THE BLOG

Are You a Burnout, or Burning the Candle at Both Ends?

09/20/2013 12:33 EDT | Updated 11/20/2013 05:12 EST

About 1.5 years ago I underwent a 6 hour surgery to remove a few cancer-inflicted organs. I was guaranteed to be a goner prior to that surgery.

I had 3 kids under 6 and was running a couple of multimillion-dollar construction and development businesses at the time. Not only did I not have time for cancer, I hardly had time for a coffee.

I thought I had it all figured out. I took serious pride in the statement "I am so busy." I was productive and important.

I was burning the candle at both ends, and society loved me for it.

I would think to myself: "If you are not burning the candle at both ends you are a burnout."

In case you do not know what a burnout is, I will share my definition. A burnout is someone who is spent; they've dropped out because they are used up. A burnout is not connected to society, and has very little interesting to say. Unless you want to join them in dropping out, you really do not want to be around them.

Back when I was important and busy, I was a burnout. I was the Mayor of Burnout Town and I had a great community of burnouts around me. Burnouts, the lot of us. Very important, busy burnouts.

We were used up, mentally, physically and emotionally. We had nothing interesting to say (unless we were in the company solely of other burnouts who all got our joke) and our families were beginning to want to incorporate us into their lives less because of our burnout behaviour. But it was still all so socially rewarded.

After my surgery I got a candle out in one of those reflective post cancer moments that only people who defy death or who have encountered significant loss can truly understand, and I lit the candle.

I held it in my hand. It was a plain old tapered candle, the kind that is in a nice little candleholder on your Thanksgiving dinner table. I began to ponder my life.

I thought about the business, the work, my family, what my big dreams were, about my life's purpose. As I thought, wax melted and dripped down the side of the candle and eventually spilled over upon my hand. That wax burned my skin.

I thought that if this was burning the candle at one end, I wanted no part of it.

I lit the candle at both ends and held it vertically. I was quickly alerted to the fact that I was still being burned but this time by the wax dripping down from the one end and from the bottom as the flame licked at my hand from below. I flipped the candle the other way over, trying to stop the wax from one side and get a quick reprieve from the flame at the other.

Then it dawned on me, if I lay the candle flat, I would not get burned. I tried this and the candle not only did not burn me but it burned slower than when I was juggling it from top to bottom.

My life when I was just at work was like a single flame burning, not good for my soul, not enough fire....just slow burning.

My life when recovering from cancer and being a full time stay at home mom was like a single flame as well, not good for my soul, (too hard, frankly -- props to all stay at home Moms) just slow burning.

My life trying to juggle family and work, trying to balance the candle lit at both ends with both the licking of flames and the dripping of wax was unbearable. I was so busy trying to juggle the two sides that I could not properly focus on either.

When I learned to burn the candle slower I was able to match level love and attention for both my work and my family. When I figured out that both family and work were on the same continuum of my life and that they were not inseparable in so far as I was trying to categorize them into separate from one another. When I understood that by living fast I was burning out, I decided to burn the candle at both ends in a much more thoughtful way.

So, in 5 years, will you be a burnout or will you still be burning the candle at both ends? Answer this question below in the Comments.

Important note - if you thought this post was about balance, I ask you to revisit the piece. I do not believe in balance, but that is for another time. What I do belie in is slowing down and seeing that your life is one thing, not to be divided into segments and balanced. Slow the burn, stop trying to balance the ends.

I am a recovering burnout who has chosen to burn the candle at both ends.