Holding on to Burnout

attachment burnout surrender

Don't you just hate running around all day, schedule packed to the brim, phone buzzing every five minutes? It's crazy! No human should have to live like that, constantly frazzled.

If you live like that, you probably promise yourself to slow down one day, but you haven't yet. You actually do choose that life. As my Landmark Forum coach would've said, "You love it!"

I know I have uttered the words, "I'm just so busy," with a bit of pride. What I'm really saying is, "Aren't I important?" I used to tell myself that one day I'd slow down, but I never did, because the busy-ness, while exhausting, was a cozy validation of my ego. It's a great excuse not to deal with important relationship problems or personal values issues.


It's a big problem in the startup and corporate world. Burnout is intrinsically tied to the identity of an entrepreneur or a rising executive. If you're in that world, you know your peers expect it of you and you expect it of yourself.

Many people, it turns out, tie in this frantic, exhausted, coffee-addicted lifestyle to being an entrepreneur. It's a classic story:

Rising from the streets, John Smith worked two jobs until 10pm, then went home to his studio apartment to work on his budding startup, living on ramen and pizza to save money and time, went to bed at 2am every night only to rise at 6am to get in a quick jog before heading into work again. He spent his free time hustling, making connections, and rehearsing his investor pitch. Sure it was exhausting, but he was high on the exhilaration, driven by the promise of a better life.

This American classic is a staple of our pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps mythos. The stories abound. The Pursuit of Happyness is a great example. But in that story, Chris Gardner really was up against insane odds. He wasn't playing a part. He was just getting things done.

A friend invited me to join his startup, which I agreed to. But when he heard my nonchalant response, he grew skeptical. He said to me, "Khaled, you can't be so chill about this. It's gonna take pulling all-nighters. You have to be 150% in -- no, 200% -- or it's just not going to work. I need people I can rely on."

He was really hung up on this unhealthy definition of an entrepreneur, more concerned with looking the part than actually getting the idea off the ground.

Nobody enjoys burnout, but can come to define us. We get as attached to it for self-definition as we are to our choking neckties and cramping high heels.


The reality is that the exhaustion is not a necessary part of the identity. Startup founders, executives, nonprofit leaders, and social entrepreneurs are ultimately judged by what they create, not how busy they are.

You may be thinking that these jobs tackle such huge problems with so few resources that there is no other choice, and it's definitely true that success in these fields requires you to work hard and long.

But there is a difference between worrying about a thing and actually getting it done.

The doing and how we feel about it are totally different. We might think we have to be emotionally invested to put in our best effort. But that's not true. Using our work to validate our egos is actually very limiting, because as soon as it stops serving us, we will no longer be committed to it.

You shouldn't do something because you are proud of doing it. You should do it because it is good work.

If your practice is good, you may become proud of it. What you do is good, but something more is added to it. Pride is extra. Right effort is to get rid of something extra. - Shunryu Suzuki-roshi (1905 - 1971)

The essential skill here is separating our emotional attachment from the circumstance. We do a job, but it doesn't define us. We attend to our finances but we don't fret over them. We appreciate our children without setting them up as validation for our parenting.

It's hard to let go of those emotional attachments, but you'll notice that all the attachments mentioned above exist to protect and assert a person's identity. They have nothing to do with actually doing good work in the world.

The small self is concerned with asserting its own importance. The large self can let go of that in order to actually get stuff done.

What's one area where your small self is getting more attention than it needs to?

Thanks in advance for your comments, and if you found this post useful (or agitating in a positive way...) please share it with your friends.