Burnout – When It’s Just Not Fun Anymore

Burnout: When It's Just Not Fun Anymore

“I found 11 in one day. After that day I felt so burned out that I have not gone after one since. Also, I need to mention that finishing up my thesis may be hindering my new cache progress as well. Quality over quantity is the best bet IMHO.”

The quote above was posted in the Groundspeak forums on March 8th, 2002—a time when eleven caches in one day was quite a feat. When the cacher who posted that statement logged his first find he wrote, “It was my first one. Now that I have found one I am hooked.”  Fifteen days later he found his fourteenth and final cache.  A year later he logged into Geocaching.com for the last time.

If you’ve been geocaching for very long you’ve seen the results of burnout. Nearly every community has had one cacher who came on strong, found a lot of caches, hid a lot and then faded from view almost as quickly as he came. The locals were left with abandoned caches to watch over or clean up and questions about what happened—maybe even what they could have done to help.

Or maybe you’ve felt it yourself. You’ve spent the day logging drive-up micro after drive-up micro. You’ve lifted the skirts on thousands of lamp posts. You’ve sat in front of your computer trying to write another log and realized that it’s going to sound exactly like the previous log. Suddenly you begin to wonder if this is fun anymore.

Burnout can be a reality in any area of life that consumes our time. Psychologist define it as, “the experience of long-term exhaustion and diminished interest (depersonalization or cynicism), usually in the work context.” Almost everyone experiences it to one degree or another and most of us cope with it in our own ways. At times though it becomes all-enveloping and we simply feel exhausted. The very things that used to bring joy and relaxation to us now bring frustration and—in extreme cases—depression.

The Mayo Clinic’s website provides some good information on recognizing burnout. While their focus is burnout related to the work environments it’s not difficult to translate their findings to the world of geocaching:

Ask yourself these questions to see if you’re experiencing signs and symptoms of burnout:

  • Do you find yourself being more cynical, critical and sarcastic about geocaching?
  • Have you lost the ability to experience joy?
  • Do you have to force yourself to go caching?
  • Have you become more irritable and less patient with others?
  • Do you feel that you lack the energy to go geocaching?
  • Do you no longer feel satisfaction from your achievements?
  • Do you have a hard time laughing at yourself?
  • Are you tired of other people asking if you’re OK?
  • Do you feel disillusioned about geocaching?
  • Are you self-medicating — using food, drugs or alcohol — to feel better or to simply not feel?
  • Have your sleep habits or appetite changed?
  • Are you troubled by headaches, neck pain or lower back pain?

It’s been my observation that geocachers are especially susceptible to the effects of burnout. Much of what we do for fun can end up being repetitious and mundane if attitudes are not held in check. Also, since so much of the activity is community-driven the effects of one person’s burnout are seen and felt by the whole community.

Recognizing burnout is easy. Getting yourself (and others) out of it can be difficult. It often means making huge adjustments to mindsets and habits.  Everyone is different and we all experience these types of feelings in different degrees. Generally speaking though, there are a few steps you can take to reduce the effect of burnout or get yourself back on track and have some fun.

Go Back to the Basics – Why Did You Start Caching in the First Place?

No one can deny that geocaching has changed over the years. Those who got started in the early days were content with one or two nice hikes a month and looked at the possibility of even 100 finds as a an insurmountable task. Today it’s not uncommon for a brand new cacher to log over 100 finds in just their first month—or first week if they’re in the right area.

Some people thrive on playing the numbers game; others find it repetitious but somehow feel there are expectations to have a lot of finds. But when the amount of fun is disproportionate to the amount of finds it’s time to rethink why you’re out there in the first place.

Chances are you didn’t get started geocaching with the vision of stopping at every lamp post and guardrail. Chances are you had visions of something more adventurous. If geocaching is no longer providing you with that it might be time to reconnect with your original intentions.

I’ve set up a pocket query in my Geocaching.com account specifically for caches in my area that offer more of a hike and better views than I get from the average street corner micro.   It’s set to show me caches that I haven’t found that have a terrain rating of three stars or greater. This insures that most of the caches on the list are going to be more than just drive-by’s. When I have one of those days where I need to escape I pull up the list of caches and find one that suits my needs.

I also find that it helps to go through my past logs and gallery photos and look back on some of the caches that really connected with me. This is especially refreshing on those cold winter days when I’m longing for some sunshine. The goal is to reconnect with those moments in life when geocaching brought you real enjoyment. What were you experiencing then? What is it that’s lacking now? What can you do to restore what’s been missing?

