Avoiding Burnout on the Long Road of Heritage Leadership.
Change doesn’t always come quickly…. a very simple statement with significant implications for those of us engaged in Heritage Leadership. Many of us who choose to work in the field of Heritage Interpretation don’t seek out to simply work at the profession. Instead, for many of us it’s a calling. We find ourselves drawn to committing our lives and energies to educating the greater public on issues or aspects of the world that can be intimidatingly large and seemingly immobile. Equity, relevancy, sustainability, environmental justice, historical accuracy, climate change, or population growth are just a sampling of the issues we may choose to apply the skills of the Heritage Interpreter to solving. What many of these issues have in common is a significant societal inertia preventing change, or, at least change at the pace we would prefer. When changes don’t occur or our struggles to effect change encounter significant roadblocks or slowdowns, frustration and burnout become very real dangers for Heritage Leaders. Recognizing the signs of burnout, taking corrective actions, and charting sustainable paths forward are key skills for any Heritage Leader hoping to remain effective in the long run.
There’s an old adage that says “Change is like a glacier. It may creep along for many years appearing to barely move but, occasionally, it surges ahead and crushes anything in its path”. While we don’t necessarily plan to “crush” things as heritage leaders, the point is that rapid progression is often times more the exception than the rule in the areas in which we work. Michael Moore puts it in terms more closely related to the issues addressed by Heritage Leaders in this video and we can all likely think of times when societal changes occurred in a seemingly overnight manner. However, what Moore fails to account for in his example of the pace of change he would prefer is that it wasn’t an overnight occurrence. The final string of legislative and court decisions which led to marriage equality in the United States seemed to happen overnight but it was actually the result of decades of struggle and many, many small victories as well as many, many setbacks along the way. As Heritage Leaders we may be lucky enough to celebrate a landmark victory or two in our careers but, for many of us, we will apply our skills and efforts to working for the little victories and to surviving the setbacks as we strive for social change. Along the way, the danger of burnout is a very real one that Heritage Leaders face, must prepare for, and must overcome in order to preserve our skills and to keep striving for positive change.
What exactly is burnout? The embedded articles and videos in this section give you an overview of viewpoints on the subject but, suffice it to say that it’s more than having just a couple of bad days where you feel like you’re tired and a bit frustrated at work.
Left unchecked, Burnout becomes a pervasive problem that affects individuals on a long-term basis and can lead to serious physical and mental health issues. Eventually, many individuals suffering from burnout simply leave their current careers. Professions like Heritage Leadership have too few individuals working in them in the first place so losing talented professionals isn’t good for the individuals or the profession alike. Are you in danger of burning out, here’s a simple quiz to see if you fit the profile?
Thankfully, burnout need not be a permanent state of existence. There are many resources to help guide one to recovery from stress. The Mindtools blog has a number of suggestions and resources. The Calm app offers a portable tool that’s easy to carry with us anywhere we go and offers guided relaxation and stress relief meditations right on our phones. Hamza Khan’s TED talk above offers suggestions and Emily Brenner offers her own perspective on the problem and suggests possible solutions. What many of these suggested solutions seem to have in common is a reminder to us, as we strive against seemingly unmovable issues and insurmountable problems, is a reminder to take care of ourselves first. While many of us feel called to our professions from a desire to care for others through our work on issues we sometimes forget the basic need for self-care. What are the keys to avoiding or recovering from burnout? Get good sleep, eat right, exercise, get outside and enjoy nature, spend time with friends… all those things we were told to do when we were younger but that we sometimes forget as we become entrenched in career and calling. Finally, remember that you’re not in this alone. Others are working, leading, and struggling for the same incremental successes that we all are. Developing a network of others in the same profession gives you a peer group to turn to when you’re feeling frustrated and can offer support when times get tough. If nothing else, your peers can help to remind you of small victories, commiserate with you when there are setbacks, and celebrate with you when your “glacier” surges ahead and a major change occurs. [/read]