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In a culture where work can be a religion, burnout is its crisis of faith.
December 27, 2006 1:06 PM   Subscribe

Burnout. [Via.]
posted by homunculus (26 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite

 
Thanks. this is timely for me. and unlike the guy in the article, I don't have any accomplishments to console myself with, but the way he describes the emotions rings true.
posted by jonmc at 1:17 PM on December 27, 2006


Marie Curie hardly burned out. She died at the age of 67, a ripe old age, all things considered, and was passionate about her life's work to the end. If that's a joke, it's a dumb joke.

I really dislike articles like this, which attempt to be educational, clever, entertaining, and insightful, each of those qualities contributing to the drowning of the others like shipwreck victims scrambling over each other's backs. Which are generally what New York Magazine, The New Yorker, and half of the New York Times are composed of.

So it turns out that most people aren't designed to do the same thing over and over again for decades. Is there anyone who is surprised by this?

Sorry to be bitchy, I've been at my current job for 8 months, which means I am one freak-out away from moving to the Midwest and opening a pet food store.
posted by hermitosis at 1:19 PM on December 27, 2006 [2 favorites]


The way it works, too, is that a company lays off some people to cut costs, then asks those remaining to pick up the tasks formerly done by those laid off and to add those new duties to those already held. And that reminds me of concentration camp stories: show you are unwilling or unable to carry out the work and you are the next to be eliminated.

And on the other hand, look at the serious depression some now feel that at say age 40 they are without a halfway decent job and have little or no prospects.
posted by Postroad at 1:20 PM on December 27, 2006


I am one freak-out away from moving to the Midwest and opening a pet food store.

When are you planning on freaking out? If you move the locale to Queens, I'll be your counterguy for spare turtles and kibble.
posted by jonmc at 1:23 PM on December 27, 2006


hermitosis: You misread that if you think he was saying that Marie Curie burned out. He was giving examples in which someone, like the burn-out researcher, suffered a "self-referential fate."

"Being burned out on burnout—now that was rich. Madame Curie died of radiation poisoning; Joseph Mitchell famously developed a 32-year-long case of writer’s block after writing a two-part New Yorker series about a blocked writer; now Farber was suffering the same self-referential fate."
posted by found missing at 1:27 PM on December 27, 2006


I stand by everything I just said, except the part where I called the author of the article, Jennifer Senior, "he."
posted by found missing at 1:30 PM on December 27, 2006


Which are generally what New York Magazine, The New Yorker, and half of the New York Times are composed of.

I so agree. I killed all my subscriptions to New York-titled periodicals years ago and now have a policy of reading nothing but in-flight magazines.
posted by docpops at 1:48 PM on December 27, 2006


He lies. He still gets the New York Post.
posted by cortex at 1:51 PM on December 27, 2006


You're right, found missing. I missed(!) the point.

But really, that doesn't work. Marie Curie didn't die researching radiation poisoning. It's only as self-referential as anyone else who has died on the job. Like when a NASCAR driver dies, say, in a racecar.
posted by hermitosis at 2:12 PM on December 27, 2006


Interesting article, although somewhat shallow in my opinion. While I know this is the NY Magazine, the way the article kept going back to how this affects New Yorkers and no one else was off-putting.

I had to snort at the researcher who said surgeons burn out because, among other things, "patients are more demanding". Yes, I know they weren't expecting me to feel sorry for anyone mentioned in the article, but I could hardly feel a twinge of sympathy for doctors who were expected to deal with a patient who demanded decent care and was well-educated with his/her particular condition.

The other interesting bit was how the studies showed women who had no kids were twice as likely to burn out. The article posits that "It’s much easier to disproportionately invest emotional and physical capital in the office if you have nowhere else to put it."

That was easily the most offensive thing I've read in quite some time. As a woman who chooses not to have children, I find it amusing to be told that I have nowhere to put my emotional "capital" unless I have kids. I'll make sure my friends, family, husband, pets, and social groups are all informed forthwith.

