Afterburners. Using Fuel Wisely.

This is the first of a three part series on personal rhythm and burnout.

Today I’m sick. Actually, I’ve been feeling ill for the past three days. I spent the weekend away on a retreat just below the arctic circle, NY State. Winds whipped off of the lake with chilling affects, right into my bones. And although it’s April, the temps barely climbed out of the 40s. We even had some snow!

As I re-enter into my weekly schedule, the days away on “retreat” were anything but rejuvenating. The time I’d usually take for rest and work was swallowed up with planning, oversight, implementation and facilitating our group. So, for the past few days, and for some weeks to come - I have another retreat next weekend - I’ll be on afterburners.

Afterburners are the hot little devices used on jet engines to gain extra thrust, 50% or more, when essential. They’re used for a short duration, like on takeoff or in combat maneuvers. Use of an afterburner results in a huge expenditure of fuel. The same increased thrust could be gained by using a bigger engine, but the increased weight of that engine would be counterproductive. So, afterburners were invented. It’s the system that dumps fuel into the exhaust stream, after primary combustion. It’s very simple, effective, but pricey.

I carry a lighter. I don't smoke, but I carry one just the same. I like the way it smells when the flint ignites the fuel. The same person who gave me this Zippo also inspired me to write this series on burnout and life rhythm. He's a good friend.

Right now, I’m utilizing my afterburners. I’m in need of some additional thrust to get me through the next few days and weeks. Work has piled up and responsibilities, especially over the past two months, have increased significantly. So, I have to burn extra fuel. But I can’t stay here for long, I know that now. But, there was a time when I didn’t have a clue as to what was my true normal burn. Not knowing this can come at a great cost. One of the reasons I’m sharing this now is to prevent others from the same near-catastrophe I experienced.

Here’s a definition I found from the online Merriam Webster’s dictionary. I think it’s very revealing about a closely related topic.

a. the time when a jet or rocket engine stops working because there is no more fuel available
b. the condition of someone who has become very physically and emotionally tired after doing a difficult job for a long time

Yup, you guessed it, it’s the definition for BURNOUT. It applies to jets and to people who utilize their afterburners way too much or for too long. Whether you’re a jet or a human, staying on afterburners will result in burnout! No more fuel for the mission! You’ll either drop out of the sky or crash in life - it’s that simple.

Our society has become so accustomed to this afterburner lifestyle that we’re no longer aware of it. I’ve come across so many people, most really, who utilize their afterburners so much that it’s become their new “normal”. Too many are living beyond their God-given capacity - emotionally, physically, financially, relationally. I truly believe this is one of the reasons we see so much violence in America. We simply run out of fuel for the journey - a journey that’s supposed to be in sync with God - and we’re desperate as we fail and free fall towards disaster. Just like a jet, we get the most efficient “burn” when we’re flying at our designed capacity.

So, as part of this series, here are a few guidelines to help you determine - if you’re honest with yourself - if you’re on afterburners.

Afterburners On!*

  • When you regularly don’t have time for that cup of coffee with a coworker or family member.
  • When you’re not taking regular days of rest from work - all work, not just the paid stuff.
  • When you dread one more person asking you for just one more thing.
  • When you feel you have “1,001 things to do”, habitually.
  • When you constantly feel like you're working at warp speed and nothing gets done.
  • When every moment of your day is packed - you miss lunch, meals, breaks - habitually.
  • When life seems to pass you by - you regularly miss important events and dates.

If you resonate with several or more, you’re in afterburner mode! You’re going to have make some significant changes or you’ll burn out. If you’re already out of fuel and wondering how you got there, this should be eye opening. If you think this is all silly and senseless, that’s okay. I’ve gotten a lot of push back writing about Sabbath, rest and life rhythm. Some think I’m loony for suggesting such things. Others think I’m lazy. But I’ve come to realize that these are usually the people who are craving what I’m proposing. They’re simply unwilling to make the often gut-wrenching, necessary changes towards a new and more fulfilling lifestyle.

As with jets and in life, afterburners are intended to be used at critical times when additional thrust is needed; when you need to dig deep and push hard. Doing this constantly will result in running out of fuel! You’ll burn out! It’s a fast paced path to death. I pray that you’ll take time to consider what I’ve shared. If you’d like to talk or you need help evaluating where you are in life, give me a shout. I’d love to help.

*Oh, by the way, if you regularly display many of the above characteristics, you may need to see a doctor. Burnout can foster depression, anxiety and other major health and relational issues that are beyond the scope of this blog. This blog is not an acceptable replacement for professional, medical help.