Expectations are a nebulous thing and prone to causing numerous issues. Expectations differ by person and by circumstance. For example, if you’ve been to a restaurant before and know what their average table service is like your expectations are lowered so they are usually met. If you’ve never been to a restaurant before, but have heard good things about it, your expectations are raised. Someone else who has had the opposite experience will have the opposite expectations.
When you start work for a new ministry, go to work in a new position, deal with new people, there is a set of expectations that you have with regard to the people you work with and that the people you work with have of you. These expectations are built on past experience and, in some cases, your desires. When you change jobs/projects/ministries there is a desire for things to be “better”. When someone new comes into an already existing position you hope that they are, at the least, the same as the previous person if not “better”.
Are those expectations appropriate? It doesn’t matter, they are there and you have to deal with them.
This is particularly evident in the area of “contingent labour” (aka contractors). We go through a long process to bring a contractor on board and that includes justifying why the role exists and why that role needs to be filled by contingent labour. There is an inherent expectation that the role will be filled by someone who is appropriate for the positon and that they will have the necessary skills to excel at the position. Yes, excel, not meet or barely pass. The expectation is excellence and that can be a difficult expectation to live up to due to the differing backgrounds and experiences of everyone involved.
But that is the price of being a contractor. You don’t get the opportunity to gradually work your way into the position, of feeling out the different parties involved to understand the role better and, more importantly, their expectations. You are thrust into the role with a set of expectations that you may not be able to meet regardless of whether or not you are the best person in the world for that position.
So, whether or not you are an employee, a contractor, or something in between, there are a set of expectations that you need to live up to: yours and everyone elses. Finding out what those expectations are and how you can achieve them are critical to your success.
So, I’ve been thinking a lot recently about “burnout”. I read an article the other day that described burnout this way:
Burnout is a feeling of total exhaustion. It’s evaporates any motivation you may have inside. It doesn’t matter whether you’re working from home or as the creative director of a big agency. To put it simply, burnout sucks the life out of you!
The author of the article has a set of steps that they follow in order to avoid this infamous burnout:
- Take breaks
- Be social
- Don’t be a jerk (to yourself)
- Learn to say “no”
- Be mindful of your health
I’m not excessively thrilled with item #2 – Be Social – as I think the person talking is an extrovert in nature and introverts find being social to be stressful. I think what they are trying to say is “energize” and whether or not this is done by going out with family and friends or by staying in are reading a good book, it doesn’t matter. What matters is that you feel energized after the experience.
Burnout in our industry is a very real situation. My first experience was with someone I went to school with back in the early ‘80s. She got a good job in New York, but it was a stressful job. Very stressful. She came back after her two year commitment and basically left the workforce for a while as she just couldn’t cope with the pressure.
I have experienced periods in my career where the life has been sucked out of me and I am just a shell of who I needed to be. I recovered by learning to adapt, to recharge that energy. But even though I know it is happening, it still occurs today. (Or to be more precise, last month.) You start the week strong and invigorated but by the time Friday rolls around you can barely think and sometimes walking and talking is just too much.
What’s important to understand is that everyone goes through this, whether or not they realize it. Everyone is susceptible to that burnout feeling and everyone deals with it differently. What’s important to understand is that there is lots of help available, more now than thirty years ago, because it is much more common. Our lives are stressful. Our work is stressful. Society is becoming more stressful. Being always connected via a smart device is stressful. All of theses stresses, and others, when combined can reach the tipping point at which burnout is the inevitable conclusion.
If you are feeling stressed talk to someone. If you are really stressed then I recommend talking to a professional, someone who understands the tools and techniques that can be used to combat the stress. Just remember one thing: this happens to everyone.