“To be, or not to be, that is the question…”
These were the words uttered by Prince Hamlet in Shakespeare’s famous play. Familiar for many us, most have never thought about these famous words in a Masonic sense and how they could relate to our energy and passion as a Freemason.
While Hamlet used these words to contemplate committing suicide, Freemasons may repeat these words when considering whether to drive to another lodge meeting or if a lodge function really even matters to them anymore. They’ve spent the better part of their free time for months, years or even decades giving everything they could to Freemasonry only to feel unaccomplished – tired – used – burnt out.
Perhaps they said yes to everyone who asked them for help or maybe they went the extra mile and volunteered to take on tasks, only later to realize there was no other help. To be active, or not to be active, that truly is the question.
Let us start with this Brother – we all know him. He became a Master Mason in 60 days, because his Grand Lodge wouldn’t allow him to do it any quicker. On the day of his Master Mason raising, he was greeted with handshakes and petition forms to every club, organization and Appendant Body available in his Jurisdiction. He immediately petitioned (and of course was accepted) into the Scottish Rite, York Rite, and Shriners.
Later on down the road he became a Past Master, so naturally he joined the Society of Past Masters in his Jurisdiction. Then he joined an AMD Council, High Twelve International, Knight Masons and more. Lastly, he joined every Masonic affiliated society, club, dinner club, and book club he could find. FINALLY – his Masonic tool belt was full. He attended nine meetings a week, had dinner at home once a week, paid over $2,000 in dues per year and had more stickers and decals for his car window than would fit. Luckily his cell phone reminded him of his kid’s birthdays.
So what is this whole Masonic burnout thing? What does it mean and how can you tell if you’re at that stage where you’re “burnt out?” What can you do in your Masonic journey to ensure this doesn’t happen to you or those Brothers closest to you? What if you’re at that point now, but want to relight the spark? What must be done in order to jump back in with both feet?
HOW IT HAPPENS
How does this usually start? Well first, let us think back to that moment you became a member of your lodge. Perhaps it was after your Entered Apprentice Degree, maybe your Fellow Craft Degree, but if not definitely after your Master Mason Degree. Immediately following the Degree, Brother after Brother congratulated you, shook your hand and welcomed you to their lodge (ideally, right). The pack of wolves were literally foaming at the mouth because of some fresh meat, figuratively speaking, and you didn’t have the slightest clue. You felt as if you were part of the group, the club, the inner circle.
Right away you were appointed to a committee, or perhaps even made a lodge Officer. You were so excited to come to lodge week after week, helping out and feeling as if what you were doing was adding value to the lodge and its’ Brothers. Month after month you volunteered for different tasks and work. You signed up for events and made sure to cook homemade meals every meeting. The stress began to weigh down on your shoulders, but you just assumed this was part of “being a Mason.” Now a year has gone by, and those same Brothers who congratulated and welcomed you are gone, never to be seen again. You are left doing all the work. You volunteered and made promises, so you have to right?
At this point you’re starting to dread coming to lodge. You are pulling your hair out, arguing with your spouse, making excuses to miss events and meetings. Finally, you can’t take it anymore – you’re done, finished, over. You’ve given 130% for over a year and no one has said “thank you”, “good job” or even “appreciate it.” You went from 0 to 11 in less than two years and you’re burnt out. You never come back to lodge. You let your membership lapse and you’re suspended for non-payment of dues. You find something else, more important in your life – maybe a hobby, more time with family or even just a new TV show. It is over.
WHAT IS MASONIC BURNOUT?
Masonic burnout is when you have lost all interest in anything Masonic or Masonic related. Freemasonry has become such a chore or “job” that you dread going to anything hosted by the lodge, whether that is a meeting, fundraiser or dinner. In the instance you do attend a meeting or event, it’s purely because you feel obligated to or have made a promise to another Brother to attend. Masonic burnout can happen in both new and old Masons (both in age and tenure), however we typically see this from younger and less tenured Masons who have energy, drive and passion for change. They push hard for change and improvements only to be shot down or denied with every request. Simply put, Masonic burnout is when a Mason cannot think of anything in Freemasonry anymore that they want to be involved in. Nothing, zero, nada, zilch.
HOW CAN YOU TELL IF YOU’RE BURNT OUT?
You start to (or have for some time) think and/or say some of the following phrases:
“I have so many other things I need to take care of first.”
“Do they even really need me tonight?”
“It will be OK – I will just go next month.”
“Do I really need this, or do they just need me?”
“The big game is on tonight, I can’t miss that again.”
“I have such a big honey-to-do list.”
“Someone else will just take care of it.”
“Is this really worth my time?”
The problem with every single one of these phrases is they’re excuses. Plain and simple – we’re making excuse after excuse why we don’t want to attend, help out or meet with our Brothers. Excuses aren’t necessarily bad or negative, however we need to understand that excuses are self-made. We take the time to fabricate a reason or story as to why we can’t attend something. That also means, that we have the ability to create a mentality that allows us to push forward and change that excuse mindset.
WHAT CAUSES MASONIC BURNOUT?
As it’s a natural thing for many to do, we’ve over extended our commitments and became a “yes” man in lodge. We absolutely love to say “yes” to anything and everything because saying “no” is a bad thing and will create a negative image, or so we think. As a new or old Freemason, we have a desire to gain “more light” and by volunteering we believe this will help us achieve that. We also receive petition after petition from other groups and bodies as soon as we’re legally able. Not to be rude, we gladly accept and show our appreciation for the recognition by submitting a petition and joining!
