Arianna Huffington speaks at length about the impact of burnout culture in her book, ‘Thrive’ which we’ve previously discussed on our blog. And while burnout culture may be something we’re all aware of, there isn’t much stopping us from returning to our routines driven by the same fuel that cements burnout culture in our lives. Arianna didn’t wake up to the concept until she fell headfirst into her desk at work out of pure exhaustion - causing not only a series of facial injuries, but also a serious shift in her lifestyle. Not exactly the wake-up call we would all appreciate, but yet it was effective! Let’s explore this more below!
While we’re not all falling asleep at our desks, it’s never too early to become aware of the psychological pressures which burnout culture applies to our everyday life, and then, recognising how we’re part of the equation which allows burnout culture thrive.
There is a vicious cycle which burnout culture thrives off, it looks a bit like this:
Wake up in the morning on Monday already looking forward to the weekend ahead. You work your ass off all week long and finally get to Friday evening. Then you proceed to either cram your weekend full of things you wish you were doing, or you simply slump away your entire weekend trying to recover before the next week begins. Your life is becoming simply a checklist of expectations you’ve been told you should be fulfilling. Boyfriend? Check. Degree? Check. Stable career? Check. House? Check. But have you ever stopped to actually ask yourself how much of that you truly want?
Worshipping the ‘God of Productivity’ makes sense to us. Despite constantly feeling as if we aren’t enough, we constantly return to the vicious cycle because it’s all we know!
Even our routines are becoming subject to social pressures. We workout and exercise to fit a socially acceptable figure. We change our appearance, our style or even our personalities to simply fit into the crowd.
If you’re not a millennial, aspects of this will seem foreign to you. However, it’s important to understand just how drastically things have changed with the implementation of technology. We’re no longer comparing ourself to our close friends, our neighbours or our parents. We’re facing social pressures on a global scale, comparing ourselves to the picture-perfect figures we view online, it’s no wonder than the beauty and health industry has grown substantially in size due to the expectation that we all need to change or filter our true selves to simply fit in.
Since when did exhaustion and tiredness become a badge of honour either? Business as usual is literally ‘busy-i-ness’ as usual. So when did this life on the run become so normalised?
We’re constantly in competition to be in action. To have stuff going on, or at least appear like we do. A study by a Moscow-based cybersecurity company found that 75% of millennials use their devices to avoid people or to avoid conversations. Why are we so afraid of standing still?
We’ve explored the source of this in our Introduction to the Do Less Series blog post LINK - so check this out for a shocking explanation of why we do what we do by Kate Northrup.
Let’s think about where this ‘don’t stop when you’re tired, stop when it’s done’ attitude came from:
I think our childhood and the modern education system have a lot to do with it. Ever since we were children, we were taught that the harder we worked the better our future would be, the more money we would make, the more successful we would become. We were taught to work hard, stay in school, have the right friends, avoid drugs and distractions until we made it. This was enforced by our parents, teachers, peers and most significantly the reward systems we’ve set up to award-winning over everything else.
Since we were children, our value has been defined by what we can produce, how much we can provide and what we’re able to contribute to society. You’re constantly having to prove yourself, to your teachers, your parents and your community - anything to make your education and the effort people have put into you somehow ‘worth it’.
It’s enforced a fear of standing still, a fear of not being in action, a fear from straying from the beaten path, and a fear of doing something you love just for the sake of it rather than an ulterior motive.
No one has even told us that pausing and looking inwards is okay. No one has even told us that it’s okay to chase your passions rather than a pay bracket.
Now, in the present day, we’re still chasing that life of worthiness as if it’s something we’ll only receive once we’ve got that promotion, that new house or when we’ve finally paid off that student loan. Only ‘then’ will we be truly happy.
Depending on where you are in your journey with this, you’ll know that that promotion isn’t going to make you truly happy. You’ll know that finally building your own house isn’t going to mean you’ll just sit back and relax. We’re always chasing the next big thing and thus the vicious cycle continues.
And if we haven’t yet accomplished those big milestones, we’re stuck in limbo wondering why all the hard work and effort we put in isn’t being translated into the rewards on the other side.
Through our worshipping of hard work, we’re placing all our happiness and worth in an external basket. ‘I’ll be happy as soon as I have...’
We put all of our happiness into things that are completely outside of us. We’ve established all of our ‘worthiness’ in external factors or achievements.