Further, when I worked in an insurance office, I found that women like me who did not have children were expected to take up the slack for women who did. When a co-worker had to leave because of a sick kid, trouble at school, dental appointments, etc., those of us without kids were given their work to do while they were gone. And forget about taking holidays off -- supervisors always told us to not even bother asking for vacation time during certain times of the year, unless we had kids of course. That alone would give any female professional plenty of reason to burn out faster than her child-bearing counterparts.
posted by smashingstars at 2:22 PM on December 27, 2006 [1 favorite]


smashingstarts wrote...
Interesting article, although somewhat shallow in my opinion. While I know this is the NY Magazine, the way the article kept going back to how this affects New Yorkers and no one else was off-putting.

I was about to say. Next time I need to screw in a lightbulb I'll just point the socket at New York and wait for the world to spin around it.
posted by tkolar at 3:11 PM on December 27, 2006


The article had a promising start but -- unlike something for the New Yorker -- flitted off in different directions after that, returning only in the most formal sense to the original topic by the end. I would endorse hermitosis's description (although I would not make it a generalization).

It didn't really offer solutions, either -- she fell back on a mid-life career change to pastoring, which she even admitted was maybe not the best idea. Shame she didn't find that guy who moved to the Midwest to start a pet-food store, and find out how he was getting on.

But then, to New Yorkers, running a church in Jersey is about the same thing ...

There was another missed opportunity with this aside:

According to the New York Bar Association, turnover rates among mid-level associates in this city’s law firms is 36 percent. The whole system is predicated on burnout. Why even bother treating associates well?

I thought of this AskMe comment by Ynoxas:

Everything about medical school, from the ridiculous standards, to the outrageous application fees, to the shocking expense, to the brutal exploitation of students, to the artificial class size restrictions, is purposely designed to depress the supply of docs.

Really, how many professions or companies are really interested in maximizing job satisfaction? There's a mythical man-month issue here -- more dissatisfied people does not mean more overall productivity. So let them burn out and get rid of them. This is probably directly related to US vacation schedules as well.
posted by dhartung at 3:41 PM on December 27, 2006


"I really wanted to finish it so that I could go on to something else. I felt somewhat bored, and somewhat depleted. I’d said all I wanted to say."

I wish more most writers felt that way. Especially college professors ... who can take sabbaticals, so sympathy is deservedly scarce. Most of us have to quit our jobs to get re-acquainted with the feeling that we're still alive.

I've always been a victim of early burnout ... which has kept me from being a specialist in anything. When I try to do something I love for a living, it is ruined. Not in years, in months. It'd be great if there were a pill for that. The only other solution is to find things to do that bring different challenges every day. Too bad I was raised religious; I might have made a great sexworker.
posted by Twang at 3:56 PM on December 27, 2006


Everything about medical school, from the ridiculous standards, to the outrageous application fees, to the shocking expense, to the brutal exploitation of students, to the artificial class size restrictions, is purposely designed to depress the supply of docs.

You wouldn't want it any other way. Just like we hope our pilots can't get licensed after a weekend seminar at the Marriot.
posted by docpops at 4:19 PM on December 27, 2006


I like the picture of the little people made out of matches. Nicely done.
posted by Rubber Soul at 4:30 PM on December 27, 2006


"The light that burns twice as bright burns half as long... and you have burned so very, very brightly, Roy."
posted by kid ichorous at 4:50 PM on December 27, 2006


"[A]ny one of the following six problems can fry us to a crisp: working too much; working in an unjust environment; working with little social support; working with little agency or control; working in the service of values we loathe; working for insufficient reward (whether the currency is money, prestige, or positive feedback). "

Ding! Ding! Ding! Ding! Ding! I hit five out of six! Yippee!

There's also this, a kinda related thing (via Metachat).

Also, I gave my resignation notice yesterday, which sort of feels like an instant cure for burnout.
posted by Absit Invidia at 6:43 PM on December 27, 2006


I often wonder if our parents and grandparents didn't burn out as easily, or if they were just miserable most of the time.

I feel something approaching burnout right now. I started with a new company this year, and next week I'll be loosing over 2 weeks of vacation time that is rightfully mine because I couldn't find enough time to take it. I took most of a week off earlier in the year and regretted it for 3 weeks trying to catch up.

Next year I'll have another 4 weeks of vacation, and I suspect if I take 2 it will be simply a miracle. Rinse, repeat.

