Burnout Cure? Intimacy.
If you're as old as me, you might remember the Reese's Peanut Butter Cup ads where two people collide, causing one person's chocolate to plunk into the other person's peanut butter. If you don't, give yourself one minute to enjoy this absolute classic:
I don't know what I like most about that video. If you forced me to choose, I'd say it's either the weird lurker dude at the end who just happens to have a RPBC for them, or the fact that she's walking down the street eating peanut butter from the jar.
Ok, never mind. It's definitely the public peanut butter jar snacking. I mean, who does that?
(Actually, I might know someone who would...)
Anyway, I didn't come here to write about 1980s candy ads today, as fun as that is.
I do, however, want to point out two things that you might not think to put together that are actually a great combo: burnout and intimacy.
As someone who has written a lot about both topics over the last couple of years, it took me a while to realize they are better together. Let me explain what I mean.
Burnout is Dark, Like Chocolate
When most people refer to burnout they talk about three things:
Lack of Efficacy.
When we're burned out it's like we're in a fog on a dark morning before the sun as come up, groggy as shit, and pretty damn sure that the sun isn't coming up.
Ok, that might not be like chocolate. But it sure is dark.
There's something else about burnout I believe that I just don't hear enough people talking about. Burnout is so often framed as an issue about the workplace.
In fact, the World Health Organization describes it as "a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed."
I'm not saying they're wrong. It's just that I think that's only a piece of the puzzle.
First of all, I don't like the passive tone of "stress that has not been successfully managed". It puts the emphasis on the wrong subject, saying that stress is the problem, not you and the choices you make about stressful situations.
Secondly, "conceptualized"? I don't mean to nitpick with well-intentioned scientists. But c'mon! Burnout is real, not conceptual. Using language like that makes it seem way fuzzier than it actually is.
Thirdness: Pinning burnout onto the workplace - and the workplace alone - misses the mark. You don't think that having a crying baby (or teenager) at home contributes to burnout? How about when you don't have any outlets for sharing stress in your social network? Or you and your spouse can't get on the same page with your sex life?
Burnout is part of all areas of life. (Just like chocolate should be.)
Intimacy is Messy, Like Peanut Butter
When most people refer to intimacy they talk about three things:
Yeah, that's right. Mostly we leave out the other two, because intimacy has become a euphemism for sex.
There are actually at least five different forms of intimacy:
(There are actually 19 one-minute videos in my Men's Intimacy Minute series, in case you want to explore more deeply.)
Each type of intimacy in its own way allows us to become "very familiar", as the etymology goes, with another person.
Ok... so how does this relate to burnout?
Give me one more minute and I'll get there. First the peanut butter reference.
Peanut butter is magic, right?
It's salty, it's sweet.
It's smooth, it's crunchy.
It goes with damn near any food: jelly, bacon, celery, yogurt, bananas, chocolate!
And it can be a sticky mess.
Intimacy is the same way. It opens us up to all sorts of amazing experiences.
Sex and playfulness.
That "aha!" moment in brainstorming session.
The wonder of exploring a new city with someone.
The catharsis of a deep belly laugh, or a big "ugly cry".
And it can be a sticky mess.
Intimacy brings flavor to so many areas of life. (Like peanut butter.)
Two Great Tastes That Go Great Together
Why do you think it is that we often conflate sex and intimacy?
I think that for men it's because we're scared of being intimate. We've been told for generations that men are supposed to be tough, stoic, independent, and capable of handling our business without help.
You know what that way of living leads to? "feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion and increased mental distance [..], or feelings of negativism or cynicism", as the WHO describes in their burnout definition. (See? I'm not a total hater.)
And this is why intimacy matters when we're talking about burnout.
When we are feeling burned out, we need ways to reduce our stress and recharge our energy. We need to find ways to regenerate hope that our future experiences won't continue to suck.
Let's list a few ways that we can reduce stress and generate hope:
Take your mind off work by connecting with friends
Spend some quality, one-on-one time with a romantic partner
Get out in nature
Tap into some big wisdom - through meditation, spiritual reading, prayer, etc.
What do those examples have in common?
They all utilize the skills of intimacy.
Most men I know have never spent time learning about intimacy and how to develop it, which makes it seem risky. And it is. But that doesn't mean we shouldn't go there.
In reality, the more we turn away from intimacy, the more we put ourselves at risk of the isolation that leads to burnout.
So if you are in the throes of burnout, I encourage you to explore intimacy. You might not see how they go together just yet. And it might be messy.
But I guarantee it'll be delicious.
Jim Young is a Men's Burnout Coach. His passionate pursuits include intimacy, improv comedy, chocolate, and peanut butter, among many others. Jim's goal is to help 100 men within the next 12 months over come their burnout.