Gregory K. Moffatt, Ph.D.
I hear a lot about burnout in business, in my field as a counselor, and even in youth sports. People get in a rut and seem to lose their passion for their jobs or activities. But I think burnout is a label that really describes something else. There are two reasons why people appear to burnout.
One reason is when people lose focus on why they had a passion for something to begin with. I've been at my job for 35 years and I have never dreaded going to work. There are things that I don't like about my work, but the joy I get from it has always left me feeling amazed that I get paid to do what I love. I can't burn out.
I feel the same way about 2-year-olds. For over 40 years I worked with pre-school children in one capacity or another, but mostly in my church. I could never get tired of those little ones in my Sunday School class. Occasionally, I might have a tough day or a challenging child, but like my job, the challenges never come close to overshadowing the passion that I have for this age group and a day with 20 2-year-olds was always better than a day with five.
Children lose their passion for an instrument or a sport when their parents steal their passion. The game or musical instrument becomes work to please someone else rather than the pleasurable experience it should be.
A friend once told me his father had taught him to never do as a career the thing you love recreationally. Good advice. If I were a baseball player and played for fun, but then someone hired me to play professionally, my "fun" would become my "job." This is one way people lose focus. Former Braves pitcher Steve Bedrosian was cut from the Braves right before the World Series in 1995. A reporter asked him if he was jealous or resented his team for cutting him loose. His response was not what the reporter expected. "I got to play baseball for a living. How great is that!" He didn't lose his passion even though it became his job. This healthy perspective is rare.
The second reason people appear to burn out is because the passion was never there to begin with. People accept jobs they don't really want and end up stuck in them for years. As they make a living, they don't feel like they can change course and end up resenting their work. One of my friends counted the days to his retirement from a major corporation. He started counting down five years before he retired. There were things about his job he liked, but it wasn't ever his passion. It simply became a means to an end - a way to pay the bills. What a sad way to spend your life.
A friend of mine was a clinical social worker. Very talented and capable, she found herself dreading work every day. Her employer was an agency that operated in some ethically questionable ways and didn't give my friend any support in her work, just to name a couple of problems she faced. She was sharing her frustrations with me and said she was "burned out" at her job.
When I asked if she loved helping people as she did on a daily basis, she said yes. I asked if she regretted the decision to pursue the career. She said no. So I said, "find another job." It seemed like the obvious route, but she was afraid. She was afraid of change, afraid of a pay cut, and afraid she might make enemies by leaving. But her fear was stealing her passion.
Whether it is a college major, a sport, a job, or even a relationship, the myth of burnout comes down to one of these two issues. People find their marriages going stale because they either lacked the passion to make it last from the beginning, or they become distracted by other things as life moves on and lose focus on the reason they married in the first place. Laundry, children, mowing the grass, or making the millionth ham sandwich - these are the distractions that cause people to lose focus on the passion that might still be there lying dormant beneath the surface.
Pursue your passion, don't lose focus, and you won't ever have to work a day in your life.