Burnout and your Career: Just too much work, or a sign of a deeper problem?

 In Depression, Health, Longevity

I have a very serious question for you – one that you might be a little afraid to answer.  But typically these big questions are the ones that have the most profound effect when you get real about your answer to them.

If you are experiencing feelings of burnout now, or indeed have burnt out already, then I want to ask you the following.  Is the cause of your burnout simply too great a volume of work?  Or could it be that you are in the wrong line of work?

Let me explain my question.  The feedback I have received from my most popular TEDx talk, Become Who You Really Are, has brought to my awareness just how prevalent an issue this really is.  So many people are misaligned in their work; it just doesn’t make their soul happy.

In my generation we grew up with parents and grandparents who had lived through World War 2.  Through those extreme circumstances they were taught to ‘be happy with their lot’. You were lucky to get a ‘job for life’ as they used to say, and a career change was virtually unheard of.

Today’s world is a much improved place.  We don’t have the same practical restrictions as our parents and grandparents did – yet, we still restrict ourselves.  It is largely psychological. While motivational speakers are cheering, “You can be anything you put your mind to,” so many of us are just not ready to hear that message.  Instead, we choose to follow the expectations of our parents and of society, and get a sensible job.

We think that dreams are just for when we are sleeping.  Personally, this breaks my heart.

I had my own breakthrough in this area of my life after becoming so depressed that I asked God to take my life. I’ve told
the story of my spiritual awakening before, but to summarize, at my lowest point I had a vision of the future that I truly wanted for myself.  I saw myself singing on stage, living in the south of France, and walking hand in hand with a child on the beach.

In the years that followed I’ve done all those things and more.  So what made the difference? I finally connected with who I really am, at soul level, and allowed myself to walk my own path.

In my previous career I had achieved plenty of things that made my family proud.  I began my career as a hospital physician, then moved into television working as a news anchor for Discovery Health Channel.  I had been on the Oprah Show — twice — and even written my first book.  On the surface it appeared I had everything together, but underneath I felt like an imposter.  Sure I was achieving, and loved everything to do with science, medicine and health. But I hadn’t been expressing my creative side.

As with most programming that we follow as adults, this could be traced back to my childhood.  

I had been suppressing my desire to perform on stage as I had a clear memory of my father telling me that music was not a career path worth pursuing.

At the end of the day, our parents are doing the best they can with the tools they have.  We each need to take responsibility for our own happiness in life. So while music not being a good path may have been true for my father, that didn’t automatically make it true for me.  What I learned was that I needed to explore that for myself. And when I did, it lit my soul on fire. I have so much more contentment and enjoyment in my life now that I’m being true to myself.

Lately there have been some alarmingly high rates of Physician suicide.  In the US, Physicians have the highest rates on any profession – the number being more than double for any other profession.  

It’s no surprise that the medical world is also one of those industries where burnout is highly prevalent.  Long hours and very hard work are just part of the job, and anyone could get burnt out in those conditions. Now add to the mix that some doctors might have followed their parents’ desires for a doctor in the family, over their own calling in life, and you can see the problem!

Whatever industry you are in, it is worth pausing once in a while and considering if your work really makes you happy on a deep level.  We spend a great deal of our time on earth in our work, and so it’s very important that we take satisfaction from it.

A common factor among the suicidal is the lack of a sense of real, meaningful purpose.  Most of us take a good deal of our purpose from our work. So I can’t stress enough the importance of working with your strengths and your passions – it can be make or break for your whole way of life. I cover this in great details in my book, I Love You, Me! My Journey to Overcoming Depression and Finding Real Self Love

At this point, it may be that you already know that you are on the wrong path, and if so, what you would rather be doing as your work.  But that may not be the case. If you aren’t sure where your strengths and passions are, that’s absolutely okay. If you are already beginning to feel burnt out, then you are likely experiencing some brain fog and fatigue.  These may it hard to see a clear path ahead.

If this is you, take a step back and reconnect with yourself.  Listen to that little voice within. You might like to take a couple of free online tests that I often recommend.  The Values in Action test is helpful to gain some insight into your personality traits and strengths.  This can tell you a lot about the type of work that you would thrive in.

The Vitality Test from 5 Institute helps you understand which of the 5 elements from Chinese philosophy are your dominant influences. This can be a real eye opener for identifying what makes you naturally brilliant, and what makes you potentially vulnerable to stress and burnout.

If you think you are nearing burnout, then the message I want to leave you with is this: DO NOT LET IT BEAT YOU!

We can use our burnouts as opportunities to learn more about ourselves and to change something in our lives for the better – whether that means a change of career, or just simply doing a little less of the work we already do and making time for fun, family and self-care.

If you would like to assess your current risk of burnout, then you can take my online test here.  I also have a series of free online masterclasses available for you to watch on demand here. Each Masterclass will provide you with insight and instruction on realigning your life with your values and passion. And you’ll get a healthy dose of neuroscience nerdiness to better understand how to recover from stress fast by becoming a master of your life force energy.


Dr. Andrea Pennington (@DrAndrea) is an integrative physician, acupuncturist, meditation teacher and conscious communication specialist. She is the Founder of In8Vitality, a #1 international bestselling author, highly acclaimed 2x TEDx speaker, visionary brand strategist for Light workers, and Co-founder of the #RealSelfLove Movement.

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