You joined Freemasonry and became a Master Mason for one thing or reason and unfortunately found another. Does this sound familiar to anyone? As part of a committee or the Officer line, you make suggestions and motions, however no one will ever listen to you and your ideas. This then creates a feeling of being “let down” which turns into every idea or suggestion feeling as if you’re “beating a dead horse.” No matter how hard you try, you just can’t beat the “that’s the way we’ve always done it” mentality.
You have been a Freemason for some time, maybe 10 years or perhaps 20 now. You’re best friends with the Brother we spoke about earlier and have achieved every rank and title you’ve set out for. You’re now a Past Grand this and that, you have all sorts of hats and badges and aprons and sashes. You’ve hit your peak as a Freemason so you’re asking yourself “now what?” You have raced to the top of every group and body affiliated with Freemasonry, obtained everything you could and now what do you have to do? Slow and steady wins the race – remember that. Moving too quickly will result in burnout, no matter how many more clubs or groups you join. Slow down – enjoy the ride – have some fun.
You’re absolutely bored with everything that happens in lodge. You drive 20 minutes, each way, twice a month to pay the bills, read the minutes, argue over which youth group to donate the $100 raised this month to, and then turn around 45 minutes later to go home in time for the conference basketball game. You’ve been bored since you went through your Degrees, as they were most likely fast-tracked or perhaps even a “one day class.” You’re bored and realize that if you just want to write checks to feel warm and fuzzy inside or to show others that you care about “charity” you don’t have to be a Freemason to do that.
WAYS TO AVOID BECOMING BURNT OUT
Take a step back. Remove yourself completely from your lodge, bodies and clubs. Take some time to just breathe fresh, non-Masonic air. Spend time with the priorities in your life – family, kids, friends, peers, etc. Take anywhere from a month to a year off. Imagine Dr. Phil telling you to just, “take some time for you.” Realize that cutting out Freemasonry, especially when you’ve given it your everything will be hard, but often times is crucial and required.
Reflect on Freemasonry. Take some time to reconnect with what originally brought you into the fraternity in the first place. What drew you in or who helped you make the decision. Read an old book, visit an old friend or re-take that trip that inspired you. It’s time to relight the flame of Freemasonry. Realize that sometimes you have to miss something so that you are able to fall back in love with it. Freemasonry is no different.
Create a plan. When it’s time for you to come back, think about your next steps and make sure you’re being selfish about your Freemasonry. Don’t allow yourself to be pulled into chairs, assigned to committees or “volun-told” what to do. Remember that this is your journey and you should live and practice Freemasonry and you see fit. Only you know best, no matter what other “experts” may say.
Think about what makes you happy. Don’t be afraid to say “no” and not join, re-join or re-affiliate with certain lodges, bodies or groups when you come back. Stay involved with those that truly add value to your life and your Masonic journey. You have the ultimate trump card – be willing to demit or leave if you’re not getting out what you expect or need. Ultimately, be prepared and comfortable saying “no” to rebuild your brand, image and identity as a Freemason. Brothers will respect and appreciate you much more.
Create a Masonic schedule. Reflect on your time and normal daily practices. How well do you truly use your 24 inch gauge? Do you divide your time equally, and if not how is your time divided? It’s crucial that you make time for family, friends, hobbies AND lodge. Make sure that you tell your family and friends what you expect out of Freemasonry, as it relates to your time. Be clear with them that Freemasonry will take up some of your time. Sit down and prioritize what is important. Clear your schedule or calendar of meetings, events and functions that do not matter.
HOW TO JUMP BACK IN
Consider Freemasonry as a 3-legged stool (as explained by MW C. Michael Watson, PGM/GS, Grand Lodge of Ohio – original article found here). Every Freemason may value different legs of the stool. Some may feel education, fellowship and ritual are most important. Others may feel charity work, community presence and taking care of their Brothers are important. No matter what areas of Freemasonry create the stool, the legs are your priorities and you have to stick to them for things to work. Rebuild your Masonic stool and make sure that each leg receives 100% attention and that you stay level at all times. Remember – there is only a seat for one on top, and that is for you, not for anyone else.
Spoiler alert – the super top secret Masonic tip to jumping back in after taking some time away is to get out and travel. Meeting new people and seeing new things will allow you to look at Freemasonry differently. Often times when you travel you’ll witness things that you want to implement in your own life and lodge. You start “stealing” best practices and tips. Travel allows you to look at Freemasonry through a different lens, one that is often clear and untainted.
TO SUM IT UP
Masonic burnout can and may happen to the best of us. The most engaged, the most informed, the most educated, the best Past Master, the most experienced Past Grand Master. Masonic burnout is a real thing that we luckily have the ability to deter, eliminate or ignore as we move through our Masonic journey. In closing, it is so important for Masons to move away from thinking “the lodge needs me” or “if not me, then who?” Don’t be afraid to just say no, and be able to clearly articulate why you’re saying no with honesty and truth. Realize that by prioritizing your Freemasonry you are not letting anyone down. We should all expect this of all of our Brothers.
If you are doing what you love, being fulfilled along the way and what you’re involved with Masonically is bringing true value to your life – you are not only avoiding Masonic burnout but you’re also practicing Freemasonry as it should be. Well done, Brother.