Avoid burnout

Look around you and you’ll see people that are burned out. But, how do you avoid burnout? Most of our troubles come from our own decisions.

The tortoise and the hare

We’ve probably all heard the story of the tortoise and the hare. That epic race is told to our children and they smile. We finish the story with the words, “Slow and steady wins the race.”. Then we tuck our children into bed, tip toe out of the room and go into the living room to get some work done on our laptops. What’s wrong with this picture? Why do we work so hard?

Fear of what others will think

Look at the picture above and ask yourself what you see? The hare looks great. He’s athletic in build and handsome in appearance. He’s what we all want to look like. Now, look at the tortoise. He’s overweight and looks sloppy. He also looks like he’s about to fall asleep. No one wants to look like the tortoise. We all want to look like the hare.

This is baked into traditional American Culture. Those who won’t run fast and hard are lazy and sloppy. The hard working individuals are fit and handsome. We should ascribe to be like the hare. But, we forget the moral of the story. Slow and steady wins the race! We also forget a second lesson from this story. Those fast moving, hard chargers can easily succumb to arrogance. They can begin believing that they are better than the ‘tortoises’ out there.

Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should

I have worked alongside many fantastic educators. Some have worked ridiculous hours in order to add something ‘extra’ for the kids. I remember driving home from an outstanding student production. I looked at my wife and said, “Wow”! That was absolutely fantastic!”. But, I also had an idea of how much work had gone into that production. I know that a great deal of time was taken away from not only the teacher’s family but also from the student’s families.

I had an instructor on staff who would repeatedly extend rehearsals past their scheduled ending time. One day I approached him and asked what his ‘drop dead’ ending time was. He replied, “Well, the more we practice, the better we’ll be!”. I couldn’t argue with that. But, he didn’t think about the parents in the parking lot waiting for their kids.

Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. Beware the phrase, “Wouldn’t it be great if we…”


My wife and I had our first child in 1997. I was in my 9th year as a teacher and I was particularly motivated to be a nationally recognized marching band director. You can’t be a nationally recognized director if you don’t got to nationally sanctioned events. So, I took my band to Bands of America (BOA) Regionals every year.

We had not been doing well but I was determined to succeed. I worked long hours and I pushed the kids hard. The time came for us to travel out of state for a BOA regional competition. My wife traveled with us and brought our 4 month old son with us.

When I’m in “director mode” I can’t concentrate on anything but directing the band. And, that “mode” was more intense on this trip. I wanted recognition badly. So, in essence, I completely ignored my wife and son.

When bands compete, they go through warm ups before the performance. This requires a great deal of walking. And, this event had a number of gravel paths that connected the practice fields. My wife had a stroller and she had to push that stroller through those gravel paths by herself because I was in “director mode”. She also needed to find discreet places to nurse him.

We won our division that morning which meant we could perform in the evening before the awards ceremony. I wasn’t going to miss that. I was high on success! But, as the day wore on, I felt a great deal of negative energy coming from my beautiful wife. When we had a moment to be alone I said, “This is the highest moment of my professional career. Why are you acting like this?”. My insightful wife replied, “Well, it’s the lowest moment of your personal life!”. BAM!

At the crossroads

I had a decision to make. You have a decision to make. And, we don’t make that decision once. We make the choice repeatedly with regard to how much we work. We don’t have to be constantly busy. I address this issue in my review of John Mark Comer’s book on Hurry.

That day I realized that I would much rather have a healthy relationship with my wife and kids than be a nationally recognized band director. I didn’t immediately stop working after school, etc. But, I began trying to see things from my wife’s perspective. I realized that she thought of my work as a mistress.

Who will be there for you?

When you are nearing the end of your life, who will be there for you? I’m a teacher. Will my students be there for me? Will they support my wife and family if I work myself to an early grave? What about your boss? Will your company stick by you through the tough seasons of life?

Family and relationships are better than the rewards of hard work. We know this on a deep level but the amnesia that success brings makes fools of us all.

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