It happens to all of us from time to time.
You get down. You feel tired. You’re overworked and overwhelmed.
Dealing with work stress is something we all experience — but sometimes that stress devolves into something much worse if it goes on for long enough.
If you let your career run your life for too long, or you feel tied to and restricted by your work, you may end up suffering from job burnout.
How to Tell If You’re Dealing with Job Burnout
Working hard and experiencing stress because you’re in a fulfilling position that you enjoy, but that constantly offers new challenges that you care about overcoming, is one thing.
Feeling beat down and stuck in a job that you don’t see a way out of, or working in a position that leaves you miserable and constantly anxious? That’s another thing entirely.
The latter is more likely to lead to job burnout faster — but you could even experience job burnout in a good career, if your work completely runs your life and dictates what you can or can’t do.
Not sure if you’ve crossed the line? Here are some common signs you might be moving from feeling a reasonable amount of stress to truly burnt out and in need of a break or change:
- Generally feeling negative or just apathetic about everything; a sense that things don’t matter or won’t work out
- Consistently being frustrated that you don’t have control over your time, or that you lack autonomy in other areas of life that matter to you
- Finding yourself in situations where your job is often competing with other priorities and values (like time with your family)
- Experiencing a sense that you’re stuck and don’t have any options
- Being bored and feeling unfulfilled all the time
- Experiencing such anxiety or stress that you lose your appetite, can’t sleep, or can’t function as you normally do
Of course, the signs and symptoms of burnout go much deeper than just this list. These signs could also be indicative of deeper problems that aren’t limited to work, too.
What looks like job burnout might be a larger issue in life. You may need to do some soul searching to determine the true cause of intense stress or ongoing unhappiness before making a major career change.
Either way, if you find yourself in this position, don’t hesitate to reach out and ask for help. These are serious challenges and you deserve support in working through them.
One Major Cause of Job Burnout: Loss of Autonomy
So maybe you’re suffering from job burnout… but what caused it? How did you get here? And how can you get out of this situation?
This is a critical question to ask if you want to make sure you solve the problem and, even more importantly, get proactive so you can avoid finding yourself back here in the future.
One of the biggest reasons you might suffer from job burnout? You’re not leading the life you want to live.
You might be limited to the life your career allows for — and you give up a lot of autonomy in the process.
It’s sort of inevitable that you end up burning out if you’re told when, where, and how to spend one-third of your life.
It can be really depressing if what your career requires and what you want for your life don’t align.
Even still, you may be used to living your life within the boundaries set by your job. In fact, you could feel like you have no choice but to deal with it if you:
- Rely on your job because of your salary; you feel you have to keep working that position no matter what because you need to earn X amount in income.
- Feel obligated to stick with your job because of potential career path opportunities; if you just keep at it for a little while longer, you may finally get to where you want to be.
- Need the benefits that go beyond paychecks; you might feel reliant on that health insurance, your employer’s retirement plan, or access to specific perks and discounts you use.
- Want the perceived benefits you might receive from your job, like a sense of security or status.
If you’re checking those boxes, you can easily start compromising the life you once envisioned for yourself for a life that makes sense only in the context of your career.
From there, it’s a downhill slide to dissatisfaction and eventual job burnout.
There is good news, though. You can do something about it — if you start asking the right questions and learn to change your perspective.
Make the Shift from “My Life Is Dictated by My Career” to “My Career Is One Part of My Life”
In life, there are countless possibilities you could pursue to create what you want.
But at some point, most people start putting their career at the heart of their life and then begin making decisions based on the limited amount of choices allowed by their job.
You may think, well yeah. That’s because at some point you have to grow up and pay your own bills and get a mortgage and fund retirement.
I get it, obviously. I’m a financial planner and a big believer in taking responsibility for your own life.
That includes being responsible enough to generate an income, invest wisely to build wealth, and secure a way to fund your life in the future when you can no longer work to earn money like you do today.
What I don’t believe in is the idea that you have to suffer for all these things.
I don’t believe there’s only one option, and that is to insert yourself in a career where you feel stuck; where you feel like your career is running your life instead of your career being part of your life.
Here’s what I suggest instead: take a close look at why it feels like your career runs your life instead of simply being part of your life.
Here are some questions to start asking yourself.
“Does my job provide me with a sense of security?”
If yes, then you need to discover why you feel that way. Do you feel secure because you otherwise couldn’t live without the income provided by your current position?
