Burning up & Burning out – Balancing the Impact of our Behavioral Preferences

Step with care and great tact; and remember that life's a great balancing act.

~Dr. Seuss

We all understand, either through personal experience or through seeing someone else’s struggle, that overwhelm happens. We may attribute the challenge to personal failings, situational factors, or some combination of the two. Neither is helpful. What is helpful is to dive deeper and ask ourselves, what is really going on here?

The idea of working to our strengths has a lot of merit. What it requires us to do is know ourselves and then choose a career direction that lines up with what we are naturally interested in, good at, and therefore likely to do well. The result is a sense of ease and fluidity, and performance that is enviable.

Leaning into our strengths also means that we pay relatively less attention to the things that we do not do easily or well. This isn’t a problem if we welcome complementary talents from others to fill in our blind spots. It can become a problem though, when our less preferred areas of attention relate to taking care of ourselves and cultivating healthy relationships with others. We can ‘burn up’ as it were, doing what we do well while exhausting our own wellbeing and the supply of friendly contributions that others are willing to give us. The list of exceptionally talent people who have eventually faltered in this way is long.

The flip side of the talent story is equally true i.e., when through lack of self-knowledge, and/or lack of investment in self, we don’t take the steps needed to find a career that is in alignment with our natural gifts. In this case, we rely ever further on our will to persevere. The risk in this scenario is high. Either we don’t demonstrate the level of performance that someone else with the natural talent would bring, or we push ourselves so hard that eventually something breaks. This pushing of ourselves to perform no matter what, can do much damage to ourselves, our relationships (as our frustration becomes palpable and our resiliency wanes), and to the context where we are trying to contribute. When we ‘burn out’ from this over-extension everybody loses.

The trick is to build a life and career that is based on full knowledge of who we are, and that respects the physical, relational, and economic realities around us.

So how do we do that?

1.    Take Stock: The first step is to take a deep dive into understanding who you really are - your behavioural preferences and non-preferences, and what is meaningful to you and what not. The former is easily explored through a high quality psychometric that can help you understand how you prefer to reason, relate and act. The latter is gained through a process of inner discernment that taps into your experiences, your imagination, and your evolving sense of who and how you want to be.


2.    Understand Your Options: Once you have a clear picture of where your heart and your talents point you, begin to move along that. Choosing an education or career path that is likely to bring satisfaction and success is part of this equation. Cultivating a worldview that resonates with your heart and helps you sustain inner alignment when life becomes difficult, is also helpful. This means knowing what your ‘healthy zone’ is and how to bring yourself back when things get out of sorts. Your healthy zone is the place where neither total surrender to strong preferences, nor total avoidance of non-preferences, rules your life.


3.    Practice: Find a mindfulness practice that works for you. This can be meditation, yoga, a martial art – whatever fits. The point of this practice is that it provides a way for you to come home to yourself on a regular basis, so your inner life and outer life stay in balance.


Like a tightrope walker, the effort to sustain a healthy balance never stops. The finetuning simply grows a sense of personal mastery.  


Germaine Watts is a thought leader, author, speaker and co-founder of Ensentious – a consultancy and workshop/retreat provider dedicated to helping individuals, teams, and organizations thrive. As a mindfulness coach, SuccessFinder expert, and facilitator with the Centre for Courage and Renewal, she seeks to foster connection between soul and role in ways that support of personal, organizational, and societal transformation.