one more kid to “BEND. YOUR. KNEES.” I’ll literally set the building on fire.
I often fear that there is no job I won’t eventually get burned out on. At the hospital, I suffered under the meaningless demands of others. In the dojo, while it’s exponentially more rewarding, I nevertheless always have to be at 100%. Whether you’re ecstatic, depressed, happy, or sad, you always have to be fired up for the students. Even if you broke up with your girlfriend moments before (and I have), you still have to smile and act like you’re enjoying reminding them to go lower in their stances for the hundredth time.
Suematsu says burnout is “the result of consuming yourself for something other than yourself.” That was certainly true at the hospital, and it’s true in the dojo, even though the something else is a bunch of little kids. I don’t think I can consider any job I’ve held to be sustainable to the point where I could do it for the rest of my life.
Perhaps that’s why I love writing this website. It affords me solitude and a space for personal exploration and growth. Other people may benefit from reading about my experience, but really it’s a vehicle for myself. I’ve said before that I don’t claim to know everything or even anything. I’m just trying to figure things out. I know plenty of other people are too, and it’s nice to have some company. Advice I give to my readers is really advice I’m giving to myself.
Maybe I’ll get burned out one day and have nothing left to say, but right now it seems like this site fulfills my desire to write, learn, and help people without consuming myself to the point of exhaustion. It remains a fulfilling challenge.