A Simple Solution to Millennial Burnout

Society has primed us to care about ego and status. Here’s how to get past that.

Brad Stulberg
May 30 · 7 min read

Control Your Passion so It Doesn’t Control You

Psychologists break passion down into two types. Harmonious passion is when you are enthusiastic about something because you love doing it. Obsessive passion is when you are excited about an endeavor because you love the external validation and recognition it brings. This is the difference between loving writing (harmonious passion) and loving all the retweets, likes, and buzz your writing brings (obsessive passion). Research shows that the former is associated with lasting performance and overall life satisfaction; whereas the latter is associated with anxiety, depression, and burnout.

I don’t think the problem is the work itself. It’s the addiction to ego, relevance, and self-worth that gets linked to the work and that our culture implicitly and explicitly promotes.

I catch myself slipping into obsessive passion all the time. As a writer, the allure of the measurable validation that the internet offers (followers, book-sales, retweets, clicks on articles) is strong. I almost always feel burnout coming on when I spend more time working on, worrying about, and checking this peripheral stuff than doing the core work — in my case, the writing — itself.

  • Don’t judge yourself against others. Judge yourself against prior versions of yourself and the effort you are exerting in the present moment.
  • Focus on process over outcomes. Evaluate yourself not on whether you accomplish an external end-goal but rather on how well you execute the process of going for it.
  • Regularly reflect on mortality. Think about the fact that you are going to die. This tends to make very clear what actually matters and is worth spending time on. It’s probably not increasing your social media footprint.

Prime Yourself for Flow

One of the best sources of nourishment and love is flow, or the state of being totally in the zone, completely immersed in whatever it is you are doing to the point that the distinction between you and it disappears. The peak of flow is basically self-transcendence. But you don’t get there if you are worried about your ego.

A few core principles support harmonious passion and flow over the long-haul. If you cultivate and nourish them, you become much less likely to be blown around by the changing weather patterns of your life.

I’ve found that one of the best resets is spending a day (or more) in nature without any devices and with no plans to share your experience publicly upon your return. It’s also helpful to set aside regular blocks of time to do the work you love without distraction. At first this might be really hard, especially if you’re in the habit of constantly looking outward for little pulses of feel-good validation. You may even feel some anxiety. Just keep at it. Eventually you’ll realize that deep work is the conduit to flow and the lasting satisfaction and fulfillment it brings.

Lay Down Roots That Keep You Grounded

A few core principles support harmonious passion and flow over the long-haul. If you cultivate and nourish them, you become much less likely to be blown around by the changing weather patterns of your life. Think of these principles as the deep roots that sustain lasting performance and wellbeing. Adopting and nourishing them can be challenging because they run counter to so many of the prevailing cultural forces. But it’s worth the effort.

  • Be present. Being there, both physically and mentally, for what is in front of you. Being fully in this life, not in thoughts about the future or the past.
  • Be patient. Giving things time and space to unfold; not expecting instant results and not quitting when they don’t happen. Going from being a seeker to a practitioner. Staying focused on what matters instead of perpetually chasing the next bright and shiny object.
  • Embrace your vulnerability. Eliminate the cognitive dissonance between your workplace self, your online self, and your actual self. This builds trust in yourself and gives you the freedom to devote your energy to what matters most to you.
  • Prioritize true belonging. Nurture genuine connection, the supportive space where life unfolds, through ups and downs. True belonging to even just a handful of close family members, friends, and neighbors is far more powerful than virtual or workplace celebrity.

The Mission

A network of business & tech podcasts designed to accelerate learning. Selected as “Best of 2018” by Apple. Mission.org

Brad Stulberg

Written by

Write and coach on health and human performance. Author of the new book THE PASSION PARADOX (https://t.co/mjijQQ3kvx) and bestselling PEAK PERFORMANCE

The Mission

A network of business & tech podcasts designed to accelerate learning. Selected as “Best of 2018” by Apple. Mission.org