Burnout? The Answer is 42: Science Fiction Was Right

For science fiction fans out there, you already knew this from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams. I was introduced to this book in college and remember laughing out loud in the tiny room that I rented in a basement with five other students. 

If you are not familiar with this story, there is a civilization that asks a great supercomputer called Deep Thought what the answer is to the “Great Question” of “Life, the Universe, and Everything”. After several million years, the supercomputer shares the answer!

“Forty-two”. Yep, that was the answer.

As much as Douglas Adams has been quoted as having simply decided on the number 42 without much thought or any research, it turns out that 42 truly is significant.

First, a personal story

I shared in a story on Instagram this past weekend that I recently experienced burnout from work. Despite immense and high-quality self-care. Despite doing everything in my influence to take care of myself and my health and to respect healthy boundaries between my work life and the rest of my life. 

Despite all the self-care and healthy lifestyle choices, there have been the realities of:

  • delivering above and beyond on a portfolio worth more than most of us can really fathom
  • while considerably under-resourced
  • while supporting the team I lead in a genuinely people-centred way
  • actively supporting organizational transformation (in ways that were seen and not seen by most)
  • while dealing with several significant challenges at work that fewer than a handful of people know – and let me say that I’m being exceptionally diplomatic by calling them ‘challenges’ and some might even say I have legal grounds
  • all of which was unrelated to, but in the middle of, a global pandemic and an anti-racism movement
  • and none of this speaks to any of the ways this pandemic has affected me personally, as it has affected everyone in very different and personal ways. 

What does this have to do with 42?

Well, despite my high-quality self-care and excellent boundaries, I burned out. I hit a wall really hard the other week. In the middle of a workday. In the middle of a meeting, no less.

My voice changed so dramatically on the call that colleagues reached out in great distress about my wellbeing. I couldn’t think or speak. So I have worked with my director on a plan to take off some sick days and recover my full energy.

Wait, what? How am I still active on here and still physically active? 

Because I stopped immediately to honour my needs. And I do in fact have excellent self-care and my energy body is in excellent shape, so my burnout did not hospitalize me. Now I am taking the time and space to recover my energy.

And here’s how it relates to 42. 

As it turns out, according to authors Emily Nagoski, Ph.D., and Amelia Nagoski, D.M.A., who wrote a book on Burnout, for our bodies to recover, we must spend 42 percent of our time resting. That’s about 10 hours.

This doesn’t mean sleeping 10 hours. This means doing things that help us to end the stress cycle so we don’t burn out. In addition to sleep, physical movement is a key one (hence why running, yoga, and other movement have been helping), quality time interacting with people we like, eating, meditating, making things, spending time in spiritual practice, as examples. These all count as rest.

Apparently watching TV doesn’t count, and doing any of these things mindlessly (i.e. cramming food down while working or scrolling social media while having a conversation) doesn’t count. 

What do I take from all this and why does it matter for you?

Burnout can happen to anyone. So the takeaways are this: keep taking really good care of yourself. Practice healthy boundaries. Invest in yourself. Engage in those life-giving activities that light you up. And if you do reach a point as I did, STOP immediately and recover. Then make a plan to ensure you can have a more sustainable path going forward.

Sometimes the more sustainable path means better boundaries or asking for more help or support. For me, I am already doing all the right self-care and rest/recovery activities, so I highlighted at work where I will need greater support and where some things need to be rethought in my workplace. We’ll see things unfold, and I think we ALL have quite the year ahead of us yet.

And I also know that I’m doing what I need to do to take care of myself, while I continue to be the person and leader I am, without compromise. And that alignment gives me peace.

Malumir R. Logan

You can go to these links find other blog posts I’ve written on ways of meditating and practicing spiritual development to support your rest. If Tarot is your thing, you can find lots on that over here.

Blessings and empowerment to you.

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