The Word Among Us

Personal Spirituality Resources

Over-Commitment and Burnout

There’s a plan for overcoming these two.

By: Rachel Balducci

Over-Commitment and Burnout: <em>There’s a plan for overcoming these two.</em> by Rachel Balducci

Chances are that you’re reading this because you have a lot going on in your life. With that in mind, I’m going to respect your busy schedule and jump right in.

The heart of the matter is about doing the right things. It’s about learning to say no to what you shouldn’t be doing so that you can say yes to what you should.

We want to say yes to the good, wonderful, and amazing tasks and projects and errands in life and no to all the other stuff.

Now, I can hear you thinking about that and wondering if I’m a little crazy. Because doing the laundry and running carpool and balancing the bank account don’t always seem like wonderful tasks. But they have to get done. After all, aren’t those items all necessary?

Of course they are! But at the heart of avoiding burnout and over-commitment is learning to do these necessary things that bring balance into your life without running yourself ragged with too much other stuff. A balanced life is part of the foundation of a full and rich life.

It’s tempting to think that in order to avoid feeling overwhelmed and tired and worn out, we have to say no to anything other than what has to get done—that in order to avoid burnout, we must learn to say no to every request outside of our basic needs for survival.

That isn’t the case. It’s not about always saying no, but about learning when and how to say yes. How many of us run around feeling tired and over-stretched, and we wonder what we have to show for it all? We fly through our day doing ninety to nothing, chipping away at lots of little things that don’t seem to add up to something big. Yet we are real people with real lives. We do have hopes and dreams and goals, and these can exist within the sometimes-mundane tasks we have to do. It’s complicated, but we can get it all done.

Before we go any further, I want you to understand this: I’m not offering suggestions about how to glamorize ordinary life, or help find the one thing that’s going to feed your soul. Well, I do offer the one thing—but spoiler alert: it’s Jesus.

You should find this comforting. Life is filled with opportunities, adventures, hobbies, and projects. But if you don’t seek Jesus, none of those other things will fill the hole in your heart that only he can fill.

The Right Stuff

Balance and truth are at the heart of over-commitment and learning how to avoid it. Finding balance in the midst of all we have going on, and learning to seek out the truth about what we should be doing in the first place is key.

And this includes the mundane and the grand. It includes everything we have to do and everything we want to do. It’s about learning to find the right activities and knowing when to do all of them. Or some of them. Or perhaps none of them, if we’re really off target and need to regroup in order to discover what the right stuff is for us.

Tackling over-commitment isn’t simply about doing less. It’s about saying yes to the right things and experiencing the peace that comes when you learn to do that. And it’s also not about how to bilocate or drive faster or strategically map out your day so you can do twice the things in half the time.

God did not create hurry as your go-to setting in life, and hurry isn’t the solution for feeling overwhelmed.

Many of us lead lives that feel overwhelming. Short stints with lots going on are a normal part of life. But if you’ve had those negatives feelings for extended periods of time, then you might have a problem. We can do anything for a short while, but if we’re living at an open-ended, rat-race pace, then we have to make a change. Being over-extended is not good for us physically, emotionally, or spiritually.

The point is, we are quick to recognize the importance of boundaries in certain areas of our lives. When our eating is disordered, our body lets us know. When our house needs a cleaning, the rings around the toilets are a good indicator.

But what if we’ve gotten off track in everyday life too? We feel burned out and unable to find a stopping point. How do we get back to peace and joy when we’ve said yes to too much? This is especially challenging when we’ve said yes to good things or to things that seem nonnegotiable. What then? If everything we’re doing has to be managed, where do we go from there?

It’s much easier to recognize a need to ditch junk. Our calendar and daily schedule are a little harder to assess.

There’s a Plan for That

At the heart of overcoming over-commitment is knowing that God has a plan. We have to establish that at the front end of this discussion. God has a plan for your life, including the long haul, and the minutiae of the day-to-day.

Do you believe that? This can be difficult to accept, especially for those of us with a tendency to overcommit. Maybe we know God has a plan, but we’re pretty sure it all depends on us. “I and I alone must figure out what it is I’m supposed to do.” “I have to determine my responsibilities and then establish a plan for getting them done.”

If we operate with that as our starting point, however, we’re going to struggle. And believe me, problems arise when you see yourself as the answer to everything going on around you. “If not me, then who?” That can be a good attitude, but only within reason.

We’re not going to spend time playing the blame game. It’s less important to determine whether we’re the problem when it comes to over-commitment (we are. The end.) and more important to focus on the variables that have led us to this point.

How We See Ourselves

When we try to find our worth in what we do instead of who we are, we experience burnout. When we say yes to requests because of how it makes us feel, we become overcommitted. If we have arrived at the conclusion that our identity comes from all the moving parts of our day, the amazing things we have going on, and how impressive it all looks, our thinking is disordered and will lead to exhaustion.

We are not what we do. We are not what we don’t do. Our worth doesn’t come from the places we go or the things we accomplish. Isn’t that a relief?

Our talents and gifts and abilities are all from God, and we use them for his glory. But these things (and they really are just things) don’t make God love us more, even if they do make us feel better about ourselves.

The most important thing we can do is to keep God in the center of it all—to regularly, every single day, ask God what he wants from us:

“What would you have me do this week, Lord?”
“What about today?”
“Lord, what is your will for me in this very specific time of my life?”

Doing is not a bad thing. God needs us to be his hands and feet. The great saints inspire us in this regard. As St. Teresa of Ávila so beautifully tells us, Christ uses us to love his people:

Christ has no body now but yours. No hands, no feet on earth but yours. Yours are the eyes through which he looks with compassion on this world. Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good. Yours are the hands through which he blesses all the world. Yours are the hands, yours are the feet, yours are the eyes, you are his body. Christ has no body now on earth but yours.

How It Adds Up

For this very reason, we must live a life that seeks God in everything. When we do that, every part of our day is an act of love for Jesus. When we do that, we can experience God’s presence in the midst of all we do. We make ourselves totally available to God and to saying yes to him. And we are open to hearing whatever it is he would say to us.

So the issue of over-commitment is equal parts spiritual and practical. It’s being in tune with the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, and it’s also being a human in a human body. We do have commitments and people to care for. It’s a tricky balance. Once we’ve established that seeking God’s will in all things is key, we can look at the life God has given each of us.

Recognize this however: over-commitment isn’t about the unique details of your life. It isn’t because you have too many kids or a husband who works a lot or because you work a lot. It’s not because your parents are struggling with their health or because you come from a family that likes to do a lot together. These details can contribute to feeling that you’re overwhelmed, but they’re not the root cause. The root cause is how we let it all add up to be too much.

There’s good news, though! You can have control in your scheduling and doing and committing to things. Life circumstances do not make you a victim of over-commitment. We will always have a to-do list and stuff to buy and some closet somewhere in the house that needs to be organized. But by putting God first, then family, and everything else after that, we establish a well-ordered life. When we manage those variables and put them in proper order within our lives, we can tackle the beast of over-commitment and fatigue.

This is a selection from Overcommitted by Rachel Balducci (The Word Among Us Press, 2020), available at