Job Burnout is a Killer

How to define job burnout

Have you ever tried Googling “Job Burnout”?

Here are some of the definitions you get:

Worthless. Totally bland and impersonal.

They just describe the problem and don’t give you a darn thing to do about your burnout.

A Very Personal Definition of Burnout

When I went for annual check-up with my doctor, I had an interaction that gave me a much more meaningful definition of job burnout.

We were going through the typical doctor-patient stuff, and then I asked him:

“How do you define burnout?”

I expected him to pull out the latest research studies and even some kind of medical stuff about the science of depression.

But that’s not what I got at all.

He shifted my entire view on job burnout with his response.

His eyes welled up with tears.

And he shared this…

“Job burnout happens when you confuse ‘who you are’ with ‘what you do’.  

You see, my doctor lost his father years ago when he literally worked himself to death.

His father just couldn’t be persuaded to take time off to recover from a heart attack because it wasn’t “productive”.

Like so many Americans, his father couldn’t separate his sense of self from the work he did.

It had disastrous consequences.

If you’ve read my blog before, you might recognize this as end-stage burnout. The kind that ravages your body. Conflating his self-worth with his job productivity drove him to work harder, harder… harder. Until his figurative burnout became literal, tangible burnout and he died.

I spent the rest of the afternoon pondering this, and here’s what I came up with.

What Happens When You Separate You from Work?

Being able to separate your sense of self-worth from the daily challenges at work will give you these benefits:

  • Your health improves – You’re instantly less stressed.  Things at work just seem a lot less significant. It’s funny how office issues or even attacks that really used to be annoying and even painful before seem a lot less personal and a lot less of a big deal. You also naturally begin integrating more ways to take care of your body into your work day (aka get out of your chair, walk around the office, and talk to someone).
  • You perform better at work – Work becomes less about just getting the job done and moving onto the next thing.   It evolves into creating a work-life that is sustainable for you, your family, and even your co-workers.
  • You have more romance – I suspect you didn’t anticipate this benefit.  This could show-up as more love, better relationships, or more passion for your work.  You feel more alive in what you do all day .

How do you do it?

Here’s three steps to get you started:

  1. Begin with why you’re working instead of focusing on how or what you’re doing.  This get’s down to the core of your work. What’s the larger mission you’re taking care of when you show up to the office?
  2. Distinguish your job title from who you want to be in the world.  Consider that your business card may say “Accountant” but maybe what you really want is to make people’s financial dreams a reality, or your card says “VP of Human Resources” but what you really want is to create an open working environment where conversation and concerns are shared freely.
  3. Focus on how your job can make a difference in the world versus getting caught up in the mundane details.  No matter what your job is, it can make a difference. But it’s not going to happen by answering emails or forcing yourself to sit at your desk 80 hours a week. Think about how the world’s going to be different when you finish the job and direct your energies there.

Now it’s time to go out, create your own personal path forward from burnout, and share it with others.

To Reigniting Your Career!


PS:  To get the free Burnout Manifesto: Seven Ways to Reignite your Career (without quitting your job), enter your email address here