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“Do what you love, and you’ll never work a day in your life.”
A saying—by the great unknown—that has been circling the internet and inspiring many for years.
It sums up an ideal situation: Find a job that aligns with your values, and it won’t feel like a job at all. Sounds amazing—in theory. However, following this wisdom might actually affect you in worse ways.
Doing what you love and pouring all your energy into it may be the key to someone’s happiness, but sometimes when you take what you love—like a passion for painting, writing, or photography—and turn it into a 24/7 job, it takes away the fun of what led you to it in the first place.
Instead of finding joy whenever you are faced with a blank canvas, or when you’re picking up your camera, your outlet becomes an energy-sucking, all-consuming endeavor. Many people start losing sleep or getting frustrated and overwhelmed—but most of all, they feel stuck! They’re chasing their dream, but they don’t seem to feel happy.
It turns out many creatives and entrepreneurs experience a certain degree of burnout that we rarely talk about: passion burnout.
Burnout was first coined by psychologist Herbert Freudenberger in the 1970s, and back then, it applied to professions that serve others, like doctors and nurses. Today, burnout is widely accepted as the consequence of severe stress that can be experienced by anyone, and it can differ in experience from person to person.
Passion burnout is a very real thing, shared across generations. It’s when the axiom “Do what you love” goes totally haywire and you end up dreading the thing you fell in love with because of mental and/or physical exhaustion.
It’s when you go hard—but don’t necessarily go home, ever.
In 2016, researchers dived deep into whether or not certain levels of passion impacted how employees experience burnout. Their study broke down passion into two different types: harmonious passion and obsessive passion.
“Harmonious passion” is when your work is motivating you because it brings a certain level of pride and contentment. Those who experience harmonious passion find their work to be a key part of them, yet they still reported they found time to take breaks outside of their day-to-day hustle.
On the other hand, obsessive passion occurs in people who were not necessarily passionate about their work itself, but rather passionate about the status, money, or other rewards that the work may lead to.
Their research showed that those who found themselves falling under the obsessive passion category experienced burnout more than those under harmonious passion.
If you feel like you’ve shifted from a harmonious passion to an obsessive passion, don’t worry, you can recover from it—but it takes time and work.
Here are some ways to recover from—or avoid—passion burnout:
Remind Yourself of Your “Why”
It’s easy to get lost in the hustle every day. Take a step back to remind yourself of why you have a passion for that particular thing. This is a key to shifting to a more harmonious state.
Try remembering the beginning, when you first discovered your passion, and write down the feelings you experienced. Hold on to these feelings and try to find ways to spark them once more in your life.
It’s also important to note why you are feeling burned out. Is it work, a hobby, a side hustle, or even a relationship with a partner or friend? Write down the negative feelings you may have toward that thing that is overwhelming, and, without judgment, notice what may have tipped you into burnout.
It could be skipping sleep to finish a project, working 24/7 and not having any time for friends and family, feeling like you’re putting work and effort into a relationship but not feeling it being reciprocated. These things can result in feeling sluggish, cranky, or not energized.
This should be a sign for you that you need to make a change, even if it may feel productive at the time.
Finding Balance and Saying “No”
A certain level of obsessive passion can come in handy, like when starting a side hustle. However, it’s important to keep other things as you grow your side hustle. It’s important to actively rein in your energy when you feel like you’re spread too thin.
This is where your “no” needs to set your boundaries.
That might mean saying “no” to yourself.
Sure, you’d love to work on that painting or continue editing for 14 hours—but if it means sacrificing taking care of yourself, it’s best to say “no” and/or dial back your plans to create more balance.
By saying no and creating balance, you’re ensuring that you’ll have time to take breaks and prioritize other areas of your life that might need attention too.
Comparison Will Kill Ya
Have you ever scrolled down your feed and felt bad at the sight of other people living out their dreams with what seems like so much ease?
Remind yourself that social media is a highlight reel. Maybe your friends thrive on the 80-hour work week, but that doesn’t mean you have to force yourself to do the same. Balance looks different for all of us, so does acting on our passions.
Whenever the thought of “I need to work as hard as them” creeps in, try focusing on your small wins. Shifting your thoughts into positive ones can combat the slippery slope of negative thinking that burnout can cause.
Sleep Over Everything
When we don’t get enough sleep, every small challenge can feel 10 times worse than it is in reality. Sleep helps us think clearer, and studies have proven that little sleep is a direct factor of burning out—fast.
Take time to optimize your sleep schedule by creating an evening routine—maybe a cup of tea before bed or reading a chapter of a book. Whatever works for you, then stick to it. This can help you wake up with a more focused mind and a healthier outlook.
You can run on passion, but you can’t run on passion alone. Take small breaks from the thing you love to help you sustain your passion and not derail it—and you.