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What To Do When Your Passion Takes a Sharp Turn Towards Burnout

Updated: Nov 8, 2019


Leaders with high levels of passion are more prone to burnout.


If you’re the type of person who founds or leads organizations, you’ve got some pretty extraordinary strengths—but evidence shows those strengths have a dark side. And that dark side is known as “burnout.”


Indeed, research suggests that entrepreneurs have a higher risk of burnout, the emotional, mental, and physical exhaustion that excessive and prolonged stress can cause.


Extremely passionate people who tend to “go it alone” and take big risks pull off astounding feats. But it sometimes comes at a high cost.


In fact, the estimated cost of burnout to the American economy is $300 Billion each year. At the scale of your organization, a burned-out boss could cost contracts, staff, profits—even the viability of the business itself.


Above all else, burnout exacts this hefty price: your passion for the work. It takes away what led you down the entrepreneurial path in the first place.


Do you have it?


Burnout is not to be mistaken with the effects of high stress, which are unpleasant enough.


If stress is characterized by too much mental stimulus, burnout is what happens when all that activity peters out, leaving a great emptiness behind.


When you experience burnout, you cease to care about what previously fired you up.


So is burnout on the horizon for you? Or are you already knee-deep in it? Here are the symptoms to look for:


1. Physical Signs

  • Constant exhaustion

  • Muscle pain

  • Headaches

  • Poor immunity

  • Over or under-eating

  • Sleep disturbances

2. Psychological Signs

  • Loss of motivation

  • Increased negativity

  • Feeling alone

  • Feeling like a failure

  • No satisfaction in a “job well done”

3. Other Signs

  • Self-medicating with food, drugs, alcohol, etc.

  • Social isolation

  • Avoiding work or underperforming

  • Punishing others for your unhappiness

Keep in mind that you don’t need to be experiencing all of these symptoms to be creeping towards burnout.


If you’re noticing a hollowing out of your sense of purpose, a sharp reduction in your ability to care about work, you’re in dangerous territory.


Why do you have it?


So why are entrepreneurial leaders more susceptible to burnout? Why are you?


Here is what research is showing us about what drives leaders—and entrepreneurs in particular—down the path of burnout:


Passionate…or obsessive?


According to a study Harvard Business Review (HBR) conducted with 326 entrepreneurial leaders, leaders with high levels of “obsessive passion” are more prone to burnout.


“Obsessive passion” can be understood as doing a job for all the wrong reasons: status, money, or perks.


“Harmonious passion”, on the other hand, means throwing yourself into work because you believe in what you’re doing.


Of course, most leaders have certain amounts of both harmonious and obsessive passion. But those who wander a little too far into the realm of unhealthy obsession run a high risk of burnout.


Flexible…or fixed?


In that same HBR study, researchers found that leaders with a fixed mindset tend to burnout more easily than those with flexible mindsets.


If you have a fixed mindset, you believe it’s your destiny to be an entrepreneur, but you can “mess it all up” by taking the wrong step.


When you have a flexible mindset, you believe you could be contributing to the world in all sorts of ways, you just happen to have chosen entrepreneurship. Your work isn’t the sole source of your identity.


Bored and Busy


Still another finding from the HBR study indicated that leaders who have good “job fit”—their work caters to their skills and interests—are less likely to burnout.


And many experts, including Philippe Rothlin and Peter Werder, authors of Boreout! Overcoming Workplace Demotivation, see boredom as an important precursor to burnout.


So…what do leaders who experience high levels of boredom and a poor fit with their work not do particularly well? That’s right…they struggle to delegate.


They tend to fill their days with tasks that are below their pay grade, ensuring they are always bored and far too busy.


What can you do about it?


Despite the risks, entrepreneurial leaders are not destined to burnout. You can take charge of your mental well-being in the following ways:


Check-Ins


Are you able to be honest with yourself? Is work draining or fueling you?


The first step to making a change is doing a thorough inventory of what your experience of work is like these days. If you’re seeing signs of burnout, don’t despair…but do make changes.


Start Delegating


In light of what we learned about boredom and job fit, delegation could be a lifesaver. And there’s a way to build processes and systems into your workplace that make delegation easy—even automatic.


You’d be amazed at how easy it is to relocate your purpose when your plate is cleared and you can focus on the big picture again.


Self Care


There are so many ways to create effective self-care routines. For example, how do you start the day? Do you check your phone as soon as you wake up, instantly flooding your mind with information?


Really consider how you can manage and limit your stress by making simple tweaks in your self care habits.


After Work, Turn Your Notifications Off


Don’t make the mistake of believing that you can be “on” at all times and not pay a price. Set specific times in your day that are unplugged.


Talk About It


Social isolation is one of the hallmarks of burnout.


To combat it, you need to share your experiences with people who will understand. Find a support group that you can bounce ideas off of. Reach out, and you’ll never regret it.


Burnout is a tragic outcome for entrepreneurial leaders.


That’s because it dries up passion—the very thing that leads most entreprenuers down the path of founding or leading companies.


The idea, then, is to stay on the right side of passion, which drives meaning, purpose, and true satisfaction.


Obsessive tendencies, over-identification with the role of “leader”, and toxic bored-and-busy workflows kill that passion.


Fortunately, you can protect it with honesty, pro-delegation systems, self care, boundaries, and community.