To anyone who has ever gone through it (or lived with someone going through it), burnout is never easy to deal with, especially when so many sources in our society encourage pushing through to achieve success. Although there is a lot to be said for persistence and perseverance in times of struggle, burnout is a special exception. To me, symptoms of burnout point to larger issues at play, and there is no need to suffer in vein.
In the simplest sense, burnout is a conflict of effort and priorities. That is, if you spend 80% of your time and effort on things that are not really a priority to you (and ignore the things that really are), something will have to give at some point. From another point of view, burnout can be described as spending a disproportionate amount of time on things that are energy draining to you than on things that are energy replenishing (or creating).
To be clear, I define burnout as a prolonged sense of emptiness and exhaustion. For professional types especially, the trends of increasing work hours, increased expectations of productivity, and simply having to create more with fewer and fewer resources builds an environment where burnout is not only possible, but often probable. To the burned-out person, overwhelming feelings that they have had their heart and soul strip-mined are all too common. Although this is an intensely painful and stressful situation to deal with, it can be rectified.
Often, people enter careers in order to satisfy someone else’s expectations. People often want to get a good job, in a market with high demand and high advancement potential. Additionally, some people want to satisfy the wishes of a parent, or other respected role-model, only to enter into a career they really do not want to do. Considering that the average “work-span” is between 40-50 years, isn’t it worth it to do something you actually get some sort of personal fulfillment out of? Happiness does not have to be traded in for security, and there truly is no honor in suffering. In fact, the most successful people I know are successful because they love what they do. They did not enter the field they did because it paid a lot of money. Instead, there was something about the work that made their heart and soul sing. After all, are you terribly likely to create the type of results that will get you advancement in a job you hate? Probably not.
If you find yourself in a burnout situation, the most important thing to know is that things can be different. You can have a work life that is not only satisfying, but also provides you with the results you and your family need. Although it may feel like you are at the end of your rope, know there is always more rope. Even though it may feel like you need to quit your job and run screaming from the building, even making small changes toward doing what you really want will bring relief. In fact, I can practically guarantee that some sense of relief will be felt as soon as you begin to think about what you really want, knowing you are not trapped in what you are doing now. Typically, making giant leaps can create more stress in the long-run than they relieve. Going slowly and taking measured steps toward what you want is far more likely to deliver the results you are after. Believe me, the reward of truly fulfilling, joyful work is definitely worth the effort.