Not long ago, three friends separately told me that they were burned out. One sounded ashamed, one sounded angry, and one sounded tired. I think they told me because they knew I’d understand; I’ve been there and felt all of those things. 

But rather than pouring pity, I told them I was excited for them.

Burnout is generally seen as a bad thing — that you have overworked yourself past the point of sustainability, that you are a “workaholic,” that you — YOU, personally — are at fault for careening your mental health beyond stability. With our current cultural stigma, poor mental health is seen as something embarrassing, a shortcoming of personal character. This is so wrong. What makes it worse is that we rarely speak of it…unlike overstraining a muscle from training for a half marathon, in our culture we never brag that we just can’t work at the same pace at the moment because we’re mentally depleted.

So we retreat quietly, miserably, into ourselves, not telling anyone what’s going on (except, maybe, to observant family and nosy friends). We are jaded and cynical about the way things are. We feel lonely in our lethargy, pathetic in our apathy, and emptied of inertia.

When we feel our emptiest, we are able to hear most clearly.

But when we feel our emptiest, we are able to hear most clearly. In a cave, every phenomenon echoes. To some, this will be living in insufferable din — the noise of “shoulds” and “musts” and things to be tolerated. To others, this is an opportunity to listen and watch everything more mindfully than before: the external world, and your own thoughts. What resonates? What sparks your interest and imagination?

Though a symptom of burnout may be a feeling of emptiness, burnout is, ironically, a sign that you have something more in you. That there is something your true self wants to create that you haven’t satisfied yet. And everything that you’ve been doing has led you to this beautiful, amazing moment of recognition that the way things are is simply not enough anymore. Without the journey of intensive work that taught you and brought you to this moment, you would have not discovered that you want to serve something else.

Burnout is, ironically, a sign that you have something more in you.

Rather than being bitter at how much you’ve done and how little it feels meaningful now, you can be grateful that you’ve grown out of a role, armed with new technical or personal skills.

Rather than feeling ashamed, you can feel proud to recognize that you’ve grown into a new perspective — maybe about what you don’t stand for, which is important on your way to finding what you do stand for.

Rather than dwelling in exhaustion, you can celebrate that something is shifting in you. Amplify that discontent until you are excited about the future. How might you redesign your lifestyle to recharge your energy regularly? How might you redesign your thinking patterns to spark your creativity and inner smile? How might you redesign your interactions to maximize exchanges that boost your positive energy, and minimize those that sap your willpower?

Amplify that discontent until you are excited about the future.

Burnout happens at the intersection of a forked path, but only one path is prominent — a way that leads to resignation, a dead end. The easiest thing to do is mope in quiet desperation as you head forward.

If you refuse to continue in that direction, you can go somewhere else. But you can only find the other path if you decide to redesign the route. It’s your career journey, and you’re the captain. And you now have a new perspective.

Bravely honor the change within you.

Change is stressful. Seek support whenever you need it—counseling and therapy are about strengthening your strategies; refuse to be ashamed of taking care of yourself. Reach out to friends; researchers on burnout suggest that your network can be your best antidote. Patiently listen and watch for opportunities. Refresh, refill, revitalize. Prepare to grow again.

Your burnout can be your best beginning.

This article has been reposted on LinkedIn.

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