Letting Go of the Belief That You Need to Work Hard

What if you start believing life and work are supposed to be light and fun? Five truths gained from burnout.

by Dora Petrova, February 20, 2024
Five truths about burnout

Life has been a rather harsh teacher this year. So many plot twists, eye-openings, pain, sweat and tears… ego fights and game-changing revelations.

This year, Life has been teaching me humility through slaps in the face.

Here’s what I learned from 3 rounds of burnout. (Yes, I banged my head in the same wall 3 times. But third time’s the charm — I’ve gained an awareness I didn’t have before and that’s what I put into words below.)

By the way, burnout is not the result of “too much work”, so you can’t carry it as a badge of honor. It’s mostly the result of too many unprocessed emotions, conflicting relationships (not just with other people, but with yourself or areas of your life) and the lack of reciprocity/balance between giving and receiving. There’s usually a lot of shame involved and the majority of people suffering from it never talk openly about it. They might think they’re not good enough to handle the things that exhausted them, but it’s not that. They’ve just lost touch with their feelings and went on like this for too long.

One of the things that inspired me to write this article was this post by Evette Dionne.

1. Acceptance

Differentiating between things you can and things you can’t control or change requires quite a bit of self-discipline. There’s hundreds of situations on a daily basis where you need to assess whether this goes into or beyond your scope of influence or responsibility.

Most of us don’t have this habit of assessment. We impulsively rage against things that drive us mad without considering whether we can or would do something about them. But we need to pick our fights, right?

Identifying and accepting things beyond our scope of influence can bring us true peace. Surrendering to this type of experiences helps us grow and become wiser, as it means that we trust Life.

2. Appreciation

Another one of Life’s slaps in the face reminded me that things we don’t acknowledge (and take for granted instead) can disappear in the blink of an eye. It can be your health, it can be someone in your life, it can be your motivation, or anything else that plays a crucial role, but you don’t pay attention and respect to.

Once you put your goals above everything else, everything else starts falling apart.

Be quick to notice that. Simply observe closer what choices you make. What importance you place on different things, and whether there’s balance there. Balance. A notion that overachievers often like to negate and disqualify.

3. Achievement

There’s this popular school of thought saying: “If you really want to achieve something, you’ve got to give it your all.”

The concept of “pushing your limits”, because “there are no limits”, of going “above and beyond” and developing extreme focus on your goals might just lead you to an early grave.

There are limits.

And I’m not talking about limits to what you can achieve if you set your mind to it, but to how far you can go in the pursuit of your goals without damaging and breaking valuable things in your life.

There are costs you might not want to pay. For example, you might not want to pay with your ALL.

See, once you become obsessed with an idea, a passion, or the pursuit of a certain achievement, you give it a lot of space. And there’s only so much space in your head, and in your day.

The moment you focus on one thing, something else gets neglected. It’s the basic principle of trade-offs. The more you focus on one thing, the more everything else gets neglected. The more time passes this way, the higher the price you pay. Because time is the invaluable currency you pay with, and there’s no money-back-guarantee or return options here. Once you’ve paid, your money’s gone. Once you spend another day/month/year this way, it’s gone forever. No one can give it back to you, so you can spend it differently.

4. Awareness

The key here is to make time in your everyday life to be mindful and thoughtful. You’ve got to create the space to do big-picture-thinking and see where things are heading. So, that you can choose consciously and in alignment with your values(that you also need to become aware of first — Andra Nuta helped me and the members of FemGems Club do that). So, that you can determine what is really important to you and steer in its direction.

One of the most decisive things we’re very often unaware of are our feelings and emotions. We live in a society that still considers them a “weakness”, instead of an important messenger. No surprise we don’t know how to deal with them.

Here’s an example of this lack of awareness resulting in a destructive misconception. Tons of posts and hashtags out there are calling you to turn your pain into positive purpose / passion / profit /______ (fill in the blank). “Transform or channel this negative emotion into this productive thing.

Erm, actually, life is much simpler than that.

Pain. Needs. To. Get. Healed.

Anger needs to be expressed, and to physically leave your body.

Resentment and vengeance need compassion and forgiveness.

This talk about “transforming” various negative emotions into something “constructive” that looks like “progress” and “achievement” needs to stop.

Emotions need to be dealt with. Not ignored, suppressed, swallowed, hidden behind a poker face or buried in work. They emerge for a reason. If you take a detour instead of facing them directly, they will confront you where you least expect it. For example, you might realize you’ve achieved so many of your goals and yet feel empty, unfulfilled and unable to stop chasing new ones neurotically. Or you wake up so exhausted one day, that you find yourself not caring about the huge passion you dedicated years of your life to at all.

What happened?

Your parents never gave you enough credit as a child, so you started climbing the corporate ladder seeking that recognition from other authorities? Maybe you started overachieving and yet never getting enough, because you never felt you were enough in the first place?

What actually happened was you were doing this “constructive thing” for the wrong reason.

Our highest point of contribution is at the intersection of the right reason, the right thing and the right time, as Greg McKeown shares in his book Essentialism.

In order to make decisions and operate from a place of clarity, we need to raise our awareness. How? Get a therapist, a mentor, a life coach – get all the help you need to put things into perspective.

(Btw, the books I linked here were recommended by FemGems Mentor Gilles Toussaint — thank you, Gilles!)

5. Action

After you’ve become aware, you can take conscious action. For the overachievers and constantly busy people with never-ending to-do-lists that action might be resting, sitting in stillness, allowing and accepting or reflecting and observing without judging.

See, self-care is not a luxury. It is a priority. And sometimes, it can be as counter-intuitive as:

• pissing people off by prioritizing your well-being over their wishes; 
• facing the ugly truth of why you’ve been doing things the way you have;
• disappointing and loosing clients, or your job; 
• being misunderstood by the ones that don’t practice self-care;
• not performing and not living up to the expectations of your ego;
• rethinking and reevaluating all your beliefs, values and aspirations;
• loosing what you thought was a solid ground beneath your feet;
• feeling guilty, weak and uncertain;
• making decisions beyond your comfort zone;
• surrendering to what is without doing anything to control or change it;
• realizing you’ve been wrong about way more things than you could imagine

but you’ve got to do it!

Whatever self-care looks like for you, you’ve got to do it, because:

You have this one life and the only way you can live it right is to listen to your trueself and your true needs.

Only when you take real care of yourself, you can take good care of others.

Only if you stay true to what’s dear and important to you, you’ll be able look back on your life with no regrets.

Only when you have the courage to admit you’ve been wrong, to leave your comfort zone and look the truth straight in the eye, you’ll grow and evolve.

Because only you know what’s going on inside of you and have the full responsibility to meet your needs.

Another action you might want to consider could be letting go of the belief that you need to work hard. What if life’s a beach?

What if you decide to do only things that are enjoyable for you and delegate or commit to always get help with the rest? What if you start believing life and work are supposed to be light and fun?

What if you choose to be happy no matter the circumstances and take full responsibility for that? What if the only goal you pursue is to feel good?

How do you think your world would change? What results are you going to achieve? Will you dare to try it out with me?

About the Author

Dora Petrova

Dora Petrova is the founder of FemGems. She is passionate about personal development, social impact and female leadership.