Burnout Is More Than Just Too Much Work

“The land of burnout is not a place I ever want to go back to” – Arianna Huffington

This year the World Health Organization recognised burnout as an "occupational phenomenon." What causes burnout you might ask? Well, it’s more profound than just too much work.

I decided to be open about my situation when I suffered from burnout in 2006 I. It happened and that something wasn’t right was obvious to those around me anyway. At the time I thought burnout was simply due to my large workload. However, I’ve since learnt my unrelenting relationship to work may have been just as significant.

The Passion Paradox: A Guide to Going All In, Finding Success, and Discovering the Benefits of an Unbalanced Life (written by Brad Stulberg and Steve Magness) is a great book that defines the difference between:

  • Harmonious passion – being completely absorbed in an activity due to loving how the activity makes us feel

  • Obsessive passion – being completely absorbed in an activity due to external rewards (status, the opinion of others, financial, reputation etc)

It’s the obsessive passion that’s linked to burnout because we’re too focused on trying to satisfy things outside of our control. When I read this I was like wow, that was me!!! What had started as my strengths had somehow developed into weaknesses once I passed a tipping point.

To avoid burnout, the answer isn’t to simply eliminate passion. Imagine how stale that would be!!! I’m a believer in passion being a positive attribute when it’s managed correctly. What we need to do is develop a more harmonious passion. To do this, Brad Stulberg says we need to have:

  • Autonomy – be able to have significant control over our work

  • Mastery – see improvement and progress in our skills

  • Belonging or relatedness – feel connected and part of a community

Focus, when coupled with the lens we look through is so impactful to how we feel and react. Being aware of the concept of obsessive passion, I’m confident I won’t become a victim of burnout again.

What do you need to be less obsessive about? I’d love to hear from you.