The myth behind job burnout: What it actually is and how to avoid it

I’m burned out.

If you’ve never uttered those words yourself, you’ve likely heard a coworker, friend or family member say them.

Everywhere you turn these days, people are “burning out.” A report published by the Massachusetts Medical Society even declared burnout among doctors as a “crisis in health care.”1 It’s no joke—our culture is overworked and overconnected, and it’s killing us.

Books, podcasts and even conferences are popping up left and right to help us recover from burnout, but the problem is: We’re fighting the wrong battle.

Yes, the feelings of burnout are very real. But there’s hope. Folks, you’re not burned out. The only time you really burnout is when your heart stops beating.

So, let’s address the real problem: buildup.

Buildup is exactly what it sounds like. Over time, the negative parts of your job build up on your heart until you’ve had enough—that’s when you finally wave the white flag and declare: “I’m burned out.”

Some of the most common causes of buildup are:

  • A lack of passion: When you’re not passionate about the mission of your company, your job feels meaningless. And when your job feels meaningless, it’s easy to believe you are meaningless.
  • Toxic workplace: You can be the most optimistic person in the world, but if you’re surrounded by lousy leaders, difficult coworkers, or breakrooms filled with gossip, it’s only a matter of time before it brings you down.
  • Feeling overwhelmed: If you’re working long hours every week and it’s causing your personal life to struggle, you’re going to resent the place you work more and more each day.
  • Feeling underappreciated: We all need some level of recognition in the workplace. If your leaders haven’t recognized your contribution in a while, you’ll wonder, What’s the point?
  • Boredom: Who wants to spend 40+ hours a week at a job that leaves you bored out of your mind?  

Maybe you’re experiencing one — or even all — of these elements of buildup.

Well, here’s the good news: There’s hope.

Buildup on your heart is fixable, and it might not even involve changing careers! Before you make any life-altering decisions, try these five methods to get the buildup under control.

5 ways to solve ‘buildup’


1. Go back to your why.

Maybe you’ve never thought about your why before—well, this is the time to do it. Your ‘why’ is the driving force behind why you do what you do. It’s a foundation and a filter you can return to again and again when making important decisions, like whether to leave your job or why you’re in that job, to begin with.

Some questions you can ask yourself to discover your why are:

  • Am I in my sweet spot (the intersection of my greatest talent and my greatest passion)?
  • Do I believe in the mission of the organization I work for?
  • Does the work I’m doing day-to-day align with my personal values and goals in life?
  • What positive things does this job provide in my life?

If the answers to these questions are negative, it’s probably time to start planning a new career path.

2. Speak up.

Before you jump ship, have an honest conversation with your leader about any issues you’re experiencing in your role. Don’t just approach them with problems, but bring potential solutions to the table as well.

If your workload is too heavy, make them aware of how often you’re working off the clock and give suggestions, like hiring an intern or another associate. Or if your issue involves a toxic coworker, ask them for guidance on the appropriate way to approach that coworker.

Whatever the issue is, bring it to your leader’s attention first and give them an opportunity to do something about it. If the issue happens to involve your leader, you might need to consider moving into a different role in the company or finding a new job altogether.

3. Change your role. 

Maybe the problem isn’t the company you work for, but the role you’re in. Author of Good to Great, Jim Collins, calls this being in the wrong seat on the bus.

The bright side of this problem is you’re already on the inside—you’re already on the bus! You just need a different seat.

Have a conversation with your leader about your top skills and passions and how you can best put those to work for the company. Maybe you already know which role would be a better fit. If you don’t, ask your leader to help you brainstorm ideas.

Just remember, this likely won’t be an overnight transition. Landing your dream job takes time, perseverance and patience.

4. Change your perspective. 

If you’re unable to leave your current job in the foreseeable future, it’s time to change your perspective.

This doesn’t mean you have to stay in that job forever—but until you’re able to start working on a transition plan, be grateful for the role you have. Point out what’s positive about of your job, like the income to pursue a hobby or a unique skill you’re learning, and keep your focus on the bright side.

5. Change your location. 

Sometimes, all we need to light a new fire within us is to switch things up—especially if our buildup involves boredom and a lack of passion.

That’s why I want to encourage you to change your location. That could look like:

  • Changing companies altogether
  • Broadening your job search to a neighboring city
  • Joining a new club or meetup where you can make new connections or learn a new hobby
  • Relocating to another city or state if you have the resources and desire to do so

When you begin to feel stale and lifeless, try changing up your location for a fresh, new outlook.

Folks, if you’re stressed, overwhelmed and growing bitter, it doesn’t mean you’re burned out. There’s still blood running through your veins, which means there’s time to change your story.

Don’t give up. You matter, and you have what it takes. Press on!

Ken Coleman is a #1 national best-selling author, career expert and nationally syndicated radio host of The Ken Coleman Show. Pulling from his own personal struggles, missed opportunities and career successes, Coleman helps people discover what they were born to do and provides practical steps to make their dream job a reality. The Ken Coleman Show is a caller-driven career show that helps listeners who are stuck in a job they hate or searching for something more out of their career. His second book, The Proximity Principle: The Proven Strategy That Will Lead To The Career You Love, was released May 2019. Connect with Ken on Twitter at @KenColeman, on Instagram at @KenColemanShow, and online at or