From there, you could also ask:
- Is this the only way you can earn that income?
- What are your other options? Could you consider a different position (even within the same company)?
- What else could you do to earn the money you feel you need?
- Could you invest to generate passive income so you’re not [as] reliant on the job that’s running your life?
Think outside the box here, and aim to think positively as well. That’s easier said than done, but our brains tend to focus on what we feel most.
If you feel down and hopeless, your brain is not primed to provide you with useful, productive, valuable thoughts. Focus on the negative and your brain will deliver negative thoughts to you.
The impact of that is that your answer to the question, “What are your other options?” could immediately be, “I don’t have any other options. I’m stuck.”
But that’s very unlikely to be true.
The reality is that you could explore a lot of different possibilities to make a change in your situation. But you have to be open to the ideas and understand that you may have to think through lots of different options before you come up with one you feel good about.
Thinking positively makes it more likely that you will be able to brainstorm possible solutions.
You don’t have to come up with the answers immediately, either. This is all about asking questions, conducting thought experiments, and remaining open to possibilities that could work well for you.
“How secure am I, really?”
An important follow-up question to that first one is evaluating how secure your job truly is right now.
Many people think their full-time, salaried position that comes with lots of benefits is so secure that they couldn’t possibly leave it — no matter how much that job dictates what they can and can’t do with their time and their life.
The reality is (and not be a total downer here) most jobs are less secure than you might think. Numerous things that are completely out of your control can come along and leave you unexpectedly unemployed.
I don’t say that to inspire panic, but to point out that believing your job is 100% secure and making your decisions based off that (false) belief can seriously erode the quality of your choices.
Look at the situation from a more realistic point of view and understand that no job is completely guaranteed. Knowing that, does it change how you feel about potentially exploring other options? It should!
“How much income do I need to make to live the life I desire?”
Most people, regardless if they’re suffering from job burnout or not, read this question and immediately think, I definitely need more than I make now!
Maybe. But do you know that’s the answer? Have you actually looked at how much money you spend and where you spend it?
Physically putting pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) to put together a cash flow statement might reveal some interesting dynamics with regard to your spending.
It may also show you that you can live comfortably and still meet your goals with less income than you make now, allowing you to feel less attached to your current job.
You won’t know how much you need to have “enough” money until you do the actual work to get a real answer to that question. Mental accounting and estimates don’t work here.
Actually sit down, go through a process, and figure out:
- What you want your life to look like
- What is truly important to you and worth spending money
- How much you need to fund your life now
- How much you need to set aside to fund your life in the future
Only then will you understand what you actually need. From there, you can look at your career from that fresh perspective and understand whether or not you’re really as tied to your current job that’s stopping you from living the life you want as you first thought.
“What’s the real worst-case scenario? What’s possible, and what’s probable?”
In many situations, we feel a lot of unnecessary fear around the idea of things not going perfectly according to plan. But the reality of things not going our way is rarely as bad as we imagine it will be.
Sure, losing a job wouldn’t be a fun experience. But it likely wouldn’t kill you, either.
Asking yourself to imagine the realistic worst-case scenario often highlights the fact that, as Marie Forleo says, almost everything is “figureoutable” if you’re willing to be proactive and take responsibility for taking action.
On a similar note, you need to keep in mind that the worst-case scenarios you can imagine are usually pretty unlikely.
There’s a difference between what could happen in the realm of possibility… and what is most probable in reality.
For example, yes, it is possible that taking responsibility for your own career and making a change could backfire and you’ll end up living on the side of the road in a cardboard box.
But that is not a probable outcome, given your experience, your network, your skills, your knowledge, your intelligence, your motivation to find more comfortable living accommodations than a box, and so on.
Don’t Put Your Life on Autopilot: Ask Questions and Explore Possibilities
The point to all these questions?
To remind you to check in with your life from time to time — especially if you feel burnt out or unhappy.
None of the questions above have “right” and “wrong” answers. You don’t necessarily need to up and leave your job; other solutions might exist, like talking with management to find a resolution or resolving an issue with a coworker.
But you should take the time to consider these and other questions, and you should certainly understand you have more power in your situation than you probably think right now.
Only by checking in can you see if you’re on track to achieve the results that you initially set out to achieve when you entered the working world.
Pondering these questions, or even having a conversation around them with friends or loved ones, may result in some interesting and worthwhile discussions about where you are in life today… and where you want to be tomorrow.