TCM: When the Fire Goes Out


I have been in practice since 2007.  Eleven years is a long time and I’ve seen fellow practitioners come and go which saddens me.  I wonder what culmination of events precipitated them leaving the profession; however, with sincere compassion, I may have any idea.  This idea comes from a feeling I have had time and time again throughout the years: that of apathy and worry coupled, or, perhaps more correctly, burnout.

Burnout has come at different times in my career:

1. When I have been extremely busy, working long hours and am very tired

2. When I have been very slow, and perhaps stressed financially

3. When I have moved my clinic space, and am trying to rebuild a practice

All these scenarios can play a different story in my head that I believe is quite common for most of us: “I am tired. I am bored. Am I going to make it?”

I am a huge fan of NLP (Neuro-linguistic programming); perhaps not in the strict sense of using the prescribed tools, but in the recognition of the power of thoughts we think and language we use.  I look to NLP's general guidelines and apply them to my life.  I especially started using them when I felt my first sense of burning out in the field of Chinese medicine.

Herein I'd like to share some of my ideas regarding burnout.

The first thing I do, and which I believe is the most important, is to be non-judgemental towards myself and recognize that due to the fact that I am a human being, with complex emotions no less, my feelings are completely normal.  This allows to me to just ‘be’ or ‘sit’ with how I feel.  Putting judgement on the way I feel does nothing but drag me down further into the depths of non-creativity.  Creativity is the key to overcoming any mind-state and this can be illustrated by using the word 'play.'

The second thing I partake in an exercise where I ‘play’ around in my mind by asking myself these questions:

1. How did I come to Chinese medicine?

2. What led me to finish my schooling and start a practice?

3. What has propelled me to be successful to this day?

The answers to these questions will be different for everyone and sometimes an answer might not be readily available - and this is the very reason I 'sit,' 'be,' and 'play.'  I take the pressure off of myself to come up with an immediate response.  This exercise is no different than Albert Einstein taking a walk in the woods when he wanted to solve a problem in his study.  I came up with these three questions by reverse engineering the process of how I came to want to practice Chinese medicine.  I figured since I was so passionate to begin my journey, it would be a good place to start - and I might find that spark that was once there.  I must say that I also have to apply this exercise to my Kung-Fu practice which I have been at since 1994.  As you can imagine there have been many plateaus and feelings of burnout over a 24-year period.  Here I will share some answers that came to mind; however, I am currently not in a burnout state and they came easily.  (And that may be an exercise in itself - to write down your own answers when you are feeling well enough to do so.)

1. My passion for Chinese Kung-Fu and Chinese culture. I have a romantic notion of martial arts and healing that I hope to uphold.

2. Once I began school I saw all the possibilities to help people. I discovered a way I could be useful in society.

3. I feel a sense of accomplishment when I help a patient heal, put food on my family’s table, and help a practitioner to gain more confidence in their clinic space.  These three things are my driving force to be a success story in the industry.

The last thing I do is picture what I would feel like (emotionally), look like (posture, facial expressions), talk like (language use, tone of voice) and even dress and groom like (taking care of the outside can reflect on the inside).  I will write more on this at a later time.

I truly hope that by peering into my anti-burnout process that you will be able to look deep inside yourself, in a non-judging way, and find that which once sparked a raging fire within you.

Kenton Sefcik