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Turning the tide on burnout

Updated: Jun 26, 2020

“Too many people die with their music still in them.” as tragic as this observation is, the real tragedy in my view is the increasing number of people whose music has died long before they have, at the hands of professional burnout.

For those who missed last weeks blog, professional burnout is defined as;

  • "A state of physical, emotional, and mental exhaustion caused by long term involvement in emotionally demanding situations." – Ayala Pines and Elliot Aronson.

  • "A state of fatigue or frustration brought about by devotion to a cause, way of life, or relationship that failed to produce the expected reward." – Herbert J. Freudenberger.

For me these two definitions embrace the very essence of burnout, the first highlighting the part that exhaustion plays in it, and the second focusing on the sense of disillusionment that lies at the core of every conversation I have ever had on this topic.

Anyone can become exhausted, however, what is so ironic about burnout is that it mainly strikes people who began their careers with a high degree of idealism and a total commitment and dedication to the role. Almost every single victim of burnout talks about their early career as having 'lit their fire' which makes sense because you can only 'burn out' if you have been 'alight' with an all encompassing passion to start with.

While exhaustion can be overcome with appropriate rest, a core part of burnout is a deep sense of disillusionment, and disappointment, (something not experienced by people who are less personally engaged with their careers) and these are the very factors that need to be addressed if we are to turn the tide on this increasing epidemic.

Prevention is always better than a cure but regardless of what part of the burnout cycle you find yourself at, the following tips can help you tip the scales of job satisfaction, personal happiness, and wellbeing back in your favour.

FIND THE RIGHT FIT. The Harvard Business Review recently published an article identifying the six virtues of a dream company as being somewhere where:

1. You can be yourself

2. You’re told what’s really going on

3. Your strengths are magnified

4. The company stands for something meaningful

5. Your daily work is rewarding

6. Senseless rules don’t exist

Clearly, few companies will offer a perfect fit but understanding the 'lay of the land' during the interview process will help you identify the most personally rewarding workplace for you.

FEED YOUR CREATIVITY. One of the most common elements contributing to burnout is a slow but pervasive erosion of personal creativity. Burnout interferes with our ability to perform, increases rigid thinking, and decreases our ability to respond in a flexible and creative way. Acknowledging that we cannot always use our full creative flair within our job roles, it's all the more important to ensure that we have creative outlets in other areas of our lives in order to stay engaged and motivated, and most importantly to ensure we do not irrevocably shut down our inner creative fire.

STILL THE BODY AND THE MIND. Most of us find it difficult to simply sit and be for any period of time, yet this is exactly what our minds, bodies and souls need in order to recharge. Giving ourselves the space to let our spirits catch up to the frantic pace our minds have been travelling at is absolutely necessary to our health and vitality. It is especially crucial for those who display a high level of passion for their careers because the tendency to give it our all is the very same tendency that will ultimately lead to burnout unless we temper it with appropriate down time.

MAINTAIN MEANINGFUL PERSONAL CONNECTIONS. It takes time and effort to maintain social connections, time and effort we often tell ourselves we cannot afford in the pursuit of our career goals, however the support of an effective social network is one of the key antidotes to the first signs of burnout.

GET REAL WITH YOURSELF. I had to have some tough internal and external conversations when I burned out focusing on the authenticity of my professional motivations. I had to dig deep to uncover why I was a people pleasing, perfectionist, achieve-aholic. I had to reconnect with my values and beliefs around all sorts of areas in an effort to understand who I really was. Getting real and reconnecting with your self is a tough and often confronting task, but our long term happiness, wellbeing and job satisfaction depend very much on going to those uncomfortable places and making the necessary adjustments that allow us to be true to ourselves.

INCREASE YOUR DIET OF POSITIVE EMOTIONS. Numerous studies have shown that an increased diet of positive emotions builds resilience, creativity, and our ability to be solution, rather than problem focused. Aim for atleast a 3:1 ratio of positive emotions to negative emotions, which according to Fredrickson is the tipping point to start experiencing increased resilience and happiness.

Avoiding burnout is really about taking back the control, slowing the treadmill to a pace that allows you to look within, and reconnect with the self, and make the necessary changes to start dialing up the volume on your inner music again.

Deidre Dattoli is an author, keynote speaker and mentor assisting individuals and leadership teams to unleash their inner brilliance in order to live their best personal and professional lives. To find out more visit

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