Burnout is something that is absolutely never spoken about it my office.
It's something I hadn't put much thought into, but I started to when I read Indefensible. It made me wonder how I'll know when I'm really burnt out, and what I'll do when I am.
Someone in my office said to me the other day, "Am I going to be stuck here? Am I going to be a lifer?" My office really breaks down into two groups of people... the new guys and the lifers. There are lots of brand new baby attorneys (in their first three to five years of practice), and a big bunch of lifers who have been in the office ten, fifteen, twenty years. And there are just a few in-betweeners. I think some of them are well on their way to being lifers, and have every intention of becoming just that, and others seem like they maybe they just haven't taken the initiative to leave yet, or they're not sure yet what they want to do next. All I know is that I don't want to be "stuck" anywhere. If I'm still at the PD's office in ten years, I want it to be because I still love it.
So, back to burn out. I wonder if I'll know it when I see it. Some mornings, I walk into the courthouse, say hello to the same court officer who greets me every morning, and think to myself, "Oh my god, am I back here again?" Some mornings it feels like Groundhogs Day. Other days I feel like there is so much left to accomplish, and I think the factor that makes trial work a constant challenge - the fact that it can just never be completely mastered - has me so hooked.
But it really gets to me: The day to day, going through the motions, waiting for that next trial, waiting for something, anything, to happen. Maybe you could call it a baby burnout. Maybe I just need a vacation. Or a hobby. Or some type of distraction. Maybe I just need to be on trial again. I'm not sure.
I definitely started at the PD's office thinking that I would be a lifer. Now I feel sure that I'm going to want to do something else in the not-too-distant future. But I'm not so sure what that is. Maybe it'll be something that I can do while still at the PD's office, or something I can do for a set period of time and then come back. Or maybe I'll get out of it entirely. I have no idea. But I'm thinking about it.
I recently met someone who is in seminary. I thought about it for about two seconds and decided, "That's it. That's what I want to do, I want to go to seminary." Think about it - being a Pastor is a lot like being a Public Defender. You talk to people, you counsel them, you visit them in prison. Maybe I could even be a prison chaplin. Then I thought about it for another two minutes and decided, no, seminary is probably not the thing for me. But I know that I'm ready for something. Some kind of new challenge, some kind of new exercise for my brain.
One of the refreshing things about reading Indefensible was hearing (or, reading) another public defender's take on burn out. Among the PDs I work with, the term is taboo, I'm sure that I've never heard it spoken aloud. Even when people leave, no one ever says they're burnt out. Maybe that's a good thing - maybe it would be like freshman psychology class hypochondria, where you hear about a symptom and decide that you must have it. Maybe if one person declared himself burnt out, we'd all stop to evaluate ourselves and say, "Oh God, maybe I am too." Maybe that's what happened when I read Indefensible.
But, either way, it kind of has me thinking about my next life, and what I might like to do. Or, at the very least, where I can go for vacation.