When Drive Becomes Too Much of a Good Thing
When you think of someone who’s burned out, you might picture a person who’s overworked and miserable in their job, or hating their toxic work environment.
But what if you’re feeling burned out and you love your job? It may seem counterintuitive, but those two things can coexist. And it can be a particularly confusing and unsettling experience.
If you’re burned out solely because of a job that makes you unhappy and drained, the solution may be as simple as working less or moving on to another position. When you love your work, however, it can be harder to decipher why you’re feeling exhausted, burned out, and barely able to hold it together.
With some introspection and planning, it’s possible to take back control and start feeling more energized and rested. Here’s why it’s still possible to get burned out even if you love your job — and how to start feeling like yourself again.
Driven to burnout
Experiencing burnout isn’t as simple as working long hours and feeling tired. Burnout can manifest differently for everyone, but it’s typically a feeling of emotional exhaustion that may be accompanied by physical exhaustion. You might feel sluggish in the mornings, unmotivated to work, and disconnected from your loved ones. You could find yourself hitting snooze more often, daydreaming of an escape, and overconsuming your vices, among other signs. And it isn’t usually alleviated by just a weekend of sleeping in or a week of vacation.
At Flourish, we use a framework that helps professionals see how a mix of internal and external factors add up to leave them either headed toward burnout or feeling recharged and flourishing.
A crucial piece of the puzzle that can contribute to burnout is what we call “drive,” or how hard you’re pushing yourself. Don’t get us wrong, having drive isn’t inherently bad — it’s often part of what makes successful leaders and entrepreneurs who get results.
But having an excessive drive, especially if you’re not aware of it or what’s behind it, can lead to burnout. It’s even easier for your drive to lead you to crash and experience burnout if other aspects of your life aren’t in balance.
This can happen even if you love what you do. It can happen even if everything looks objectively okay on the outside, like having a comfortable income and a loving family. It may feel distressing and even strange when externally, things seem to be going fine, but internally, you feel completely drained or barely keeping your head above water.
What’s driving you?
The reasons behind having a strong drive can vary from person to person, and we often find that people aren’t aware of where it comes from until they deliberately examine it. While all roads lead to burnout when drive isn’t in balance, recognizing the deeper reasons behind your individual drive can help you develop awareness around where it comes from and make course corrections.
Again, having a strong drive isn’t ultimately a negative thing, and our reasons for it usually have good intentions. But it can help us to recognize when it comes from an unhealthy place, when it veers out of control, or if it isn’t in balance with other aspects of our life.
Some of our drive stems from indoctrination in our family or culture, like being taught we must put others before ourselves or find our sense of self-worth from work. It may also be linked to early life experiences, such as growing up with instability or without basic needs being met.
We may feel some drive from cultural peer pressure to ‘keep up with the Joneses,’ especially since social media allows us to constantly compare ourselves to the (superficial) highlight reel of others’ careers and personal lives. Other aspects of drive might come from our innate personality, like perfectionism or a desire to support our families.
We might adopt other aspects of our drive from society and the expectations put upon us. For example, in a system-defined, in many ways, by patriarchy, women may feel they have to work harder to get a seat at the table. Those in marginalized groups may feel pressured to push themselves beyond their limits to prove their value or ability, while also potentially facing the stressors of discrimination.
At Flourish, we’ve identified several common patterns that lead professionals in their drive. When you work with us, we can provide insight into which pattern best describes you — and the tools you can use to effectively manage it in a healthier way. Some of the most common drive patterns include:
- The People Pleaser
- The Overachiever
- The Giver
- The Overfunctioner
- The Survivor
- The Perfectionist
- The Loyal Soldier
Regardless of what pattern is leading your drive, it’s easy to veer into burnout territory if you’re not aware you’re pushing yourself too hard. Right now, as our world feels increasingly out of control — with the never-ending discussion of a global pandemic, war, political and economic strife, and climate change — it’s easy to pour ourselves even more into work.
Put simply, it’s a stressful time to exist and take care of ourselves, let alone our family members at home and teams at work. Those who serve as business leaders or entrepreneurs may feel an even heavier burden, especially if they’re not recharging enough.
How to pump the brakes
The good news: it’s absolutely possible to escape these patterns and recover from burnout. In fact, that’s what Flourish is here to do. We walk our clients through a unique, proven process, which includes recognizing what pattern is behind their drive and how to shift the underlying beliefs and behaviors that cause burnout. The resulting changes support a healthier sense of balance and leave our clients feeling more energized, motivated, in control, and at their best.
It’s most effective to walk this journey in partnership with our experts, but there are a few strategies you can try on your own. Here are a few ways to start recognizing your own drive and whether it’s leading you toward burnout:
- Begin to cultivate mindfulness around when you feel your drive rev up and what root causes or patterns might be behind it. Just gaining awareness is a powerful start.
Start to practice regular reflection to notice how your drive is showing up in your life. You don’t need to change anything; just set aside time daily or weekly to notice, such as if you’re not taking lunch breaks or you feel like you can’t leave work before anyone else.
- Notice what beliefs are behind those actions. Are you worried taking a lunch break will make you look lazy? Are you afraid leaving the office too early will make it look like you’re letting down your team? Do you fear failing to reply to emails on weekends will keep you from getting promoted?
- Allow yourself to start gently questioning if any of those beliefs might be false or irrational. Next time you have those thoughts, like that you’ll get fired for taking a lunch break, mentally challenge them with logic to see if they are indeed true.
- Start experimenting with small changes. If you’ve realized your fear of reprisal for taking a lunch break might be outsized and contributing to burnout, for example, try taking an occasional lunch break to see what happens. Did you get any negative feedback or not? Did you come back to your desk feeling more refreshed?
These are just a sampling of ways to cultivate more awareness of your drive and the patterns that might lead to burnout. To explore this further with expert support, Flourish has partnered with Between the Lines to offer folks from the Claremont College community 10% off our flagship, evidence-based program. Our proven system helps driven professionals start feeling like themselves again and get back to being their best selves for the ones they love. Click here now to learn more.