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  • Writer's pictureAlex Enders

3 Common Myths About Burnout

Updated: Feb 8

Written by: Alex Enders

Edited by: Braeden Waddell

Burnout is a big, complex topic, and that’s reflected in the way we still see major misconceptions surrounding the subject. With how much burnout is experienced and discussed nowadays, there are plenty of folks that have opinions on it – regardless of how well-informed those opinions may be. Here are some of the most common myths about burnout you might encounter when talking about it.

Myth #1 - Burnout isn’t real

Yes, despite it being recognized as a serious issue by the World Health Organization (WHO) and there being years of research proving its existence, there are still plenty of people out there that believe burnout is fake. This particular myth is gradually diminishing thanks to burnout receiving more attention, but it can still be baffling how firmly some folks will deny its existence.

I encountered this myth early on in my experience with burnout, and it was with, of all people, a school counselor. After reading how therapy and counseling can help with burnout, I decided to try working with a counselor on campus – only for that person to try and tell me that burnout isn’t real (and yes, this did happen after the WHO acknowledged and defined burnout). Although frustrated, I did not let my ill-advised counselor sway me and instead went looking elsewhere for help. 

Ironically enough, the number one myth about burnout is that burnout is a myth. While it’s true that the term is loosely thrown around from time to time, one person’s ignorance about burnout does not invalidate another person’s experience with it – and it certainly does not outweigh the decades of research surrounding the subject. Taking the time to educate myself about burnout and ensure that I had a strong support system made it so I didn’t need a misinformed counselor to tell me what my own experience was.

Myth #2 - People burn out because they don’t work hard enough

This second myth would be laughable for its inaccuracy, if it wasn’t a key piece of misinformation fueling burnout’s continued prevalence. Given how one of the most common signs of burnout is exhaustion, it seems absurd that anyone would believe that working even more could somehow prevent or cure it. Nevertheless, enough people buy into this idea that it can promote a ‘workaholic’ culture, where feeling unmotivated is often met with advice to “just try harder.”  

During my own time grappling with burnout as a student, I encountered this myth several times. A therapist I met with actually tried to convince me that all I needed was a more regimented work schedule to solve my burnout. Even worse, though, was when my academic advisors told me I should try to immerse myself more in my work – as if I hadn’t been doing that already. If I hadn't already started researching burnout on my own, I likely would have listened to those advisors and ended up hurting myself even more in the long run.

There is certainly no one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to burnout, but that said, telling a burnt-out person to work more is often about as helpful as telling someone with a broken leg to walk it off.

Myth #3 - Burnout only happens to people that aren’t passionate about their work

Have you ever heard of the idea that if you do what you love, then you’ll never work another day in your life? Well, that saying is basically this myth in a nutshell, except turned inside-out: if someone burns out from working too hard, surely they just didn’t care enough about their job in the first place. What this idea fails to consider is that hard work and personal passion aren’t always enough to offset the many causes of burnout.

This myth was fairly common at the music school I attended since it was an easy way to brush off the high student attrition rate. Although it wasn’t often said out loud, there was definitely an underlying assumption that any student that left the school simply didn’t have the same ‘fire’ driving the rest of us. I’m a bit embarrassed to admit I bought into this idea myself for a few years, until I learned the truth the hard way.

This seems like an appropriate time to reiterate that burnout is perhaps most notorious for appearing in professions like teaching and healthcare – jobs that people pursue out of a passion for helping other people. That truth just goes to show how backwards this third myth really is. In reality, the more a person loves their job, the more they could be at risk of overworking themselves to the point of burnout.

Questions from the Coach

Here are a handful of related questions to consider how burnout affects you personally. There are no right or wrong answers, and you don’t have to share your answers if you don’t want to.

  • What do you love to do for work? What is it about your work that you love?

  • What do you love to do when you’re not working? How do you create breathing room between your work life and your personal life?

I hope you found something valuable in this second article of mine, and I would love to hear from you if you did! After the holiday season has passed, I plan on writing about the actual causes of burnout. Also, if you haven’t read it already, I would recommend checking out my first article on student burnout in the meantime.

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