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01.22.2015 Sharon Spano, Ph.D.

#1 Thing You Need to Know about Burnout

The number one thing you need to know about burnout is that it stems from giving something you don’t have. Often that something equates to time, energy, or talent.

Burnout is ego-driven. I know this is painful to consider, but here’s the thing. We slip into burn-out because of a need for power, control, or approval. If you’re currently experiencing burnout, you’re not a giver. You’re a taker.

What is burnout?

Burnout is a psychological term that describes long-term exhaustion. It may even be accompanied by lack of interest in your work and life in general.

In our fast-paced culture, we tend to wear burnout as a badge of honor. It’s important to know, however, that burnout is extremely dangerous. Incessant exhaustion can ultimately change the chemistry of the brain. Symptoms of these changes arise and show up in physical ailments, sleeplessness, anxiety, anger, and maybe even cycles of depression or thoughts of suicide.

In working with business leaders over the past twenty-five years, I’ve come to realize that burn-out also destroys the spirit. The result is lack of enthusiasm for work and life and spiritual depletion.

Some say the eyes are the window to the soul. I came to believe in this premise because the eyes of my burned out clients were often empty and hollow. These leaders were not just physically tired from a hard day’s work. They were beaten. Their eyes indicated a loss of self. A loss of purpose. A loss of passion.

There’s a lot to be said about how to avoid burnout. For purposes of this post, I’d like to just sit with the why.

If burnout stems from a need for power, control, and approval, then obviously there are deeper issues that need to be addressed. Whenever we’re looking for something outside ourselves, we will gravitate toward doing more and more. A life that requires constant activity can essentially morph into a life that is noisy yet somehow meaningless.

I can’t express this any better than through the wisdom of Parker Palmer:

“One sign that I am violating my own nature in the name of nobility is a condition called burn-out. Though usually regarded as the result of trying to give too much, burnout in my experience, results from trying to give what I do not possess—the ultimate in giving too little! Burnout is a state of emptiness, to be sure, but it does not result from giving all I have; it merely reveals the nothingness from which I was trying to give in the first place.”

Ouch! Been there. Done there. Committed to avoiding that space.

Stay tuned. I’ll address how to get out or avoid burnout in the next post.

Published by Sharon Spano, Ph.D. January 22, 2015