While most people don’t want to be in burnout, occasionally, you’ll meet the person who feels like burnout is a badge of honor. If they don’t have burnout, they’re not working hard enough. In a recent conversation, I heard, “I’ve been working this way for 40 years, and I don’t think that I’ve got burnout.” From one perspective, that’s great. From another, it’s not. It’s like a goal that wasn’t obtained. (There’s a bit of irony in being burned out because you can’t be burned out.)
Burnout isn’t about how much you work – or don’t work. It’s not about how full your calendar is or how many exotic trips you take. Burnout is about how you perceive your results. If you believe you’re meeting the expectations you should have, then you’ll be safe from burnout. Work 20 hours a day, and you’ll be fine. Sleep on a cot in your office, if you must. If you feel like you’re making a difference.
Here’s a challenge. Think back to the point in your life when you felt the busiest. Maybe you were getting four hours of sleep and dividing your time between three different things – any two of which being more than most people can handle. Did you feel burned out or energized? I’m not saying that there wasn’t a bit of exhaustion and a chronic lack of sleep in the mix. What most people realize is that they felt the most alive when they were active and engaged.
Being burned out doesn’t mean that you’ve managed to work hard enough, and now you’re enough. Being burned out shouldn’t be a goal any more than being exhausted should be. If you feel like you’re not trying hard enough because you’ve managed not to get burned out, you may have missed the point.
Burnout is the negative result of the mismatch between your expectations and perceived results, not some desirable vacation destination that only the select few get to go to. Feeling like you’re missing out on something or didn’t do something well enough because you’re not there isn’t helpful.
The most engaged, lively, and productive people we know have learned – sometimes repeatedly – how to avoid and escape burnout. That should be your goal, too.