The antidote to exhaustion is not necessarily rest, so says the poet David Whyte. No, sometimes the antidote to exhaustion is wholeheartedness.
In his highly recommended book Crossing the Unknown Sea: Work as a Pilgrimage of Identity, Whyte recounts these words spoken to him by a trusted friend at a time of real work exhaustion:
You are so tired through and through because a good half of what you do here in this organization has nothing to do with your true powers, or the place you have reached in your life. You are only half there, and half here will kill you after a while.
Crossing the Unknown Sea, p. 132
We can do work that is not right for us for awhile. Sometimes for a long while. But eventually it will kill us. Maybe literally, or maybe just a piece of our soul or passion or joy dies. One way or another, spending our energy on things we don’t care about eventually takes our life.
This true for our volunteer efforts as well. In a recent article in Inc. Magazine, Meg Cadoux Hirschberg wrote that nurturing ourselves by doing things we're passionate about in turn allows us to "wholeheartedly" nurture others -- including our families and the organizations we work with. She rightly points out that there is tension when we take family time to volunteer our time for good causes….but if we are giving ourselves to things we feel strongly about, we will often come back to the family more wholehearted.
It is important to spend our precious time on things we care deeply about. When we are “called to the cause”, even when it is hard, the energy will usually come back. When we aren’t, the energy we spend volunteering will usually turn into anger or bitterness. And the trickle down effect will impact those closest to us.
Most things worth doing will be hard at some point. This is true in our vocations and avocations, our paid work and volunteer efforts. But if it is always hard; if the energy doesn’t come back after a challenging stretch; then it is probably time to do some thinking and praying. Because half there will kill you after awhile.
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