Tank up before burning out

If inaction, for fear of the magnitude of the problem, is the chosen course of some people (e.g. ‘How could my not using recycled toilet paper ever make a difference?’), the alternative is thinking you are alone in solving the problems of the planet.

As a consequence of the latter, we are burning out, overworking, fearful about what will happen if we are not there to do what needs to be done. We feel anxious, irritated, frustrated, unhappy or depressed. We end up feeling that things are out of control. We go from being proactive, positive, engaging, affirmative, oriented to solving problems and accepting responsibility, to feeling lethargic, tired, shirking responsibility, and not caring any more.

Tired, dispirited and disconnected, we start to be part of the problem, not part of the solution. Our mood is toxic; others pick up that things are not right with us and, as they do, they in turn start to manifest many of the symptoms that started with us. In this way, we progressively undermine not only our own effectiveness, but the effectiveness of the very people we are trying to achieve something with.

The issue isn’t whether or not you’ve experienced burnout or dissonance, but rather what you do about it when you think it’s happening (or when you see it happening to others). It starts with an awareness that you simply can’t change the world alone; even with others you may not change the world in your lifetime, and you certainly won’t change anything if you burn out.

The key to the journey is about not spreading yourself too thin, remembering you are here for ‘a good time not a long time’. It is about not taking yourself too seriously and it is about making time to do nothing in particular with the people who count.

Keeping yourself tanked up has a lot to do with not losing sight of why you are doing what you are doing and, in the event of it becoming foggy or vague, quickly taking quality time-out to ponder, reflect and assess where you are and how effective you are being. It is also about ‘chunking down’ your ambitions and actions so you set yourself up to succeed, biting off only as much as you are comfortable chewing, where your internal dialogue says, “This is easy” and not that the task you’ve set yourself is overwhelming.

‘Possibility thinking’ is at its best when it is also connected to your sense of where and how you can be influential. People often sabotage themselves by either setting an impossibly large challenge for themselves or seeing the work required as insurmountable and so never starting in the first place.

Possibility thinking is also enabled by compassion. Compassion is measured by our ability as individuals to see the world through another’s eyes, to understand what motivates another human being, what gives them joy and what weighs them down. It is about service. not selfishness.

A sense of possibility and compassion are the bedrock – together with purpose, values and sense of self – on which the clever and enduring change-agent stands.


Tank up before burning out is an excerpt from One World AtLast (pp. 272-5)


Image courtesy of Paul /


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