Should we leave ourselves at home?

By Miranda van Schadewijk

Spending a weekend at the Bright Now Festival in Amsterdam was like showering in a waterfall of inspiration, creativity and engaged action. This festival, organized by Shambala Netherlands in collaboration with Knowmads business school Amsterdam, comprised of inspirational talks by Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche, panel discussions by passionate people in the field of social entrepreneurship and innovative education and a heap of workshops to participate in. A true delight!

The overall theme of the festival was a reflection on The Strength of a Gentle Society. What a strength could be felt from all these heros who are making their ideals and visions reality in our society and with our society. From stimulating businesses into social responsible action to integrating forgiveness into law and justice. From teaching people to embody leadership and deal with difficult conversations to training highschool students into self-development.

I was particularly inspired by a talk by Damaris Matthijsen, founder of Economy Transformers. The economy transition model they use is based on Freedom, Equality and Brotherhood. Using your heart as a compass, a holistic perspective and having the right to develop yourself are all part of this vision. An inspiring model for us all, however I believe she touched most of us with her personal story. Trying to fit in a society, an economy she ended up working for a bank. She didn’t feel she could be who she is there, she didn’t feel she could grow and thrive there. A collegue who noticed her struggle gave her advice: in the morning when shutting the door behind you to leave your home for work, just leave yourself behind as well. For Damaris, one of the most horrible things you could imagine someone should do.

Should we leave ourselves at home? A question that touched many of the participants of the festival I spoke to later on. Leaving ourselves at home, trying to fit in a frame we don’t fit in seems to be the root of many diseases including depression and burn out. This question hit me as well since I firmly believe we can improve our living together in society if we can improve the meaning of work and the way we work.

Burn out is not something very unusual in our society today. I haven’t looked up the statistics but I’m sure most of us know at least one person who suffers or suffered from a burn out. The past couple of years many people around me, friends and family, suffered from burn out and this made me worry and reflect. It is so easy to just follow the crazy speeding rhythm of everybody around us, of society around us without noticing the strain we put on ourselves. I came close to a burn out myself once, working on too many different projects at the same time. All these projects reflected my passion and ideals, in all these projects I worked in teams of wonderful people I love very much, but I came to the point that anything I had to do for these projects felt as a burden and I did not enjoy any of it anymore. For me a huge warning sign. I realized I should take a lot less project upon me and concentrate my energy on only 2 or 3 things at once.

Burn out seems to be still a bit of a taboo subject. The person who burns out must be weak. Symptoms are treated on the individual level: how can you arrange your workdays, your expectations, your thought patterns in a way that makes you able to continue without burning out? Can you take more breaks? Meditate to releave stress! If you follow all this, you will fit perfectly again in the box society made for you.

However, according to Otto Scharmer it is at the edge, at the marges of a system that we can see if a system is healthy, is functioning well. Burn out seems to be one of these edges of our society today. And to me it shows how our system is not healthy at all. These burn out cases are symptoms of a deeper root cause which is the malfunctioning of our society, of our economy, of our expectations of labour. It is a problem we have to attack on a collective level, not on an individual level only! Collectively we are creating a malfunctioning system that makes us sick individually. The solution should be worked out on a collective level! And this will need a transformation of our consciousness. We need to look at ourselves, as individuals and as a collective and reflect.

Messages in the world of entrepreneurship are still very contradictory. I remember studying at Knowmads Hanoi when social entrepreneurs came and tell us about their work. The subject of burn out came up but was swept under the carpet as ‘not interesting’ by that entrepreneur, just saying he learned from it and changed his ways. At the same time we get to hear that setting up a business needs lots of work, non-stop work, 24/24 relentless perseverence. Huh? Didn’t you just tell us it made you burn out?

Let’s stop sweeping this subject under the carpet and learn from each other! The previous interview with Phan Y Ly provided me with a lot of inspiration and insight about such a consciousness shift we need to make and mind sets we could explore. And I am sure there are many more people with interesting experiences and insights on this topic. I would love to make this blog a place to give a voice to such sharings. People in the world of entrepreneurship, project management etc. who have encountered burn out and changed their way of life because of it. Any suggestions of people I could interview are welcome!

At the Bright Now Festival I saw many examples of people thriving, being themselves and therefore coming up with innovative solutions in education and society. The shift in consciousness is definitely taking place already. Let’s continue giving it little and big pushes individually and collectively and make our society be a Bright Now Festival!

This blog was published before at Lead from Insight

Posted October 14, 2014 in: Harvest 2014