I. Learn to accept change. And accept that change is always happening.
A lot can happen in four years. A lot can’t happen in four years. That’s the paradox of time.
Some events only happen once in every four revolutions of the sun — in 365.25 days. Like a leap year (courtesy that .25). The Olympics. The World Cup.
It took four years for you to get your high school diploma.
Four years to not need a TB test.
Four years in the journalism profession for the AP Style Guide powers-that-be to decide Dumpster is no longer trademarked, making “dumpster” now an acceptable spelling.
Four years to finally remember that and start spelling it with a lowercase D. However, Band-Aid, Jell-O, Styrofoam, Frisbee and Velcro all remain in tact.
But also your life can end in an instant. And none of this matters.
So there’s that.
Despite popular tellings on the school playgrounds of your youth, gum does not digest in four years or even seven.
It’s true your stomach can’t break down its resin, but instead of sitting there for nearly a decade, like a pink-faced dictator of your digestive tract, it passes through and comes out a few days later, in tact but covered in poo.
Sometimes poor decisions are made and you just have to let them, under close supervision of course, pass through to be flushed.
Your body will let go soon enough. Trust it.
II. Take responsibility for what you can control.
The time paradox can leave you paralyzed with indecision. That’s why number two is so important (as also evidenced above).
Recently there was a massive building fire in Oakland. It was a dilapidated factory turned makeshift apartment building inhabited mostly by artists. It doubled as their studio space, dance floor and party parlor.
News of its burning ripped through me like a flame. We all have a national tragedy like this. I experienced something similar when Pulse, the gay nightclub in Orlando was mercilessly attacked by a gunman, leaving so many dead.
They are the disasters or crimes that could have easily happened to us. They are when we recognize why those people were there on that night or at that place and something deep within ourselves senses brothers and sisters living parallel lives. Lives now ended. On some level, all disasters and crimes create this overwhelming relational helplessness.
Empathy wants to win. It’s here, it’s waiting, it’s shaping itself as the next step in our evolutionary journey as humans. Our brain chemistry is affected by how much empathy we receive. We’re still learning how it will color our future.
Empathy’s essential, certainly, and representative of the kind of world I want to live in and create for the next generation, but we also have to be careful it doesn’t destroy us individually.
The difference between empathy and sympathy, someone once told me, is that empathy mourns the man who just drowned and builds a better bridge, meanwhile sympathy jumps in after the drowned man and dies as well.
You have to take care of yourself. Remember what you can control and work on that. It’s brethren of the theory that you can make more of a difference in your community than on a national scale. Change and progress starts even deeper, within yourself.
Through my own personal dumpster fire years, ones beset with either tragedy or trauma, responsibility and control over how I reacted to it, how deeply I decided to love myself afterward in the face of all of it is the only thing that got me to the other side, better than before.
“Trauma,” wrote psychologist Peter Levine, “is not what happens to us, but what we hold inside us in the absence of an empathetic witness.”
Isn’t that empowering? We can help heal others’ trauma — we just have to listen, to believe.
Isn’t that freedom? Trauma is what we hold on to. Not what happened. You’re in charge of you, no matter what stares back.
III. Balance staying present with playing the long game.
Burnout, technically, scorches several areas of a life. Physical and or mental collapse. Body and or mind. But the most harm it does is to the heart. Ultimately burnout is an episode of hopelessness.
Relationship burnout, when partnerships keep failing for the same reasons. Resistance burnout, when ignorance proves infallible. Spiritual burnout, when your prayers and meditations seem given to the wind and nothing else.
We most typically hear about burnout related to work. Stress. Work stress. The same repetitive situations, spent doing something you don’t believe in or that you believe you can’t change. Work in which you feel trapped. Suffocating from its constant heat.
Perhaps that’s because we have data of this kind of downfall. The most stressful jobs of the dumpster fire year of which so many do not wish to speak? According to CareerCast, among the top ten: enlisted military personnel, pilots, newspaper reporters, PR execs, and, fittingly enough, firefighters.
(The top three least stressful jobs are equally interesting: tenured university professor, diagnostic medical sonographer and information security analyst, although maybe that’s changed after all that Russia news that was fodder for the dying embers of 2016.)
The cure for burnout is always rest, of course, and, less appealingly, perspective. A big girl time out, as they say, in which mindfulness plays a key role.
Everyone seems to love mindfulness right now and I’m no different. Who knows. Someday it could go by way of cursive or Jazzercise or the diagramed sentence. No longer necessary, but a building block of our progress nonetheless.
But mindfulness teaches you how to stay present and staying present does one very important thing: makes you not give a fuck about anything that doesn’t matter in the long run (ie. after you die).
Balance that with a shade of playing the long game — which, by that, I mean recognizing that every little bit counts and using the daily tedium and discipline to accomplish a goal as the goal itself — and you’ll be roasting marshmallows on the straw that almost broke your back.
“We all have 24 hours in a day” is a cutesy phrase that will send panic into the overachiever perfectionist (“Oh my god, why am I not doing more?!”) but we must resist the temptation to think our 24 hours are and should be the same as everyone else’s.
If you’re not noticing what you’re doing with your time, you’re wasting it.
And we’ve all learned waste belongs in the D(d)umpster.
Preferably one on fire.
Click to see original image: