‘Burning out is for Losers!’

There has been a lot of chatter and discussion about Elon Musk in the last week. Now that in itself is not earth-shattering news but instead of focusing on his wow-inducing engineering projects and achievements, the most super of entrepreneurs, the press has been a state of flux. The man has displayed human traits – so he’s human after all??


Not all the press has been particularly kindly towards him and his supposed meltdown. Judging by the interaction between Musk and Arianna Huffington via Twitter, I can guess at many things and they would include him not being aware that he is burning out, or if he is, he doesn’t think that he can do anything to stop it. The fear of being perceived as a failure (reiterated by the negative press) merely serves to reiterate this message, thereby reinforcing the vicious cycle.


So what is burnout? A brief definition of burnout is being in a state of chronic stress.


Burnout is often something that people are aware of, even talked about BUT the vast majority of people think that burnout is something that happens to other people. Not them.


Here are some of the things I have heard clients say to me


‘For the last 18 months, I feel like I’ve had a hangover everyday. Constant headaches and an inability to think or see straight. But I’m fine’


‘I haven’t had more than 4 hours sleep for the last 2 years, maybe more. And I can’t think when I last went out and had a meal without working. I just have to work or else the business will not survive’


In the first example, the client came to me for help on improving his communication skills. He said that his staff just refused to understand him and his vision. It turned out that he was so out of sorts that no one could figure out what he was trying to say because his mind was in such a state of fatigue and therefore, confusion.


With the second, my client was aware ‘in theory’ that he needed to eat and sleep better. Do a little bit of exercise. Basically have a life. Not only would it be healthier for him on the most basic level, it would lead to clarity of thought. Decision making for him was close to impossible, resulting in impulsive and ill-thought out choices undoing much of his professional reputation.


And yet, in both cases, as with my other clients in similar situations, the refrain is always the same. ‘I can’t stop. If I do, everything will fall apart and everyone is depending on me.’ Sound familiar to Musk’s response to Huffington?


Reality Check - here's some tough love


  1. You are of no use to man nor beast if you are not healthy – physically, mentally and emotionally
  2. Your business is not all about you and your ego


Here is an analogy I used with a client. I know he was rather appalled at my gall but needs must and all...


‘If you were a racehorse, I would not put my money on you. Much as you’re a thoroughbred, I am not putting money on an undernourished, untrained, ill-disciplined and tired horse. It’s sure to stumble and likely fall during the race’.


Some signs that you might be on your way to burning out.


  • Chronic fatigue
  • Physical symptoms eg chest pain, headaches, weight loss, forgetting to eat etc
  • Increased frequency of illness
  • Anxiety and/or Depression
  • Anger, irritability, irrational outbursts
  • Signs of cynicism, isolation and detachment
  • Loss of enjoyment, pessimism, feelings of apathy and hopelessness
  • Signs of ineffectiveness and lack of accomplishment
  • Lack of productivity, poor performance and judgment


What can you do?

  • Find balance.  Sure sometimes the scales tip more one way than another but in general, this is what you need in your life
  • Sleep better and more
  • Eat well
  • Exercise regularly
  • Spend time with loved ones – friends & family
  • Do fun things whether that is a visit to the pub or reading a trashy novel or hiking up mountains
  • Practise mindfulness – whether this is through a guided exercise, or through exercise, or just focusing on your breathing
  • Learn to be able to switch off even if it is for 5 minutes all the way to having work-free holidays.
  • Seek external help if it is all too overwhelming

Many of the suggestions above are much easier said than done.  Your first step is recognising that you are on this downward spiral and your next is to want to do something about it.  Much as these suggestions will be the last thing that you wish to do - taking time away from your work, physically and mentally, you will very quickly find that you will make better decisions, be more effective and therefore spend less time at work.  How’s that for irony?

Just remember that the secret to not burning out is recognizing the symptoms and dealing with it early on.  Once you have burnt out, it will make the comeback far harder, and it might possibly be too late for your business.  So the questions is, are you a good bet?

For next Thursday’s case study/blog, I will be addressing the ‘What can you do?’ section with a little more detail and context.


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UncategorizedKaren Kwong