Burnout: Modern Affliction or Human Condition?
I enjoyed Jill Lepore’s recent article on burnout in The New Yorker:
Burnout is a combat metaphor. In the conditions of late capitalism, from the Reagan era forward, work, for many people, has come to feel like a battlefield, and daily life, including politics and life online, like yet more slaughter. People across all walks of life—rich and poor, young and old, caretakers and the cared for, the faithful and the faithless—really are worn down, wiped out, threadbare, on edge, battered, and battle-scarred. Lockdowns, too, are features of war, as if each one of us, amid not only the pandemic but also acts of terrorism and mass shootings and armed insurrections, were now engaged in a Hobbesian battle for existence, civil life having become a war zone.
Lepore argues for cultural and economic origins for burnout, which make for a useful lens through which to study the phenomenon. Personally, I think the burnout really is a manifestation of depression, specifically of high-functioning depression coupled with exhaustion. Lepore touches on this, too.
Burnout still feels like its own thing to me, because I experience the feeling at my desk during the work day. Fortunately, I have learned (or am still learning) to slow down and demand less of myself, and of those around me, when I am feeling burnt out.