Here’s 8 ways burnout is overrated by our work culture. I believe that buying into any of these myths simply sets us up to crash and burn. I used to believe pretty much all of them, and the resulting burnout was so bad, it put me right in the hospital.
1. “Status” as a Hard Worker
The American Dream is supposed to be reserved for those who “work hard.” People who seem like they’re having fun at work, or taking a break, or leaving early to pick up their kids… those people are considered to be less productive, less dedicated to getting ahead in life. In fact, unless we learn to pace ourselves, to take breaks, to value family time, our productivity suffers. We become less efficient, even less dedicated, as our energy wanes.
2. “Tough Guy” Image
That legendary cinematic image of the tough guy or gal assumes super-heroic fortitude and ability to soak up punishment and just keep on as if nothing had happened. Even though at every turn our culture presents the tough guy as a role model, it’s just not realistic.
In our book, I wrote about the “blockbuster lifestyle:” we often push ourselves really hard, as if we somehow thought we had a stunt double waiting in the wings to take over when needed.
While life may occasionally demand that we give everything we’ve got and then some, mostly, it doesn’t. And shouldn’t. We’ve got to preserve our stamina for the long haul.
3. Always Putting Others First
I don’t know about you, but I was taught from a young age that a good, moral person always puts others’ needs before their own. Prioritizing my own needs would be petty and selfish.
So, of course, I did put others needs first, and ignored my own. Until I ended up in the hospital, and then on disability, for a year. That’s when I finally began to consider that putting a priority on routinely meeting my own needs was necessary for me to continue being a good person.
In the self-denial version of burnout, we make a supreme virtue out of wearing a hair shirt. Such frivolous concerns as our own pleasure, rest, or friendships must always take a back seat to the important work we are doing.
As they say, “all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy,” (and Jill a dull girl.) And by “dull,” I think they mean brain fog, exhaustion, and being a bore at parties.
5. Stiff Upper Lip
For some reason, our culture doesn’t believe “professionals” should have emotions. Being “rational” means suppressing our feelings, as if we didn’t have emotions, or a body.
You have to burn a lot of energy just to maintain the fictional image of being someone who is above emotional considerations.
And the joke of it all is, it’s not even logical to ignore our emotions. Wisdom and maturity come from wisely weighing facts against our own desires and fears. Often our anger or our delight is a direct line to understanding the application of our deepest values to a situation.
And as Alcoholics Anonymous has long recognized, making important decisions while Hungry, Angry, Lonely or Tired (HALT), is a recipe for poor behavior and worse outcomes.
“Blowing off steam” is supposed to relieve stress and sometimes also demonstrate your bona fides. The Google Dictionary defines “virtue signaling” as:
The action or practice of publicly expressing opinions or sentiments intended to demonstrate one's good character or the moral correctness of one's position on a particular issue. ‘It's noticeable how often virtue signaling consists of saying you hate things.’
Unfortunately, venting one’s bad feelings often does little to support our own well-being, and it spreads bad feelings like a contagious plague. And if that weren’t bad enough, virtue-signaling is another way to be quite the bore at parties.
If you need to talk through a difficult issue, well and good: many of us are verbal processors. If you need to name and process a difficult emotion, that can also be well and good; but select your auditors carefully.
But someone who is merely complaining is participating in a toxic ritual that makes painful burnout more likely.
7. Being “Serious” About Your Work
You’re serious only if you consistently work overtime? You’re serious only if you work weekends? Serious people say the mantra, ”I’ll sleep when I’m dead?”
Please. In my view, being truly serious about your work means protecting your ability to do good work and make good decisions, by protecting your own wellbeing. Being exhausted and cranky does not make you a better person.
8. Caffeine, Sugar … and Harder Stuff
Often, you hear lines like these said in a joking but boastful tone:
“This is my third double latte today.”
“I don’t have time to eat, I’ll grab a candy bar from the vending machine and keep working.”
“I can’t relax without a couple of beers at least. Otherwise, I don’t sleep. My brain just keeps buzzing.”
With such comments, we’re often looking to impress others with how hard we’ve been working, with how important our work is, how tight the deadlines have been. And sure, sometimes it’s an emergency, sometimes it’s life or death. At those times, you push however hard you have to, to make sure you get it done.
But when everything’s an emergency, when there’s never time to smell the roses, or cook a healthy, tasty meal, or take a nap… then the sentences above are not just boasts. They’re also danger signals, disguised – even to ourselves — as humblebrags. They're signs that in your world, burnout is overrated by your work culture. I believe that buying into any of these myths simply sets us up to crash and burn.
How Do These 8 Ways Burnout is Overrated Show Up in Your World?
Do you sometimes find yourself verbalizing one of these semi-boasts, to align yourself with the norms of our burnout-oriented culture? Or to excuse your unavailability to family or friends? If so, you too may be exhibiting some danger signs that burnout is overrated in your world. Please, make time and space for your recovery, before you end up in the hospital, like I did.