While most people think of burnout as a bad thing, maybe it is not always that bad. While burnout can lead to apathetic withdrawal and an acceptance of the status quo, it can also be a turning point where one decides that they are no longer going to put their energy into a system that is not functioning and resists change.
I suppose you could map out the stages of burnout and I am sure that someone has. I suppose it could start with enthusiasm, idealism, active coping and problem-solving, then frustration, confusion, and then finally a kind of withdrawal from the situation while at the same time plodding along. Complete burnout might not be that great of a thing, but maybe some of the earlier stages can be useful in overall adaptation to a situation and also as a means to achieve a radical reorientation to a situation.
What do I mean by this?
I’ll give an example from clinical psychotherapy. Often times a clinical stalemate or equilibrium can happen, in which not much change happens because both the client and the therapist hit a comfortable way of dealing with or avoiding discomfort. In trying to be “nice, supportive, and understanding,” for example, a therapist could be contributing to and maintaining a pattern of interaction which actually resists change and insight. It is only on that bad, stressful day, when the therapist, often for other personal or professional reasons, can no longer maintain the facade of “niceness” and loses their temper, or in some other way breaks the equilibrium of the therapy, that at this point, something new and interesting and more real, open and honest can emerge. It is in the aftermath of this “failure of empathy” that real gains in understanding may really become possible.
Maybe this can be similar for dealing with a dysfunctional system. Maybe it is only at the point of burnout, where one can no longer handle trying to be polite and helpful and conscientious, that at this point, one can no longer put energy into a situation that is really not working on many levels. Maybe burnout is not all bad, as long as it doesn’t lead to complete withdrawal and nihilism.
An interesting thing happened today. I was feeling really upset and angry and I flicked off the light switch at work, feeling like I just had to get out of there, and “POP” the overhead fluorscent light bulb blew. I thought, man, I must be pretty charged up about this. I flicked the light switch again to see if the light would go back on and “POP” the other bulb blew. Man, it was time to get out of there.
Tomorrow, I will request new light bulbs, and I imagine that when I get them in a few days, that if nothing else, new light will be shed on my situation.