I've always associated burn-out with some kind of depression. To me it represents the end of passion, some kind of death, void, and emptiness. I don't think I have ever felt to be really that far but I remember days when I thought: This must be burn-out. I walked out of the building (school) on a cold winter day feeling totally empty - with no energy and enthusiasm. The worst thing was that I had no particular reason to feel so. I wasn't even tired, stressed or overworked. I only felt I didn't enjoy the work as much as I had before.
At that time my sons were 10 and 12 years old. It may sound ridiculous but I felt that there was no more for me to accomplish. Every day was the same, with no more challenges. I should stress that I'm the kind of woman who gets no satisfaction from cleaning the cupboards or sweeping the floor (I admire those who enjoy doing housework and have green fingers).
But then our third child was born. I was 35 and my life changed completely. Firstly, I learned to drive a car. Secondly, three years later, I applied to university to finally get my MA degree. I always say that my MA studies were the best time of my life. It was huge - stressful but incredibly enjoyable for me. I met a lot of new people - fellow teachers of my age, much younger students and our inspiring university teachers. I learned about new methods in ELT and I improved my English. But most importantly, I was finally a fully qualified teacher, which, of course, affected my self-esteem in a positive way. The last but not least, I had found a new job in a well-established secondary school where I currently teach.
What I described earlier was not really burn-out but more of a life crisis. I guess it was some kind of frustration resulting from the lack of challenge. But a situation like this can also teach you a lesson. The thing is that I have certain needs to feel happy. Food, water, shelter over my head and warmth are great but I need more; I need to be respected for what I do, I need inspiration and opportunities for being creative.
There are teachers at my school who can't wait to retire. I understand but I sometimes feel sorry for them. They go to work because they have to while I go to work because I can't wait to enter the classroom. I can't tell them because they don't want to hear this; and I know what they would tell me: Wait a couple of more years and you'll see!
To concude my post, this is my personal advice on how to avoid burn-out:
- Keep changing
- Keep learning and exploring new things
- Keep being challenged
- Create new things
- Discover and pursue your inner talent
- Find balance and system in your life