middle path

find the middle path

Who knew you could connect the Buddhist practice of seeking the middle path to an HR webinar?

I recently attended a webinar run by MediKeeper, and one of the resources I received in a follow-up email is a report titled “Five Emerging Employee Wellness Trends for 2022.”

These trends include “a sustainable return to work and living with Covid risk” in first place, immediately followed by “brain health and psychological safety in the face of mounting mental health challenges.”

In the description of the latter, the word “rust-out” appears in tandem with burnout.

I’d never heard of “rust-out”—apparently, a term defined by psychotherapist Paula Coles as: “Work which is uninspiring and fails to stretch the person, so that they become disinterested, apathetic, and alienated.”

Huh. So really, burnout is a result of too much mental stimulation while rust-out comes from too little.

find the middle path

This idea reminds me of something I often work on with clients: finding the middle path—whether you’re practice Buddhism or not, finding the middle path is a great practice.

What does that mean exactly?

a middle path for secondary foods

  • When I work with clients who struggle with their secondary food choices—what they put in their mouths—it often looks like finding a place where their need to be mindful of what and how much they eat is at peace with their tendency to rebel when their food choices are too restrictive.
  • It can be finding a way to track their food without becoming obsessed with the numbers, paying more attention to how they feel and how their clothes fit than to the number on the scale or the tape measure.

a middle path for primary foods

  • When a client is struggling with a primary food—say a close relationship, such as between a parent and an adolescent child—we look for a way to harmonize their responsibility to parent with their need to manage every aspect of their child’s life.
  • Or a client is supporting an aging parent and it’s an ongoing battle between “I want to stay in my home as long as I can” and “But you are going to fall and get hurt and then what?” Then we look for a way to compromise so that everyone’s responsibilities are fulfilled and most hopes can be met.
  • How about in the realm of physical activity? At every age and stage of life, our need for and types of physical activity can vary—what used to be HIIT training can turn into yoga and stretching or vice versa.
  • What about in the area of jobs/career? Our careers are one of our most important primary foods—I mean, think about it: after sleep, as adults, we probably spend the most time working. And when our career is not working for us, our relationship with secondary food—the stuff we put in our mouths—can get really difficult.

a bit more about careers

In my experience, the people standing in front of the open freezer and eating ice cream out of the container are not the ones whose career lives are completely nourishing. They’re the ones whose boss is a jerk and whose coworkers drive them crazy, whose workload is either too much or too little for them.

While younger generations think nothing of job-hopping, especially in the early stages of their careers, many of us are stuck in this place where we’re stuck in our current job or career. The reasons that we can’t leave our job are endless—and many of them are valid.

And quite honestly, it’s not uncommon to move from job to job and constantly run into the same issues over and over—including burning or rusting out again and again.

So maybe it’s not the work—maybe it’s the worker? (“It’s the singer not the song?”)

That’s not meant to blame or shame anyone. It’s to point out that if you find yourself in the same narrative over and over, it’s time to take a serious look at writing a different story for yourself, often one in which you find the middle path.

a middle path for careers

As Eckhart Tolle says, when you’re in a difficult situation, you have 3 choices:

  1. Leave it
  2. Change it
  3. Stay and be okay with it

That might sound a bit simplistic, but think about it this way:

  1. Some of us do have the ability to leave “a bad job”—in this case, be careful that you’re not setting yourself up to repeat the same plot line on another stage.
  2. Change it: with our negativity bias, it’s easy to fall into despair about our work. We can develop a blindness and a learned helplessness in which we feel that we can’t change anything. And if you really think about it, is that true? Whether you’re overworked or understimulated, try to explore other options within the same job: can you change your schedule, your hours, the projects you’re assigned? Come up with a proposal and run it by your supervisor—the trick is not to show up and complain but rather to lay out what the problems are and proactively offer a solution. And don’t be invested in YOUR solution—there may be other options you can explore together.
  3. Stay and be okay with it. If you decide to take this path, you really commit to being okay with it! You may not be able to change to another job or change the job you’re in—and maybe your career is not where you find fulfillment. Maybe you can put in your hours with a good attitude and find your joy in a hobby, in your family, in volunteering. Then your job becomes the means and not the end.

Yes, there are a LOT of issues with work in these times of plague and chaos, whether you’re working from home, returning to the office or job site, or taking the hybrid route—another middle path1

As I often tell my clients, your mindset plays a big part in how much or how little your situation stresses you out.

I’m not saying it’s ALL in your head—and I’m not saying that you’re imagining it. The struggle is real, for sure.

What I am saying is that you have options even when it feels like you might not.

make the connection

I try to avoid using the word “balance”—it often sets up unreasonable expectations that, when unmet, end up in self-criticism and self-judgment. I do like the idea of finding a middle path instead, whether we’re talking about the food we put in our mouths or our primary foods—career, relationships, physical activity, spiritual practice, sleep, time in nature, physical environment….

Got employees who are burning and/or rusting out? Let’s talk about employee wellness programming that makes a difference! 

Want to talk about finding that middle path in some primary food area—or more than one? Schedule a YOURstory session.