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One of the main factors that contributed to my massive burnout last month was the need to control. To control everything and everyone – not only my own actions but also that of others. Whether that’d be a stranger on the sidewalk or a colleague at work. I took upon myself the burden of bearing responsibility for all that happened to me and around me. Particularly at work, I trusted no one but myself to get the job done. Whether I was planning an event with a team or leading a workshop with a coworker, I had this incredible need to have my grubby little fingers in every step of the process.
It was fueled by anxiety, no doubt. Anxiety to have everything go perfectly. And for some reason, I thought that the responsibility to ensure this perfection rested solely on my shoulders. As if the powers that be would come knocking on my door, and my door alone, and punish me for every “i” that went undotted and every “t” that went uncrossed. What comes next is a natural by-product of the need to control and that’s resentment. I started to resent others with whom I worked for not caring enough. Imagine the irony given that I just wrote about the value of “good enough” in my previous post on healing from burnout (which shows you just how much further I have to go on my road to recovery). Resentment is funny in the way it lodges itself in the depths of one’s brain, unbeknownst to the person into whom’s mind it has wandered. It starts small at first, microscopic even. Initially, you get just a tiny bit bothered because the presentation has a few typos in it. No big deal, you think. Everyone makes mistakes. You’ll just fix it and all is well.
Then it expands, slowly. The typo is an indicator of inattention to detail, you think. Laziness. Sure everyone makes mistakes but you wouldn’t have made THAT mistake, your mind grumbles. From there, you spiral into a vortex of all-consuming thoughts such as “If only they paid more attention like me” or “If you want it done right, you got to do it yourself” to “I don’t get paid enough to pick up the slack” and so on. Next thing you know, you get short with people, rude even. You become difficult to work with. Resentment has completely clouded your mind. But let’s not forget the root of this symptom: the need to control.
As I’m practicing mindfulness with more intention, I have become better at recognizing the warning signs of control. The tightening in my chest when one of my suggestions or ideas is thwarted, or worse, ignored. The constant stream of to-do’s addling my brain, as if every single item falls on me alone. The need to be in charge of every minute detail. When I am experiencing one or more of these feelings, I have to make a conscious effort to take a deep breath and remind myself that it’s okay to trust in the abilities and capabilities of others and that it’s okay for the end result to be “good enough”. There is a visceral feeling of relief when I have these realizations. My shoulders relax and my hands, usually tightened into fists, unclench. A co-worker told me the other day that I look relaxed. “Good”, I said. “I’m learning to let go”.
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