I’m finding it really hard to love this week.
I have the beautiful privilege to serve in the most under-served communities in my local area. I adore it. I love my youth. I love the little girls I get work with as a Girl Scout troop leader (or my babies – pronounced ‘baybays’). I spend more time with those children, youth and families than my own family most weeks. Some days I see more of them than I do of Stephen (I’m fortunate to have a caring and compassionate partner in life who tries to love others too).
But, I’m finding it hard to love. I’m thankful that it doesn’t happen very often, but every once in a while terrible thoughts about those families I love so much rear their ugly heads.
There are days where I hate having dodgy youth work ratios, despite my best efforts to secure volunteers, while knowing most parents are at home watching TV.
Where I get tired of not having any resources or support from many local agencies.
Days when I’m tired of smiling, when all I really want to do is scream.
Where I get over it when the children and youth are fighting, shouting, not listening, throwing rocks and gossiping.
Days when I feel frustrated about all I’m trying to do, when it feels like nothing is changing, no one cares and no one is trying.
Why I’m A Youth Worker
Many people wonder why I do what I do. Most think it’s some sort of white-guilt or charity-thing. Some think it’s because I’m a saint – this is hardly Calcutta and I’m not Mother Teresa that’s for sure, as evidenced at the very least by my first statement in this post.
I do it because I can’t do anything less. I can’t care less – I’ve tried. I can’t help less – I’ve tried that too. I can’t love less…most days. I can’t have an understanding of oppression (I could write a whole other post about the disease of hopelessness and probably will one day) and an education about systemic injustice and not do something – no matter how small – to try and help change it.
I have a faith that is founded on sacrifice and love as the Cornerstone. I believe in Love that never gives up, cares more for others than for self, doesn’t want what it doesn’t have, doesn’t boast, doesn’t fly off the handle, doesn’t keep score, takes pleasure in the truth, looks for the best, never looks back and keeps going to the end. (1 Cor. 13 – The Message)
This isn’t a step-by-step post on how to avoid burnout. It isn’t meant to sound like I’m amazing and selfless (because trust me, I have plenty of things wrong with me – selfishness and judgement being right at the top of that long list) and it isn’t meant to be preachy. It’s just meant to share the personal values I have that shape my professional values.
I know I’m getting burned out when I start to hear that inner voice saying things like:
- Why bother stopping by, they don’t care anyway?
- Why keep turning up week in and week out, half the girls won’t be there anyway?
- You have better things to do with your time
- You do so much already and no one appreciates you
I have to recognize it and answer it with the things that are at my core – the core of my personhood and the core of my youth work practice:
- Shae, look for the best, they do care – they just can’t always express it
- Shae, care more for others than yourself, the half that attend need to be there
- Shae, be honest with yourself, you won’t do something better with your time. You’ll be lazy and watch trashy TV (confession: my guilty pleasure is ‘Hoarders’), eat cookies and waste that time when you could be making a difference, or at least trying to
- Shae, hush up. You know there are plenty of others giving and do much more than you with much less. Be grateful that these children, youth and their families welcome you as readily as they do despite your socioeconomic, educational and racial differences.
So that’s what I do. I try to answer my frustrations and inner selfishness with truth from my life – What do I believe? Why do I do what I do? What can I change to help me avoid or better manage these feelings?
Question: How do you know when you’re getting emotionally burned out and what do you do to help you keep your compassion and heart for the youth you work with? Let us know in the comments below.
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