The Guide to Escaping Career Burnout


About three months ago, I burned out of my job. You might read “burned out” like I suddenly didn’t like my job or my job suddenly frustrated me.

That’s not the case.

Burned out means that you have nothing left to give to the job and you no longer can see the purpose of it. Besides a paycheck no matter how big, you simply do not find any scrap of joy in it.

This doesn’t happen during the course of a day or week. We all have issues when it comes to our job, busy times, hectic paces. Burnout isn’t about being “busy.”

It’s this slow burn, like a savings account being slowly drained, more withdrawals than deposits.

Soon you find yourself in the red and you wonder how you got there.

Burnout is a dangerous place when it comes to your career because most likely it is what is paying the bills. You need the job that you loathe. People might be depending on you to show up, to smile, and just tough it out.

Burnout is this trapped feeling—you’re miserable in a job (that you probably loved) that pays the bills; you hardly have the energy to look for another job because of the weariness, so you seem trapped in an endless cycle. There is no light at the end of the tunnel because to you it seems like an endless loop.

Here are some typical signs of burnout:

You’ve Used All of Your Sick Time

If you are burned out of your job, you have most likely burned through all of your sick time for two reasons. First, you can’t bring yourself to work. The mere thought of getting out of bed and doing that job again has you reaching for the phone, coming up with some excuse.

Two, you are out of sick time because you are actually sick. When you are in a constant stressed state, your immune system buckles and you are constantly down with a cold or flu.

But now you have zero sick time left. You ignore your aches and pains and keep you desk drawer filled with lozenges and over the counter drugs.

You Can’t Answer the Simplest of Questions

When you get home from work and a loved one says, “How was your day?”, you can’t come up with a good answer, or any answer. When someone at works asks you for your opinion about something work related, your brain can’t come up with anything. Your creative juices, your interest in the job has turned to ash.

Your creative spirit has left your body.

You Fantasize About the Escape Route Constantly

When you are burned out—you think about how good it would feel to be in a completely different profession. If you’re an accountant, you dream about being a truck driver. If you’re a salesperson, you wonder what it’s like to be a librarian. This isn’t you wondering if you should start a new career path, this is you trying to find the escape hatch, hoping to get out as soon as you can.

You Get This Question Every Day

“Are you alright?” a coworker will ask you. It’s an innocuous question, but you start to hear it more and more. You wear the burnout on your face and you can’t seem to feel anything but misery. When you first started this job you had some bad days, and then you had more bad days, but those eventually turned into normal days. Now your normal days are just bad days, but you occasionally have worse days. See how that works?

No, you’re not alright.

You Call That a Vacation?

You’ve tried to take a vacation to get away, to take time to refuel, but when the vacation time starts to wane, you feel an anxiety build up. I have to go back. And it crushes you. Vacations aren’t really vacations anymore. They are a way to recover from your job—and they don’t seem to be working.

You Can’t Give Back To Your Family

Every expense is frustrating because it reminds you how much you need your job. When loved ones want to spend time with you, you want to sit on the couch or at worst, stay in bed. You snap. You bristle. And does this sound like depression? It should. Because it is.

Listening to Advice is Difficult

Our friends and family see the pain on your face and will say, (in the most loving way), “Why don’t you just —“ and we nod or we cringe because it isn’t as simple as that. We can barely take our job—much less do something else

Can You Recover From The Burnout While You Still Have a Terrible Job?

I’d argue if you are burnt out—if your job is that brutal, you are not going to be able to fully recover while you are in the job. But there are some ways I’ve found to mitigate the damage.

First, you have to commit to getting out of the job as soon as you can with another job in the best case scenario.

If you have enough savings stored up to make it for 6-9 months, give your two weeks notice and get out.

But that isn’t an option for a lot of us.

So here are some strategies to get out quickly and deal with the burnout.

Recognize the Burnout is There

You can’t start tackling the problem until you acknowledge that you are burned out. It’s a terrible secret to keep and you might feel guilty for some how not being able to cut it; that isn’t the case. You’ve been a square peg trying to fit in the round hole for too long.

You have to say the words—“I’m burnt out of my job.”

It’s not a magic spell. It’s not an incantation, but you will feel better after you say it and accept it.

Right now you might be experiencing cognitive dissonance; you are holding two competing thoughts in your head: “I hate this job and I’m not going to make it.” And “I need to keep going—I’ll make it. Things will change. I’ll eventually feel better.” You are straddling the fence; you aren’t quite dealing with the reality of the situation. You are expending energy to try to keep those two disparate thoughts together and intact.

You’ll feel much better once you accept that you are completely and utterly burned out.

Recognize that Burnout Isn’t a Character Flaw

“Why can’t I cut it? What the hell is wrong with me?”

This was my daily mantra. Daily. I figured I was the crazy one and every one else around me had “grit” or “resilience.” I read article upon article on how to have more grit and just get through the “tough time.”

I looked at my fellow colleagues and sure they were frustrated, but they weren’t in the type of pain I was in.

But just because others are handling the same career well, doesn’t mean there is something wrong with you. It means it’s wrong for you and comparing yourself to everyone else will get you perfectly nowhere. And maybe, just maybe, this no-win comparison game helped get you to this burnout state.

Get a Career Coach Today

When I was desperately job searching, I hired a career coach; an hour of her time wasn’t cheap, but I figured—I had to do something. I was getting rejected over and over for jobs that I should have at least got an interview for, but something was wrong with my resume and cover letter; I just couldn’t see what it was.

When I showed her my resume, she said, “What, um, kind of job are you going for?”

“Trainer. Corporate trainer.” I replied.

She patted my hand and said, “This resume could be for a taxi driver, botanist, or Scrabble champion. It’s too general. The word ‘training’ only shows up twice.”

She showed me how to fashion my resume to fit the exact job I was looking for along with changing my LinkedIn to be more appealing to recruiters. Find a solid career coach because after I did, I received a three interviews in a week.

Use Your Benefits

Check with your HR and see if you can take a leave and receive counseling and if so, for how long. When taking a leave, I’d make an appointment with your doctor and a psychiatrist to let them assess you. (You’ll need it for the paperwork.) Sometimes you can go on disability (mental) and receive pay while you figure out the next steps. Your benefits are there for you—don’t be ashamed or hesitant to use them.

Tell Your Family and Close Friends

There’s an old saying in addiction circles: secrets keep you sick. When you are feeling burnout, one of the worst things you can do is keep it to yourself. Don’t turn to Facebook to vent, but instead share it with your family and close friends. And let your close friends know you are looking for a new job and ask if they have someone in their network that can help. Supply them with your resume and just ask them to look around.

Assess Your Runway to Find Another Job

Take a look at your savings and your expenses and figure out how much time you would have if you didn’t have a job. Could you go part time instead of full time? Could you simply walk? If you have 6-9 months in savings to cover expenses, then I would simply put in your two weeks.

It Won’t Always Feel Like This

I know it’s hard to hear from someone else much less read it online, but it does get better; another job comes along and it doesn’t have to be the job, but it can be a job where you can breathe, and gather some hope back.

Ryan McRae is the creator of the blog The ADHD NERD and has a free great book called The Best iPhone Apps for Focus. He currently works as a on boarding corporate trainer and loves his job very much. Thanks.

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