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Avoiding Burnout: What’s Your Ideal Pace?

Updated: May 3, 2020

"This is progress in America. You always move forward and there are no limits to how far you can go or how fast you can get there. Don’t pause, don’t reflect. You win or lose. You’ll fall behind and fail if you stop moving. Fast at any cost is the mantra of a stressed and distressed American society today." — Dr. Stephanie Brown

We must start here: The pace of life has spun out of control.

I recently attended a coaching forum where leadership coaches from all over the world came together to discuss ways to best support leaders in dealing with our increasingly VUCA world. VUCA is an acronym coined by the U.S. military that stands for:

  • Volatile — The environment demands you react quickly to ongoing changes that are unpredictable and out of your control

  • Uncertain — The environment requires you to take action without certainty

  • Complex — The environment is dynamic, with many interdependencies

  • Ambiguous — The environment is unfamiliar, outside of your expertise

VUCA originally referred to situations in which an army faced the chaos of multiple enemies. Today it is used to describe the increasingly chaotic nature of our lives in all the arenas we inhabit—from home to school to business to politics to media to community to marriage to religion and everything in between.

The breakneck pace so many of us now consider “normal” is simply not sustainable. Deep down I think we know this. Yet we keep choosing to live this way—why?

Because we’re addicted to it.

“Over-scheduling and double-booking have been signs of progress and belonging for two decades. Practices that used to cause embarrassment became proudly rationalized as multi-tasking, a new skill to master. You juggle 10 plates while you brag about your 90-hour week and pop your Ambien to get to sleep. This is success in America. Progress equals fast, which equals success, a recipe for addiction.”

In my previous post about leadership capacity, I used a car analogy to explain how leadership capacity is like figuring out how much payload (i.e. leadership responsibility) you can carry before you start collapsing under the strain. If capacity speaks to how much weight your car can effectively carry, then pace simply refers to how fast you drive. For example:

  • What is the speed of your life? How fast do you move as you go through the day? Are you typically rushing, strolling, meandering, or on a flat out sprint?

  • Does the current pace of your life seem too fast, too slow, or about right for you? How do you know?

  • Most of the time, who or what is deciding how fast your life should go?

  • How would you want your routine to change if you could consciously set the pace of your life?

We each struggle against many VUCA forces that try to impose control on the pace of our lives. Job pressure, family pressure, financial pressure, the social pressure of media and popular culture—all of these are constantly trying to dictate to us what the pace of our lives should be. But none of those forces actually have the power to dictate the pace of your life…unless you give it to them.

Who or what decides how fast your life should go? External VUCA forces can and will blow you around like a leaf in a hurricane, but they lose much of their power once you anchor yourself in the deeper conversation around who you really want to be and how you really want to live. In this deeper conversation, you don’t start with, “What pace of life does the VUCA world demand of me?” Instead, you start with “What is the pace of life I was made to live?”

The truth is, different people are naturally wired to move at all kinds of different speeds. Fast is not better than slow. Slow is not better than fast. Action is not better than stillness. Stillness is not better than action. We may go through seasons where we feel ourselves wanting to go fast, or slow, or be still for a while. Rather than allow the VUCA environment to dictate your pace, the more powerful, life-giving way is to keep pace with the voice of the Spirit within you in all seasons and at all times.

I think this is part of what Scripture is trying to tell us in this famous quote from Isaiah 40:28-31:

“Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Everlasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth does not become weary or tired. His understanding is inscrutable. He gives strength to the weary, and to him who lacks might He increases power. Though youths grow weary and tired, and vigorous young men stumble badly, Yet those who wait for the Lord will gain new strength; They will mount up with wings like eagles, they will run and not get tired, they will walk and not become weary.”

Sounds lovely, doesn’t it? Even so, notice how the instant I suggest this to you, the voice of the urgent rises up inside you to say it isn’t possible. Your job is just too intense for you to have any hope of slowing down. Your kids are a whirlwind of mad energy that refuses to grant you even a moment of stillness. Life goes fast nowadays, and that’s all there is to it. You either keep up or get left behind.

I get it. The pressure is real. You’re not imagining it. But here’s the counter-truth: You have a lot more authority over the pace of your life than you think. I think this is what that Scripture passage is trying to tell us: VUCA isn’t the only game in town. There is another way to live. You can choose a different path. As you surrender more and more of your life to the voice of the Spirit within you, God teaches you how to live in peace at many different speeds according to the pace the Spirit is moving in that moment or season.

The journey begins with a few important questions for you and God to discuss:

  • What is the pace of life I was made to live?

  • What are the values and core beliefs that I want to guide the pace of my life?

  • How do I balance these internal values against the external pressures of a VUCA world?

  • What is my next step?

What other insights or questions do you have about leadership pace? Leave a note in the comments, or drop me a line via my contact page and we’ll set up a time to talk 1-on-1.

Also, check out my companion posts on Leadership Capacity and Establishing a Rule of Life.

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