WARNING: Burnout Ahead

Dec 15, 2010, Written by Sue Miley

This is the first post in a series on burnout.  I think it is a really important issue with small business owners.  I hope you will also check out the rest of the series:

Burnout: 4 Steps to Prevention

Burnout:  A Personal Journey to Recovery

New Life:  This Side of Burnout

Hopefully, you can start here, and catch burn-out before it begins!


Face it…we all get tired.  As a small business owner there is much to do and adrenaline can keep us going longer than many would expect.  Our biggest fear though is that we will run out of steam.


Little or nothing of value left to give.

The Wrong Path

I used to work 60-70 hours per week religiously.  When I say religiously, I mean for about ten years straight.  I didn’t have an off button.

When this ten year marathon started I was in my mid twenties.  I thrived on it.  I was invincible.

My older colleagues and mentors tried to warn me.  They explained that I could do it now because I was young.  “It would catch up with me” they stated with the wisdom of painful personal experience.

I was stubborn though.  Besides I received so much positive feedback from the owner and many others.  My dedication, my accomplishment….

My foolishness!

I think the pinnacle of the stupidness was when I would refuse to allow myself to rest when I went on vacation.  I was truly afraid I wouldn’t be able to ramp back up.

I needed the momentum.

All of this potential…all of this effort…all of my combined skills, talents, and enthusiasm were used up selling coffee!  That was the life changing work I was doing.

Don’t get me wrong, coffee is still a must have in my life today, so I do appreciate that I was helping to provide a three state region with incredible coffee, but in God’s eternal view, the effort could have been better spent.

Now that I own my own business and am truly focused on God’s plan for my life, I can no longer work 60 hours a week.

My Definition of Burnout

It’s called burnout.  My analogy for burnout is a rechargeable battery.  You know how rechargeable batteries over time stay charged for less and less time.  Have you experienced allowing your rechargeable battery to completely die and then later you recharge it.  Once it has been totally zapped like that, it never seems to hold the charge as well ever again.

That is me.

I kept going and going and going.  Until I was physically, mentally, and emotionally drained.  When I left the corporate world I remember sleeping just about every weekend away for almost a year.

My body was worn out.  I wasn’t passionate about anything, which really, really bothered me because I was all about passion and purpose (even if it was misdirected at the time).

A New Path

It has been eleven years since this time of completely losing my ability to recharge.

I share this because I don’t want it to happen to you.  God promises us in Romans 8:28 that He will turn all things for good for those who believe.  In His faithfulness He did that for me.

  • He made me get the rest I needed.
  • He renewed my heart and soul to seek things important to Him.
  • He put me on a new path to helping others.
  • He has shown me that His ways include margin and balance.
  • He has taught me the true meaning of passion and re-ignited mine for His Kingdom.
  • He has used me to share about burnout with others, hopefully to help them avoid it.

WARNING:  Are You Headed Towards Burnout

Here are some WARNING signs that you may be on the fast track to burnout:

  • You can’t take time to plan or work on time management….you are too busy and this excuse actually makes sense to you.
  • You are emotionally so invested in the issues and situations at work that they affect your mood and stress level on a daily basis.
  • You feel like you are constantly fighting battles for good and you are the only one who cares.
  • You feel like things will totally fall apart without you and that you can’t slow down because too much and too many depend on you.
  • You are having physical symptoms that you just ignore.  (Mine was my jaw locking up on me.)
  • You realize you are angry and resentful that no one else cares as much as you do.
  • You don’t have time for family and friends or if you make time you are not fully present.  Work and responsibility are constantly on your mind.

If you see yourself in these statements or see the path in front of you, what can you do?  How do I get off of this train?  I will share my personal path, what worked and didn’t work, with you in tomorrow’s post, so please come back!

In the meantime, please share comments with us on your experience with burnout to better help others see it before it comes!


Burnout: 4 Steps to Prevention

Burnout:  A Personal Journey to Recovery

New Life:  This Side of Burnout

Reader Interactions


  1. Loren @ Life of a Steward says

    I can totally identify with your first warning bullet point. It’s so easy for us to go, go, go instead of taking the time to really map out where and how we’re going to get anywhere. It’s so easy for us to lose perspective on the value of planning, goals, and direction. It’s difficult to truly get a quantitative idea of their benefits, so we underestimate them.

    Also, I used to suffer from TMJ – which caused jaw pain and other related problems for me. I was basically “cured” by the material in “The Trigger Point Therapy Workbook: Your Self-Treatment Guide for Pain Relief” by Clair Davies. (Not affiliated with it in any way other than just reading the book.) Basically, it’s about facial self-massage to relieve and prevent the pain. If you have jaw issues, I’d recommend you check it out!

    • S_Miley says

      Loren, I agree that the benefits of planning and setting goals seem at times intangible. I actually wrote another post on the Benefits of Planning because it is one of the things that I believe helps us to avoid burnout and work smarter. At least it did for me. Here is the link to that post if you are interested http://tinyurl.com/29rax9z. Thanks for the suggestion on TMJ. I have been lucky because I changed my life so completely that this isn’t a problem anymore. But as a counselor too, this is a great resource I can share with clients and look to if ever needed. Thanks for your comments.

  2. Mark A. Griffin says

    Sue, I appreciate your analogy for burnout as being similar to a rechargeable battery! I have often tried to think of the right words to describe it, and you did so eloquently! I also appreciate the list of symptoms that you list, this should be very helpful not only to the readers who are suffering from burn out, but for those readers who may need help in identifying symptoms of those who are burning out around them.

    The saddest aspect of watching someone suffer from burn out is many never really see themselves as burning out; they almost do not get it, until it is too late. I challenge all of your readers to make 2011 the best year ever. Be compassionate in your workplaces, do so by helping those around you– especially those who are burning out.

    • S_Miley says

      Mark, I think the reason we don’t see burn out coming is because at that point we are so invested in what we are doing it becomes almost a crusade – not healthy though. In general, I have had to learn to not make work an idol. I love you challenge for others for 2011. Thanks for the comments.

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Sue Miley

Sue Miley MBA, MA, LPC helps small business owners build successful businesses on a foundation of Christian values. After 20 years in business, and 10 years as a Christian counselor, Sue uses a combination of faith, business and psychology to help clients in business and in life.

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