Outside of looking for more adventurous caches, I find that it helps to simply reconnect with adventure in other ways. Everyone loves to compare geocaching to their favorite adventure stories, “Geocaching in the woods is like being on a treasure hunt. Hunting micros in the city is like being a spy on a mission.” Why not circumvent caching and head back to the stories that you loved in the first place?

Spend a few nights watching those movies that pique your imagination. Pick up an adventure novel or two and spend some time devouring them. A few winters ago I spent some time reading Robert Allen Ruben’s, “On the Beaten Path.” It was the perfect book for me to read during those long winter nights. Ruben’s tales of life on the Appalachian Trail reminded me of a lot of the great cache hunts I’ve gone after. And his stories of the characters he met while thru-hiking were almost identical to the characters I’ve met while caching and attending events.

Whatever it takes, go back to your first love—that which connected with you before you ever connected with geocaching.  It might not only rekindle your love for the hunt, it might inspire you to some greater hides as well.

Change Your Focus to Other Aspects of the Game

It’s easy for us to get into a rut with most activities in life. What starts out as a fun and new activity sometimes degrades into a repetitious habit. If you find your time consumed with cache after cache and log after log maybe it’s time to look into other aspects of Geocaching that can breathe new life into your recreation.

If you’ve been focused on finding caches, try hiding for a while. Putting out new caches can fuel your creativity and bring new life to the game for you. It can also give you a sense of accomplishment and bring you a lot of satisfaction as you read the logs of those who find your cache and appreciate the hard work you put into it.

Sometimes changing focus is about bringing more focus to your game. Challenge caches exist to do more than just rack up smilies, they help us to concentrate on a specific, measurable goal. Participating in a DeLorme Challenge or an All County Challenge can awaken you to new possibilities and bring a fresh perspective on your game.

Sometimes the challenge is more personal—something we simply challenge ourselves to. I have a friend who set a goal for herself that her next 100 caches would be everything but a traditional cache. This meant she would log a few virtuals, a few events and a lot of mystery/puzzle and mutli-caches. By the end of her personal challenge she was exhausted but looking back on the puzzles she worked hard on and the multis she had completed, she had a sense of accomplishment that was greater than simply another 100 park n’ grabs.

There are others who find a lot of joy and accomplishment in moving travel bugs. Rather than be driven by the number of caches they can find, they focus on the number of travel bugs and geocoins whose missions they can help complete.

It might be that the worst thing you can do for your feeling of burnout is to drop out of activity altogether. Look for something different to drive and challenge you.

Burnout or Bored out?

Burnout is all about stress and overwork. Honestly, does that sound like most of the problems people have with geocaching? The real problem might be closer to “bored out” than burnout.

A 2007 article on TimesOnline estimated that 15 percent of office employees are suffering from “boreout” rather than burnout. Author Peter Werder says quite simply, “They are seriously underchallenged.”

Does that sound familiar? How difficult is it to find a dozen lamppost hides and sign your name over and over again? How much of a challenge is it to simply drive down a road where cache-after-cache is hidden barely 528 feet apart? Mindless, repetitive tasks lead to fatigue, apathy and even low self-esteem. In many ways it mimics burnout, but the cure can be as simple as finding something that challenges you—something really worth bragging about.

Take a Break

Some of my favorite scenes in the Indiana Jones movies were when “Dr. Jones” was back at Marshall College lecturing and working in his office. There was something strangely comforting in knowing he could pass himself off as just another guy…at least for a while. It was always obvious that his time back home only made him long for adventure all the more.

As difficult as it sounds, it might be that the best thing you can do for burnout is to take a break from geocaching for a while. No one’s life was meant to be lived with the day-in-day-out pursuit of treasure—or smilies for that matter.  Stepping back for a while might be exactly what you need to gain some perspective on both geocaching and life in general.

And the reality is you may find that the problem wasn’t geocaching in the first place. Very often the effects of burn out get misplaced—another part of our life (an activity, person or responsibility) is the actual cause of the burnout but it manifests itself in another place. It would be very easy to put the blame on a hobby like geocaching when the real source of burnout is an important responsibility we just aren’t capable of fulfilling.

Of course taking a break from geocaching should not be misconstrued as giving the game up. Those who study the effects and treatments for job burnout will tell you that the last thing you should do is stop working altogether. However, stepping back can give good perspective on what it was that gave you true joy about the activity in the first place. In fact, many times it turns out that burnout is more of an effect than a cause and the real problem is something not at all related to the job or activity in question.

No one’s life was meant to be lived adventure after adventure. James Bond took days off. Indiana Jones had to return to the classroom from time to time.

On top of all this – take care of yourself. Geocaching isn’t supposed to be stressful. Maybe the stress you’re feeling is actually misplaced.