I've averaged about a week of vacation the last 8 years, and my industry (healthcare) has very little to almost no holidays, and weekends are not sacred either, so you get in the habit of being "on" 7 days per for going on 8 years now.
posted by Ynoxas at 8:48 PM on December 27, 2006


"[A]ny one of the following six problems can fry us to a crisp: working too much; working in an unjust environment; working with little social support; working with little agency or control; working in the service of values we loathe; working for insufficient reward (whether the currency is money, prestige, or positive feedback). "

Yeah, that's the quote that stuck out for me. Explains why the feeling comes due to insufficient value by perception, not just whether the person did better than 80 % of other people or whatever.

Reminds me of Carlin, paraphrased, "Can't get your needs met? Drop some of your needs!"
posted by Listener at 10:19 PM on December 27, 2006


docpops, I didn't say it was bad. I just wondered if there were similar mechanisms at work even where it wasn't life-critical.
posted by dhartung at 12:05 AM on December 28, 2006


I took most of a week off earlier in the year and regretted it for 3 weeks trying to catch up.

And thate reminds me to tell Twang that, while we college professors can take sabbaticals, the reason we do so is to produce more work than we can produce while "working" So it's not like we get a vacation to relax and recharge.

Anyway, my last two "sabbaticals" saw me come into the office nearly every day.
posted by spitbull at 6:11 AM on December 28, 2006


re: college professors getting sabbaticals--you have to fill out paperwork and show what you accomplished during your "break," usually some sort of work related writing project. And they occur about every six years, and may be only a semester long. So don't get too envious, especially at 48k a year.
posted by craniac at 7:17 AM on December 28, 2006


craniac: Yes, you are correct of course, but there are other benefits.

Right now, I'd have to take about a 50% pay cut to become a professor, and I'd do it without a moment's hesitation, right this second.

Kinda sad when your life's ambition is to be underpaid and underappreciated and you're pissed off when you don't attain it.
posted by Ynoxas at 7:38 AM on December 28, 2006


Some people thrive on stress and many don't. I know a university professor who burned out because he couldn't stand the stress of teaching. He eventually found it impossible to stand up in front of a class. He had to take early retirement and has never taught again.
posted by kissol at 10:47 AM on December 28, 2006


I knew a professor once who stopped teaching and opened a small coffee shop near campus. Unfortunately, his muffins were terrible. Not enough sugar. A mutual friend insisted "muffin man" was fine; he was doing what he wanted to do, after all. But I had my doubts. The coffee shop was generally empty, and he had been a good professor.

As a high school teacher in the Bronx, I can spot the new teachers who won't make it. Usually they're young with high expectations and rhetoric about "making a difference." You can make a difference, but not for everyone, maybe not even for most. You do what you can. The ones who make it see it as a job, not a calling, and that's okay. Burnout's a luxury, really, when you need a job. Course, nine weeks off in the summer help.

I think burnout can be a positive thing, too, a voice telling you to make a change. And the less we listen, the worse the burnout gets. I'm happy I burned out on law school, for instance; I wouldn't have been happy as a lawyer.

I wonder if that professor's still makin' muffins.
posted by pips at 2:41 PM on December 28, 2006


docpops: "You wouldn't want it any other way. Just like we hope our pilots can't get licensed after a weekend seminar at the Marriot."

Bullshit.

Making the process incredibly brutal and expensive has absolutely nothing whatsover to do with the quality of the results.

There's a huge line between the insane levels of overwork that interns and residents go through and "a weekend seminar".

Nothing is gained by working people past the point of exhaustion and a lot is lost. Nothing is gained by excluding talented candidates who cannot afford the six-figure debts that medical school entails.

The standard hospital arguments are deceptions: take "Continuity of care" -- the whole point of the whole medical records system is so the patient won't drop dead at the inevitable moment when the doctor must hand the case off -- patients don't drop dead when their care is handed over to another doctor and in fact patients have higher mortality towards the end of the attending physicians' shifts -- it's like claiming that air traffic controller have to work 16 hour shifts because planes will fall out of the sky when the shift changes.

The previous poster was completely right... it's an arbitrary bootcamp system designed to create a deliberate scarcity of doctors and medical professionals.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 10:15 PM on December 28, 2006


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