How to Use Burn-Out to Steer Your Life in a Positive Direction

Burn-out is a major issue of mine, as it is to a lot of people.  It takes maturity and discipline to conduct your life in a way that it is devoid of burn-out.

But I’m learning that it’s not a rocket science, either.  As with most things it’s just the matter of learning how to recognize it and setting up good habits so that your life moves at the right pace for you.

Recognizing Burn-Out

This is by no means an exhaustive list, but here are some of the symptoms that point to a burn-out.

  • You don’t enjoy an activity that you used to enjoy.
  • You are more easily distracted.
  • You don’t feel proud of how you’re spending your time.
  • You’re not excited about your day when you wake up.
  • You over-indulge on distractions and addictions, such as eating, drinking, smoking, gaming, watching TV, etc.
  • You feel lethargic and unenergized.

Two Reasons Why You Get Burned Out

The reasons behind you getting burned out are really simple.

  1. The activity you’re engaged in is not right for you, and/or
  2. You are doing too much of it.

In fact, the two are related.  The worse fit the activity is, the more quickly you burn out.  But even if you’re doing something that gives you great pleasure and fulfillment, if you’re doing too much, you’re going to get burned out.

How to Determine the Cause of the Burn-Out

It’s really simple.  You take a break.  Go on a vacation, don’t think about it for a few days.  The more complete of a break you take, the quicker the recovery.  Change your surrounding, go to a place where it’s so far removed from your life that little reminds you of the activity you’re burned out about.

Then examine how you’re feeling about the activity.

If the cause is more of #1, then the desire to re-engage in that activity won’t resurface.  Good riddance!  You won’t miss it when you experience a life without it.

On the other hand, if it’s more of #2, the desire for it will return.  Great!  You just need to make adjustments so you don’t engage in it quite as long or deeply.

In reality, the distinction between the two reasons may not be so clear-cut.  Just keep in mind that there is an ideal distance to any relationships.  You can gauge how right/wrong you are with the activity by how quickly and strongly the desire for it returns.  You have to be honest with yourself.  If you really can’t muster up enthusiasm for it, then you’re too close to it, or perhaps you don’t need it at all.

Case Study: My Gigging in Bars

A number of years ago, when I first started pursuing music, I tried to get gigs wherever I could.  Coffeeshops and bars, just local hole-in-the-walls.  Booking was hard — most agents didn’t care and were hard to get hold of at best, down right rude sometimes.  And I didn’t have any audience to speak of, so the few people, if there were any, didn’t care.  Not that I can blame them.  I wasn’t that good either.

Sooner or later I burned out of doing this.  I just couldn’t keep going with this pursuit.  But when I stopped, I questioned whether I really should be doing music at all.  Maybe I’m just not doing the right thing.

Well, but soon the desire to play my guitar came back.  I love playing it, and writing songs.

The part that wasn’t right for me was these gigs.  I didn’t enjoy what I had to do to get them, and more importantly, I didn’t enjoy doing them.  I don’t go hang out at bars or coffeehouses often, so socially I wasn’t part of the crowd.  Plus, my music tends to have bigger scopes and more dramatic gestures in them, and playing them by myself in these tiny spaces just felt silly.

I’m obviously not saying that it’s the wrong career strategy for musicians.  But it wasn’t the right one for me.

It’s been years I played these gigs and I don’t miss them.  Don’t get me wrong, though, I still enjoy performing.  But gigging in places I didn’t fit caused me to burn out on music.


As you can see, I was able to separate the good part from the bad by taking a break and examining which part I still desired.  This approach can work on virtually anything you can get burned out on — jobs, hobbies, relationships.  If you feel that you’re getting burned out, stop, and see which part of it you still desire.

This way, you can use a burn-out to inspire a positive change in your life.  Keep at it, and sooner or later your life will be free of burn-outs.