Burnout is the New Black: Four Things Young Professionals Can Do to Reject Burnout Culture


When is the last time you meditated? When did you last take time off to do something totally self-indulgent? Can you recall the last time you set aside time to dream about your future? If you're a young professional like me, you may have just laughed (or shed a tear). But for the "next" generation of workplace leaders, we need to build a culture of intentionality around wellness, mindfulness and self-preservation. The alternative? Exhaustion, decreased motivation, and worst of all: an inability to use your skills and experience to deliver on your organization’s mission.

So, what is burnout, and how do you know if you’re experiencing it? To be clear, it isn’t just being tired or overworked – though those are good indicators that burnout is fast approaching. Burnout can be defined as a chronic state of stress, marked by feelings of ineffectiveness, physical and mental exhaustion, and cynicism or detachment.

Because everyone handles stress differently, burnout can look different from person to person. You may be experiencing sleepless nights, more forgetful than usual, prone to catching a cold, or even angry for no apparent reason. In short, when you’ve burned out, you’re working hard, but everything you do is hardly working.

To find out what burnout looks like for you, take this burnout test. Self-awareness is key, because burnout manifests in so many different ways. Whether your stress is bringing you down, or you’re in the depths of despair – there’s hope. Here are few ways to avoid and recover from burnout, especially for young professionals:

1.    Refuse to use the word "busy." Busy is one of the most common ways we answer the question, “How are you?” Unfortunately, using that particular ambiguous adjective doesn’t allow us to be mindful. Being “busy” is the easy way out. If you want to avoid burnout, take responsibility and take stock of your current and desired state. Be specific. No matter how busy you actually are, when you make your stress a descriptor for your state of being, you’re putting yourself at a disadvantage.

2.    Make time for time. The millennial generation rewards the “hustle” and glorifies the endlessly-devoted worker. Don’t confuse passion with self-preservation. If you want to be effective, you have to stay healthy and mindful. Take steps to create moments of peace throughout the week. Create “safe” spaces where work or cell phones are off-limits. While many young professionals feel guilty if they take time for themselves, I say: don’t buy in to burnout culture. Be in it for the long game – and start by making time to renew and recharge.

3.    Remember your “why.” When you recognize that you’re headed towards burnout, that’s a good time to go back to basics. If you find yourself uncertain of which way is up, do whatever you need to do to truly press the pause button. Spend time with people in your professional network, or talk about your current state with a trusted colleague. Reconnect with your purpose, and remember what motivated you to get to exactly where you are in the first place. And most of all, be forgiving towards yourself. 

4.    Learn how to break the cycle. Lastly, I want to offer one word for young professionals everywhere to add to their vocabulary: “no.” This simple phrase is not easy to learn, but it is the key to avoiding many paths towards burnout. What’s on your “stop doing” list? If you find you’re doing a mediocre job at many things, perhaps it is a great time to ask yourself how you could be doing less, better. This is counterintuitive for our generation, but it always pays off.

Do you have a tip for battling against burnout? Please share it in the comments below. 


About this post's author: 

Jake Sinatra is manager - special projects & communications at Cuyahoga Arts & Culture (CAC). Serving Cleveland and Cuyahoga County, Ohio, CAC is one of the largest public funders of arts and culture in the nation. Since 2015, Jake has managed all aspects of CAC’s communications and worked across disciplines to lead specific projects in grantmaking and organization-wide. Jake has been a member of YNPN Cleveland since 2012.

Image credit: Freeimages.com/Kathie Alvarado

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