How to Defeat Burnout Syndrome Before it Kills Your Passions

Nearly everyone puts him or herself on the road to burnout syndrome because it’s what we’ve been taught to do with our lives.

When the psychological cost of adapting to change is too high, we cling to the Herd.

We stop thinking for ourselves.

And we accept the life scripts that others have written for us.

Burnout Syndrome

We begin to believe that working 70 or 80 hour weeks will put us on the path to success. Except that success never comes, because spending is the ultimate bridge-to-nowhere.

The burnout lifestyle is more likely to cause chronic illness and alienation from our friends and family than any lasting success or fulfillment.

Whenever anyone suggests moving off the path of burnout, the status quo defenders step in to protect the unsustainable lifestyles we lead.

They say things like:

  • “Following your dreams is unrealistic.”
  • “I have mouths to feed!”
  • “What would you do with all that free time anyway?”
  • “If everyone did what they wanted, society would crumble.”

They’re wrong.

The negative attitude towards change, even good change, means more burnout for everyone.

More irritability, more depression, and more people trapped in thankless jobs, leading unfulfilled lives.

More burnout means everyone loses.

Why the Burnout Society Gets Nothing Done

We all seem to agree that healthcare, education, and infrastructure in the United States are a mess. Yet no meaningful progress happens.

We can’t muster the collective willpower to change course, even as American kids fall behind the rest of the world in math, science, and yes, even English.

And tens of thousands die prematurely due to preventable causes like heart disease and lung cancer.

And bridges and roads crumble.

We can’t step up to face big challenges if we all become a nation of burnouts.

Burnout syndrome is working 70 to 80 hour weeks to fill our oversized homes with mass-produced junk.

Burnout syndrome is gradually selling off your energy and integrity for decades until you have nothing left with which to do great work.

Burnout syndrome is killing yourself with stress and lack of sleep, believing you will magically be healthy enough to enjoy your retirement (if you ever retire at all).

The burnout lifestyle doesn’t work on an individual level or a societal level.

You get home too burned out to even think about volunteering at a non-profit. Or putting your expertise to work solving big problems. Hell, you can’t even put your life in order, how can you help anyone else?

Weekends pass in a blur as you run all the errands that you couldn’t get to while you were chained to your desk for ten hours a day.

Burnout on a nationwide level leads to a society that’s too tired and depressed to get anything meaningful done.

It’s so much easier to turn on the TV and veg.

The Essential Steps to Avoid Burnout

The truth is the Herd has a vested interest in keeping you distracted. The people who exercise power over the Herd are interested in maintaining the status quo. Above all else, no matter who it harms, the Herd will keep everyone in line.

Even if the line is leading you off a cliff.

The good news is there are steps you can take the moment you start to see burnout syndrome symptoms in your life.

1. Guard your time.

The best way to prevent burnout is to say no. Jealously guard your time, because no one else will do it for you. As Chris Guillebeau says, people will take over your life if you let them. It starts with them taking over your time, minute by minute, and ends with you as a burned out husk of your former self.

Don’t let it happen.

2. Challenge the Herd.

If you point out poverty and income disparity is getting worse, they call you a redistributionist or socialist. If you call attention to the problems in healthcare, they accuse you of advocating for nationalized medicine. If you say education is failing kids, they agree with you while cutting the budgets of public schools.

It takes guts, but you have to remember that you can always opt out. That means recognizing there are problems to be solved and fights worth waging, even when everyone else wants you to shut up and watch more TV.

3. Remember your passions.

Whatever your dreams are, start taking them very, very seriously.

- Barbara Sher

Sometimes, it’s not enough to guard your time. Playing defense for so long, you may forget why you were conserving time and energy in the first place. Maybe it was to create art. Or start a business. Or build products. Or spend more time caring for your family and friends.

Whatever animates and invigorates you, hold onto it. Don’t let mind-numbing drudgery kill your passions.

4. Live your life the way you want to.

No one gets to live your life but you. Self-fulfillment is the one true measure of success — not money, fame, or power. Measuring your life’s worth against other people’s superficial success is poisonous.

An agile person recognizes the game of life is always changing. Today’s millionaire is tomorrow’s bailout case.

Don’t stop learning. Don’t stop growing. But everything else is up to you.


The promise of agile living is that we can all win back the time and energy we recklessly sold away. We can still do great things, but it means attacking the burnout syndrome symptoms before they happen. Don’t spend more than half of your waking life upset, angry, and irritated.

Go make meaning instead.