Be Spent: A Mentor Manifesto

Being involved in Scouting is very draining sometimes, isn’t it? When you feel exhausted, do you start to wonder what you’re doing wrong? Maybe you just make too many commitments? Maybe your lifestyle is draining your energy? 

Our modern world is very occupied right now with how we can prevent ourselves from becoming burnt out. Becoming over-extended seems to be an epidemic in industrialized societies with the fast pace and high-pressure environments. I see articles on the internet all the time about how to be less stressed, how to slow down and practice mindfulness, how to conserve the limited stores of energy you have, and etc…

But what if we’re going in the wrong direction with all of this? Maybe exhaustion isn’t a bad thing? What if it’s not something to be avoided? Maybe instead of trying to avoid having our energy stores depleted, we should instead focus on being drained for things that are truly worthwhile instead.

A simple, obvious truth has been impressed on me lately: when you truly serve someone else, it takes hard sacrifice. You are giving away a part of you that you will never get back. You are investing your time and energy into someone else’s portfolio.

Scouting volunteers are keenly aware of the cost of serving others. Weary Scoutmasters are the target of voices that say if you’re exhausted and worn out then there must be something wrong. I say this is a lie. This is not the warning of wisdom. If you are sacrificially serving others, you should expect nothing less than exhaustion! You can, if you’d like, arrange your life like a boat out on tranquil waters – insulated from drama and stress. But that isn’t what I choose, and I don’t think that’s what you will choose either if you’re reading this far. Whatever the reasons we became involved in Scouting, the reason we are still here is that we care intensely about the young men under our watch. We want to see them grow and mature into leaders – the next generation of men willing to stand for what’s right.

If you’re tired and exhausted… that is exactly how you’re supposed to feel when you are giving your all! Just be careful that this exhaustion is not for the wrong things. This is what the true warning of wisdom should be. Many things walk into our day with urgent voices, dressed in urgent clothes, that demand our immediate attention. We have to keep the big picture in mind and understand what’s truly important.

Speaking of the big picture, we have to make sure we live to fight another day. Don’t lose the war for the sake of the battle; there is a type of burnout that does damage to what you are striving for. So when you are truly giving yourself to a worthwhile cause, rest is not a luxury – it’s a necessity! Manage your resources well and know your limitations.

This is where self-improvement comes in. Much of the contemporary self-help literature is popular because it promises that acquiring certain skills and characteristics will make life easier and more carefree. There is certainly some truth to this claim. However, instead of trying to serve ourselves, what if we used those skills and characteristics to multiply our capabilities to help those we care about? There are two different kinds of self-improvement. Egocentric self-improvement which asks the question: How can I improve myself to make my life easier? Altruistic self-improvement challenges you with the question: “How can I improve myself in such a way that I am better equipped to help others?”

Improvement in this way will minimize unnecessary burnout and help you bounce back quicker. When you live life with the big picture in mind, the perspective you have will encourage you and give you strength. You’re not exhausted because you’re doing something wrong. You’re beaten down because you’re doing exactly the right thing!

Let me remind you that this is exactly what we signed up for. And I’m writing this to myself more than I am to you because this is the message that I need to hear when I’m feeling worn out and discouraged. “Cheer up, because it’s going to get harder!” And that’s okay. Because we are doing this for the right cause. We are focused. We are determined.

If you are in it for the long haul like I am, then pace yourself. We’ve got a lot of work to do. All across the world, there is an urgent need for strong, determined leaders to rise up from the next generation – perhaps more so now than ever before.

The leaders of tomorrow aren’t made by a good school or a system or a program or a government. They are made by people like you and me who care enough to mentor, teach, and to train them. We give ourselves – our time, our energy, our resources – to invest in the next generation.

So don’t pay attention to the chatterboxes who want to give you “five simple ways to solve your stress problem”. On the other hand, don’t listen to the talking heads who want you to run yourself into the ground trying to achieve certain superficial models of success. Instead, be spent doing what you know is worthwhile and let’s make a difference together for the next generation.

Photo by Steve Moses, Creative Commons 2.0, https://flic.kr/p/89KApm
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