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Lessons For Living: Burnout and Burn On

Burnout and Burn On

There’s nothing like passion to draw people near to you.

When you are vitally alive and on fire, you can set others aflame, warm their hearts, ignite their yearning. People will come for miles to see the fire!

There is nothing like fire that can destroy with such ferocious power, that can burn down the most noble of buildings and projects. The ferocity of the fires in Hawaii are a stark reminder of this, something we live constantly with in Australia. A fire both metaphorically and in reality can burn out the soul of an individual.

We all need a point of passion in our lives, a flame of hope, an ember of continuity.

If you’re a leader of a country or a community, a business or a family, the need is only amplified. When the leader loses hope a community becomes immobilised, a country stagnates and a family is undermined.

Burnout is a real and constant danger not only for leaders, but for all of us at work be it paid or voluntary. In the area of aged care and disability we are only too aware of carer fatigue.

As a community rabbi of many decades, I know how unrelenting the pressure can be and how unforgiving people can be.

There are so many unrealistic expectations of those who work in the not-for-profit industry, chief among them that they are available for everyone at all times. You’re simultaneously a proud bearer of the covenant, God’s caring representative on Earth but then you’re also prone to being seen as a scape goat. Like the hapless eve of Yom Kippur, Kaparah chicken that some Jews elevate above their heads and then swing around by the neck heaping all their sins on. As a rabbi you’re a proud and wonderful father figure, but then you are also subject to all the ambivalence, illusory, idealism, and disappointment, that fathers and mothers are blamed for.

Know the warning, signs of burnout: exhaustion, demoralisation, depression, anxiety, panic attacks, loss of appetite or binging, poor sleep habits, insomnia, excessive alcohol or drug dependence. Or simply a loss of energy for things you would normally enjoy like getting out with friends, going on a walk or hike.

Speaking from experience, even as a seasoned counsellor, sometimes we are the last to recognise what is happening to us - listen for the advice of those close to you at work and home.

Your partner or kids, your friends or your counsellor will know and recognise the signs of burnout even if they don’t call it that.

In order to avoid or counter burnout which can be as bad as b.o (body odour you need a strong deodorant). Here are a few tips to help avoid or process, the active and pleasant deodorant.


  1. Someone to lean on - counsellor or coach, rabbi or mentor, manager or therapist.
  2. Someone to count on - a good friend, a Chaver Tov, says Jewish Tradition, is one of the essentials of a good life.
  3. Someone to depend on - your partner if you are fortunate to have one.
  4. Someone to place your trust in - your family, your pet.
  5. Someone to believe in - Hashem or God is a good starting point for many! Your God or /and spiritual community - will help hold you up. Work at your own soul every day.
  6. Someone to love and know intensely - Yourself! The Bible reminds us you can’t love your neighbour until you love yourself and Shakespeare warns us – to thine own self be true.

Here are some practical things to consider:

  • Your supporters will remind or help you clarify your reason for what you do
  • Exercise regularly
  • There are no prizes for overwork or overweight
  • Giving your best depends on getting your deserved rest
  • Delegate-nobody is indispensable. You can’t be everything to everyone
  • Put effort into at least one friend
  • Find a source of pleasure, a hobby be it intellectual or physical.

I use Moshe or Moses as my model. He was intimately familiar with burnout and cried out at times - ‘How can I carry these people on my own?’ He knew the reality of shattered tablets and broken hearts.

But he burnt on with passion and perseverance till his last day. He could do it because he had a God to call on, a wife and family to depend on and a community to count on.

He who had set the world aflame at the burning bush inspiring compassion and justice left it with the fire still burning in his belly and flaming in his soul.