The 1 Word That May Save You From Burnout

By Sue Ludwig

You have to decide what your highest priorities are and have the courage –pleasantly, smilingly and unapologetically- to say ‘no’ to other things. And the way to do that is by having a bigger ‘yes’ burning inside.” – Steven Covey

When I founded NANT in 2009 I was working all of my typical hours in the NICU, consulting, speaking, raising my then much younger kids, signing up for multiple events at my kids’ school, attempting to clean my house, help coach a sport, blah, blah, blah.

I know you get this. Because whether you have kids or not, we all seem to fill our days with 1,000 things – many of which we love, some of which we may need, and a healthy handful of others we don’t even like but feel obligated to do. (Are you with me here?)

In healthcare, you’re offered opportunities every day to be part of something else – another committee, another monthly meeting, project, research endeavor, or supervisory experience. I’m not saying you should avoid those things. You just can’t do ALL of them ALL the time and expect to maintain your sanity and health, much less experience joy. It’s part of why burnout is rampant.

You’re tempted though.

This group is filled with leaders. You care about improvement, best practice, and most of all, your patients. You’ve been taught that a good parent gives 100% of her time to her kids’ activities. However, after years of sustaining that pace, I learned that we don’t serve anyone when we’re always exhausted. Not our families, our patients or ourselves.

(And we miss unscheduled moments like a couple of weeks ago when our daughter took videos of us attempting our best vertical leaps. The videos made us cry laughing for days. Let’s hope they never make it to social media because my form was, well, priceless.)

I’m going to propose a little experiment to you. And fortunately you won’t need IRB approval to do it.

1. Understand that you have a certain amount of energy to use every day.

2. Start noticing each opportunity that comes your way and realize you have a choice whether to say yes or no to it.

3. Experiment with saying NO to something – it can be small at first. Say no to having lunch with someone who complains nonstop and drains the life out of you; say no to joining a committee at work that really doesn’t serve your long term goals – you get the idea.

4. Observe yourself after saying no. Perhaps brief anxiety and then…space! You actually feel space in your brain and life.

5. Feel how saying no to things begins to feed your energy for the day, leaving you with more to give the people you love and the activities you enjoy or find rewarding. This is how you slowly get your life back.

For all you super-givers out there – this is hard for you. You’re involved in EVERYTHING. You usually feel guilty saying no. But I’m willing to bet that this one little word will allow you to give fully to those things that are part of your ‘bigger yes’ as Steven Covey says in the quote. And those other endeavors will not fall apart without you. Maybe someone new will step up and find their joy in that place.

I had to learn (and am still learning) to say no to many good opportunities so that I can serve my ‘bigger yesses’ in the world- my family, close friends, NANT, causes I love, health and joy.

This one liberating word allows you the freedom to focus your energy on your bigger yes while raising yourself up out of that burned out place.

Try it this week. Keep me posted. Your ‘bigger yes’ is happier already.


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