When your brain is wired toward burnout

Questions to ask yourself

The big bad guys here are societal and workplace problems but I can’t ignore that I play a role in setting myself up for burnout.  

How close are you to burnout right now? At this very moment, how did the suggestion of imminent burnout even make you feel? Let’s use an imaginary scale of 10, where 1 is the most relaxed, unburdened, anxiety-free version of you possible and 10 is undeniably, full blown Burnout City, population you. Got your number? 

Second question: what axis does your life rotate around right now? At this very moment, what matters most to you, as determined by how you’re spending your time and energy? Go with the first thought you had.

Final question: what’s the correlation between your number and your focus? Notice how this feels. I’ll go first — in a second, right after we dig into burnout a bit more. 

“In short: burnout is caused by 1) problems on the societal level (lack of social safety net, precarity, dealing with being a person in your particular body with your particular identity in the world); 2) problems at the level of the workplace (policies, norms, work culture, productivity expectations); but also 3) problems on the level of the individual (self-value derived exclusively through work, inability to adhere to guardrails against overwork set by yourself and others, obsession with micro-management).”

I saw myself in those paragraphs above. Along my journey to and through burnout, I’ve pushed for societal and workplace changes. I got my company involved in the US pilot of the 4-Day Week. I shared my experiences with burnout in countless workshops, interviews and 1-1 meetings. I turned off social media notifications on my phone. As much as all that helped — and it absolutely did — nothing worked as well as it could until I addressed the me in the room. Because the coping mechanisms I’ve developed created habits that made burnout a constant threat. It was like living 100 feet from an active volcano and only talking about fire safety instead of considering living anywhere else. I had to think about burnout differently. I had to think about work differently. I still do.  

“All of these are, of course, interrelated: the individual habits and mindsets, for example, are developed as coping mechanisms for the societal and workplace realities. They might be taught to you — or modeled for you — by your parents, your advisors, your bosses, or your peers. But if you don’t grapple with the way your brain functions when it comes to work, no number of societal and workplace changes are going to really “fix” burnout.”

Back to my initial questions: right now, I’m at a 6 for burnout, and my axes are work and family. I feel pretty good about that, since I’ve been working hard to unlearn that my worth is connected to outcomes, especially professional ones. For me, the more that axis becomes singularly and unhealthily work (and only work), the higher that number climbs. It was only learning where burnout connected to my habits and beliefs that helped me change the equation. And Peterson experienced a similar thing:

“Without really realizing it, I had developed other things, as the great Rainesford Stauffer puts it, to be ambitious about. Losing myself in the gentle tedium of working in the yard, going skiing (by myself, with others), investing more in friendships….but most of all, there was the garden. That might sound ridiculous to you, or it might make total sense, but the exact thing matters less than what it’s facilitated: developing several axes, instead of just one, for my life to rotate around.”

I don’t have a secret or framework or online course I can direct you to. But I can tell you that we see you at Bosa. I can remind you that you have and deserve multiple axes for your life. I can share that we’re building a product to support you across these, from your career to family to health to creativity and on and on. I can say that we want your burnout number low, and your life axis value as high as you desire. Because the goal isn’t fixing burnout — it’s creating new systems of working, thinking and living where it isn’t possible in the first place.

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