“Success is focusing the full power of all you are on what you have a burning desire to achieve.” ~ Wilfred Peterson

Acknowledging an international readership, some recent domestic findings: In a May 2013 ABC News National Survey, more than half of U.S. employees feel overworked, and 70% say they often dream of having a different job. 29% responded often or very often that they had no time to reflect on their work. 22% acknowledged they worked six to seven days per week and a full one-quarter of those questioned didn’t use any of their vacation time. I don’t know about you but these percentages do not surprise me.

Many Americans are subject to stress as they negotiate the demands and expectations of work, relationships, and life changes. It is easy to become overwhelmed not only by the demands but the speed of the demands on our time and energy. Both are easily depleted and without renewal of these valuable resources we can no longer respond efficiently, effectively, and willingly; this is burnout.

Situations that are structured in the following ways are those that most commonly lead to burnout.

  • Situation one is a chronic inability to meet the demands of a job or situation. The key is the length of time. When our skills, energy, or time do not meet the demands at first we are motivated and challenged. However, if the gap between what we can give continues without a change in the demands or an improvement in our responses, burnout begins to develop.
  • Situation two is quite similar to the first one in that old skills, strategies, and decision-making no longer work. You know these: the promotion, the new competitors, the growth of the business or relationship… they can all elevate the demands. We keep applying our old approaches believing they will work because they have worked in the past. When they don’t work, our frustration and fear of failure increases as our effectiveness decreases.
  • Situation three is the result of changes or growth that occurs within us. We have acquired new information, learned new skills and strategies, or made a big change. Our ability to respond to demands or challenges is greater than what is now required in situations. The result is staleness, boredom, and potential burnout. Unless the challenges are elevated to meet our new level of competence we will lose interest and look for something new.

No matter how burnout occurs it is avoidable. Personal growth, increased challenges, and reduction of stress responses are useful preventives. Keeping our stores of energy and flexibility of time is helpful in recovering from situational challenges. Constant evaluation of our life’s choices can also keep us moving forward.

It is also important to choose work and play that are compatible with our values, needs, and personal gifts. Our work should bring out our passion and motivate us because we choose to do it rather than have to do it. (From a previous post, you know how I feel about “have to.”) Further, if choices are being made for money and the acquisition of material “stuff” we will not make choices that have long-term value.

Burnout is often our body, mind, and spirit’s way of getting our attention that energy, time demands, and rewards are out of balance. When burnout finally occurs it is paralyzing and frustrating at the same time. Knowing the situations preceding burnout and taking actions to prevent it, will go a long way in keeping it from happening and causing permanent damage to our well-being.

This is about being aware, your health, and your ability to retain balance. Are your proactively addressing burnout potential?

21 thoughts on “Burnout

  1. Valuable info. I’ve treated and given workshops on Compassion Fatigue (Vicarious Traumatization) for caregivers, first responders, etc., which is similar to burnout, but quite different. When experiencing the trauma of those they help, these valuable people need to remember the importance of self-compassion, which is hard for most of them.

    • I believe it is hard for many people, Theresa. I also recognize that self-compassion is a quality and kindness that some don’t always feel worthy of, even if they are – in abundance. Thank you for your thoughtful comment and meaningful word.

  2. Burn out or break down!.. I know my own mind and body got my attention some years ago…It woke me up to many things about myself and I listened to its message and changed my career path… A pathway I have never looked back from

    Excellent advice 🙂

    • Glad you have not looked back, Sue. Said rhetorically: Isn’t is odd how we often have to experience something significant before we listen?! I appreciate your creating time to read and comment on the post.

  3. As an educational specialist I find it overwhelming at times; especially when I am coaching and teaching my curriculum one way but the company does another. I try to make a difference wherever I can but know in my heart it’s time to move on… Many thanks for the write ~

    • I have personally been in the situation your describe many times, FeatherMoon. I know it and the frustration that accompanies it well. It is one of several factors that awakened me to choose significant professional changes a decade ago. It’s beautiful when we recognize and listen to our hearts. I suspect you are warmed that you moved on. Thank you for your thoughtful sharing.

  4. Pingback: All’s quiet on the work front | Writerly Goodness

  5. Then they choose to address and effect change that will enable a next sequence of actions to modify or mitigate the affects of burnout. There are always “ways out.” Merely because one feels or knows they are stuck doesn’t mean they have exhausted all remedial methods. 🙂 Attitude and intentional action can be very powerful change catalysts. A positive mindset also contributes.

  6. This is a topic I feel strongly about. In discussing leadership and skills, the “soft” skills are the ones that matter most to people: approval, empathy, understanding, and appreciation. Too many people have skills that will not be utilized due to fear or misunderstanding. Those people who earn our respect are those who exemplify personal attributes of character not those who demand it. It is difficult in these times to be quantified by what do we do; We need to remember who we are and what we are truly capable of.

    • So bery true EQ! For years I have advocated for understanding and appreciating the who versus the what we are. A focus on the latter is convenient and the former, challenging for many. Recognizing purpose, realizing potential, respect and honoring others, listening… they’re qualities and skills that are underrated and underutilized. Thank you for sharing you thoughtful and accurate view.

  7. A wonderful article, Eric – just excellent. Burn-out is tragic. We’re not born to be wasted. It’s sad, & really steals joy from lives. I’ve had burn-out again & again. It’s torturous, & you have to look for escape or change while you are so burnt out, dead.

    Really enjoyed this.

    • It is truly tragic. Thanks for putting a realistic face on it. And far too many have little choice but to wallow in its mire. I always admire those who shout ‘damn the torpedoes’ and blast their way out of it. Even if it means making some radical life changes. And it’s not just employment where people experience burnout, though that’s its most common alignment. You sound like you have successfully escaped, even if you’ve yet to gain clarity about your passions and where you’ll next channel your precious time and energy. Patience and self-belief, N!

    • Thank you. Ann! This is a very real subject, one that affects many and sadly – for some a long time. On the flip side, there are a lot of people who have found their way out of this state, regrounded and moved on. Appreciate your commenting.

  8. My suspicion, beebee, is that they match many of us! Among “they” are those who acknowledge burnout and its symptoms and take action to mitigate it… and they who are so busy immersing themselves into seemingly everything that they don’t realize where it leads – until it has burned them. Always appreciate your combing through my post archives and sharing your thoughts. Warm wishes for the impending holidays!

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