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Old 09-19-2021, 01:46 PM
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Arrow 11 signs youíre more than just tiredÖyouíre burning out

By: Carey Nieuwhof - Carey Nieuwhof Posting

Ever wonder if youíre burning out? I know a lot of leaders and people who wonder that.

Thereís a fine line between being tired and actually burning out.

The challenge is, once you cross the line, itís so difficult to get back.

Eleven years ago, I entered into the darkest period of my life. People had always warned me I would burn out. I thought I could prove them wrong. And usually I did. I would get tired Ė out of balance Ė but when I saw the edge, I could always pull myself back.

That approach worked just fine until the summer of 2006, when it didnít.

In that fateful summer eleven years ago, I found the edge, and as I was falling, I knew this time I realized I couldnít pull myself back.

Although Iím not a person who suffers from depression, Iím sure I would have gone to the doctor and received a diagnosis of clinical depression that summer when I fell off the edge.

Perhaps it wasnít a stereotypical depression.

I could get out of bed every day, and I did.

As a Christian, I kept praying and reading my bible. I never lost my faith (I just couldnít feel it).

People who werenít that close to me didnít realize it was happening.

But I knew something inside me had broken, and I didnít know how to fix it.

My speed decreased to a snailís pace.

Hope felt like it had died.

My motivation and passion dropped to zero. (Make that zero Kelvin).

Like most people who experience burnout, it felt like a strange land. I had been tired before, but I had never truly been burned out. It was so disorienting I didnít know what to do.

What terrified me is that I knew many in ministry and life had gone down this road before me and some of them never made it back.

For them, ministry was done. And sometimes, tragically, they were done Ė hope never fully returned and they didnít ever become the person they were before.

That was the last thing I wanted to happen to me.

Looking back, the diagnosis is still a little elusive and mysterious.

Who really knows what corrodes the soul to the point where it deflates?

But Iíd say the most likely candidate for what derailed me is what Iíd call emotional burnout.

In caring for others I had not adequately cared for my heart or soul, or let others who wanted to care for it do so.

I spiralled down for about 3 months before I hit bottom.

Then with the love and assistance of a great wife, board, leadership team, close friends, a counselor, and a very gracious God, I slowly began to recover.

It took, honestly, a few years to really feel full stride again, but I recovered to 80-90% of full strength in the first year. The last 10% took two or three more years.

The good new is, there is life after burnout (my next post will be on ways to recover from burnout).

Iím writing this because burnout seems to be an epidemic among leaders and, increasingly, among people in general.

Maybe youíre right on the edge of the cliff right now. Or maybe youíre in free fall.

So how do you know if youíre more than just tired? How do you know if youíre burning out?

Here are 11 things I personally experienced as I burned out.

I hope they can help you see the edge before you careen past it.

Here's one for the Government folks: Tired leaders can pull themselves back from the edge. Burned out leaders fall off a cliff.


Everybody struggles with passion from time to time, but burnout moves you into a place of sustained motivation loss.

Think about it, for those of you in leadership or ministry, you used to have a passion for what you did. Passion got you into leadership, and itís one of the factors that makes both life and leadership wonderful over a long period of time.

But when I burned out, my passion set like the sun.

I knew what I was doing was important (leading a local church), but I couldnít feel it anymore.

I realized that a passionless leader will never lead a passionate ministry. But I just couldnít find my passion anymore.


If youíre healthy, you feel things. You experience highs and lows.

When I burned out, I couldnít feel either properly anymore.

If someone was celebrating the birth of a new child, I couldnít feel happy. I just felt numb.

If someone was sick or fell into trouble, I couldnít feel for them either. I just felt numb.

Burnout numbs your heart, and this was actually one of the earliest signs for me that the edge was near.


Itís not that burned out people feel zero emotion, but I know when I burned out, the emotions I felt were often just wrong.

One early sign I was heading for burnout was that little things started to set me off. Something (like a missed deadline) might be a 3 out of 10 on the problem scale, but I would react like it was an 11. Thatís never good.

Treating small things like they are big things is a sign something deeper is wrong.


People are a mixed bag for sure. Some energize you. Some donít. I get that. On this side of heaven, thatís life.

But when I burned out, I realize nobody energized me anymore. Not even my family, my friends or my leadership team.

In my head I knew they were good people, but my heart couldnít feel it.

When nobody energizes you, theyíre not the problem. You are.
Whether youíre overwhelmed, overworked or overcommitted, At Your Best is the strategy to get your time, energy and priorities working in your favor.

Thousands of leaders around the world have been trained in the At Your Best strategy thatís helped lift them out of the stress spiral to finally do what they want to doógrow their organizations, advance their careers, launch new ventures, be far more present at home, and take regular time off.


Oh, cynicism. Itís hard not to become cynical as you age (hereís why).

But cynicism never finds a home in a healthy heart.

If you find your cynicism is advancing at a rapid rate, it may be a sign youíre burning out.

One of the hardest aspects of burnout for me was that nothing seemed to satisfy me.

Sleep didnít. Prayer didnít. Good people didnít. Recreation didnít. Vacation didnít. Work didnít. Food didnít.

Thatís a sign of depression, and itís also a sign youíre burnt out.


