As young professionals hit the job market, many of the best and brightest are willing to do whatever it takes to achieve the career success they've envisioned for themselves. However, if you told them that such an overzealous approach to their jobs would leave them burned out within 10 years, they might reconsider their draining work habits.
In a recent article for The Guardian, Howard Awbery wrote that while this overwhelming sense of exhaustion can be experienced at any point in a fast-paced, high-stress career, many cases of burnout occur within the first 10 years of employment. His research revealed that the majority of burnout cases are experienced by 20- to 30-year-olds in the workplace, especially those who pride themselves on being high performers.
Awbery, who is writing a book on corporate burnout, is careful to establish from the outset that burnout is not just a high level of stress. "It is a complete inability to get out of bed, an inability to function, tie shoelaces or choose what clothes to wear; an incapability to undertake work of any capacity; an addictive, overwhelming exhaustion; a condition resulting in disillusionment and a dysfunctional attitude towards work, colleagues and family," he wrote.
In today's high-achieving culture, the potential for burnout can begin as early as high school when students are pushing tirelessly to get into the best colleges that will, in turn, help them secure the best jobs. It's almost impossible to resist the "do more" mentality, overworking for the sake of proving dedication or getting ahead. But this work tactic ultimately leads to the opposite of success for some of the most talented people in the workforce.
Burnout doesn't necessarily appear in one dramatic crash. A downward spiral can occur over time. According to Awbery, the early signs can range from a substantially weakened immune system to increased consumption of caffeine, painkillers and alcohol. Additionally, the person experiencing burnout is often in denial of their situation, failing to make adjustments and care for themselves before it's too late.
But the blame can't just be placed on high achievers. We live (and work) in a 24/7 world, creating an environment that breeds such expectations. We receive both verbal and nonverbal signals that overtime is not just acceptable but expected. Many of us are constantly "on," which clearly takes a serious toll on us mentally and physically over time. Despite these circumstances, we shouldn't come to accept burnout as a symptom of ambition.