As a result, our work becomes ‘passionless’. It’s never something we truly want to achieve, but rather what we just assume in the next step in the right direction. We have this idea that by achieving these things we’ll get closer to the things we actually care about. It’s more of an obsession with producing rather than an obsession with achievement.
We’re living a world of half-baked happiness.
When are we going to learn that life isn’t fair even when you own the company?
I also honestly believe that this burnout culture and fear of not being ‘enough’ is the source of a lot of our psychological stress - by being here and wanting to be ‘there’.
A lot of us a slow to realise that the fulfilment we get from doing things because we feel like we have to is nothing compared to finally finding what you want to do in life and doing just that. My mum often says, ‘when I grow up I want to do...’ and despite the fact she’s in her 50s she feels like only now she is finally finding what she trying loves doing. And now that she’s finally found what she loves, and she’s allowing herself to do just that, her work becomes driven by passion over anything else. Her results speak for themselves too.
It’s a human desire and inner hunger of ours to find purpose and finding meaning. We’re all dying to finally answer the questions: Why am I here? What differentiates me from my friends? What is my purpose of being here?
We’re taught to search for the answers to these things in externalities like a job, our dream college, our relationships, a soulmate/spouse, having kids, meal prepping, going to the gym 3 times a week, reading books, being in the know, but also having a social life.
Reality check: there aren’t enough hours in the day!
We end up being so overwhelmed by everything we think we should be accomplishing that we freeze and do nothing. It’s that feeling of finally getting to the weekend and not knowing what to do with yourself other than just crash and recover before Monday rolls around again.
So what should we be doing about this? Now that we have an understanding of what burnout culture is and how it’s been impacting us, how can we change what we do? Firstly, it’s about changing our own self-talk, and changing how we treat ourselves. Rather than having to fight between living a life that you’re passionate about and putting up with doing things you don’t want to do, ask yourself the following questions:
- What do I actually get out of bed for in the morning? Imagine this in the context of not having anything on your schedule for the day, what would you get up and do for yourself and no-one else.
- What makes your heart sing?
- Am I doing what I’m doing for the sake of self-approval (looking for success in the eyes of others)?
- Whose idea of success am I trying to fulfil?
- Am I convincing myself that this is enough and that this is what I want?
- How can you do more of things you love and less of the things you don’t enjoy doing?
Making the shift is about finding ways to delegate, or get rid of the things that clog up your calendar. It’s about doing less of the things you hate, so you can do more of the things you love.
We know that there are always going to be things that we don’t want to do. But it’s about ensuring that we’re doing more things that we enjoy doing than things we don’t enjoy doing.
Sometimes this means being picky, it means being selfish. It means choosing ourselves first. And it means learning how to say no to opportunities that don’t fulfil us (that don’t add anything to our cup).
Let’s be more realistic about how much we can actually accomplish in each day. Rather than doing everything sub-par, focus on getting your top 3 priorities done each day. Or if that’s too much, just do one thing really well every day.
Finally, let’s remember that rest is not a reward. We shouldn’t just be comfortable with resting after we get exhausted. Rest is a non-negotiable part of life which we need to prioritise for OURSELVES. No one else is going to tuck you into bed anymore. We need to learn how to prioritise ourselves and our passions better. At the end of the day, we’re often the only ones filling our own calendars.
It seems like a morbid thought, but how much of what we do today is truly going to matter when we’re on our deathbeds? Arianna Huffington wrote this very moving quote in her book ‘Thrive’, “it is very telling what we don’t hear in eulogies. We almost never hear things like: “The crowning achievement of his life was when he made senior vice president.” Or: “He increased market share for his company multiple times during his tenure.” Or: “She never stopped working. She ate lunch at her desk. Every day.” Or: “He never made it to his kid’s Little League games because he always had to go over those figures one more time.” Or: “While she didn’t have any real friends, she had six hundred Facebook friends, and she dealt with every email in her in-box every night.” Or: “His PowerPoint slides were always meticulously prepared.” Our eulogies are always about the other stuff: what we gave, how we connected, how much we meant to our family and friends, small kindnesses, lifelong passions, and the things that made us laugh.”
From my home to yours,
Hi there! Thanks for checking out the Live Lively blog. I am so excited to share my passion for productivity, personal growth and wellbeing!