When youíre burning out, your heart messes with your head; you lose the ability to think straight.

I remember having read enough and listened to enough about mid-life crises and burnout to know that people make stupid decisions when theyíre burnt out.

My emotions made me think I would always be this bad. That I was a failure. That there was no hope. That I should just quit.

So I had this daily conversation with myself that boiled down to five words: Just donít do anything stupid.

For me, that meant not doing three things. I told myself, Carey, donít:

Quit your job

Have an affair

Buy a sports car

By the grace of God, I did none of the three. The first two are still part of my long term plan, but one day I think it would be fun to have a sports car.

Some days, simply avoiding stupid is a win.


One sign I knew I was in burnout was incredibly low productivity.

Iím usually a fairly productive leader and person (some would say highly productive). But when I fell into burnout, even writing a simple email might take an hour.

I couldnít think straight. My pace slowed right down, and I felt like there was a cloud between me and everything I was trying to do.

If youíre working long hours but producing little of value, you might be burning out.


In the early stages of burnout, many people turn to self-medicating to numb the pain.

Whether thatís overeating, overworking, sexual addictions, drinking, impulsive spending or even drugs, youíve chosen a path of self-medication over self-care.

I avoided drinking, drugs or sex. My poison was, ironically, more work, which just spirals things downward.

People who are burning out almost always choose self-medication over self-care.


This is such a small thing thatís actually such a big thing.

If youíre burning out, you donít laugh a lot. I remember in my recovery laughing out loud one day after listening to something on the radio. It was then that it hit me: it had been months since I had laughed out loud.

When youíre burning out, nothing seems fun or funny, and, at its worst, you begin to resent people who enjoy life.


If youíre just tired, a good nightís sleep or a week or two off will help most healthy people bounce back with fresh energy.

If youíre burning out, sleep and time off no longer refuel you. You could have a month off when youíre burnt out and not feel any difference.

I took three weeks off during my summer of burn out, and I felt worse at the end than when I started. Not being refueled when you take time off is a major warning sign that youíre burning out.

Whether youíre overwhelmed, overworked or overcommitted, At Your Best is the strategy to get your time, energy and priorities working in your favor.

Thousands of leaders around the world have been trained in the At Your Best strategy thatís helped lift them out of the stress spiral to finally do what they want to doógrow their organizations, advance their careers, launch new ventures, be far more present at home, and take regular time off.


So how do you know if youíre burning out?

Identifying with just a few of these signs might just be a sign that youíre tired.

If you identify with half, you might be close to the edge.

If you identify with most or all, well, you might be in the same place I found myselfóburnout.

And if you think youíre burning out, I would encourage you to seek immediate professional help Ė a medical doctor and a trained Christian counselor. I would also encourage you to talk to a close circle of friends (again, my next post will be on recovery from burnout).


Personal note: I don't think there is a person in the world that hasn't had some form of burn out. When I'm overworked I get anxiety - I pondered whether or not to look for another line of work. And guess what - I just worked through it. I enjoyed working and I enjoyed the travel that came with it. Money could've been better had plenty of offers but the guy I worked for - was one of kind and I couldn't let him down.
When the wife had the two girls I knew I had to get a better paying job and when into Field Engineering and ended up away from home more than I should've but the pay supplemented our savings and gave the wife and the girl's anything they wanted. I've been around the world at least 2.5 time East to West - North to South and the experience I picked up only increased the yearly salary. I grew up with nothing and I wasn't going to let my family suffer what I went through.
Meanwhile my wife handled the load while I was on the road. She is my minister of finance and is tight with the money - I really wasn't that good at it.
The burn out discussions - I've seen happen to many - and they have to make some hard decisions during their lives. I didn't burn out I just got too old to travel - and my wife came down with an incurable disease of which we tend to daily.
Life isn't easy - it starts with getting a good education - and keep learning - for the rest of your lives.
I'm in my mid-70's now and still a tech reader and military man till the day I die.
I found you never stop learning each and every day. I would love to have been a NASA engineer going into space - what a adrenalin rush of going into space and maybe to another planet - but thats just me. I'd love to meet an alien (other than those on earth - I've met many of them and I'm sure I'm an alien to them as well.
I have no burn out complications - rather I prefer working - but sitting in front of the TV in a rocking chair. Activity keeps the brain sharp - the lack of it finds you more sluggish each day.
Without activity your brain turns to mush. Yes I have a little trouble at my age recalling things but eventually it comes back.
If and when I can't become mobile anymore - I'd prefer to be shot than stagnant slug needing feeing and diapers changed.
That's like becoming a living fossil with an attitude and shortly after that - its all down hill and that ain't living.
Cut the grass - clean the house - read a book - go to the VFW and bullshit with guys. Do anything but get out of the chair and move around - do something - anything is better than nothing!
Keep the blood pumping and the legs moving - use them or loose them!

O Almighty Lord God, who neither slumberest nor sleepest; Protect and assist, we beseech thee, all those who at home or abroad, by land, by sea, or in the air, are serving this country, that they, being armed with thy defence, may be preserved evermore in all perils; and being filled with wisdom and girded with strength, may do their duty to thy honour and glory; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

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