3 min read

Burnout in a burning world

Burnt out people aren't equipped to serve a burning planet. What we must do.
Burnout in a burning world
Photo by Almos Bechtold / Unsplash

Sustain issue #20 (Get Sustain in your inbox next Thursday)

Warning: Today, I’m sharing an underdeveloped idea that I take no pleasure in writing about. I’m not 100% sure it's right or even helpful but I’m publishing since I think it’s urgent. And the conversation doesn’t start if it stays in my draft folder forever.

This week, The United Nations panel on climate change released its latest report. It’s a harrowing look at what our planet and lives could be like in the not-so-distant future if the way we live and the energy that powers our lifestyle doesn’t change quickly.

To me, there are two logical ways to look at this:

  1. Complete overwhelm: In the midst of a never-ending pandemic, we have the lingering demise of the planet constantly lurking. It’s enough to feel a crippling level of helplessness and burnout. (Here’s a good list of resources if you’re struggling in this area)
  2. Recalibrate: Revisit how you spend time, who and what you support, and what you spend money on.

Recalibrate to fight climate change

I’m going to spend time here with #2.

My attempt today is to make the case that our global burnout epidemic is connected with climate change. There are, of course, many important factors. However, burnout and climate change are not decoupled from one another.

We’re overworked and overscheduled. And as a result, we’re so low on time and energy reserves that we choose the easy options that keep the economy healthy. But the sum of the parts is sickening our planet.

I’ll use the example of procuring food in this exploration. Today, we don’t have time to go grocery shopping, so we call a car for delivery. We don’t have time to cook so we get pre-made meals shipped or order from a delivery service.  

I realize we’re past the point where you’re going to walk or ride your bike down to a local market to pick up all your food and goods made less than 25 miles away. But, because so many feel burned out from work, it can feel impossible to carve out the mental space and time to plan for a weekly all-encompassing grocery store trip vs. crawling to the end of the day and barely having enough mental willpower to push the button for a Doordash delivery.

And trust me, I do this on occasion, too.  

Again, food is just one easy example. The point is, if we’re expending so much mental capacity in pursuit of the capitalistic definition of ‘success’, we won’t have any in reserve to make the, at times, more cumbersome decision to choose a path with healthier outcomes for the planet. And the healthier outcome for the planet is almost always the healthier outcome for you.

As one of the essays in All We Can Save so aptly summarizes: “Burnt-out people aren’t equipped to serve a burning planet … [so] the well-being of our hearts and souls must be reestablished to their rightful place as relevant, essential.”

At a sustainable pace,


Ready to downsize your relationship with work and quit burnout?

Hi, I'm Grant Gurewitz. I'm on a mission to end burnout at work. I've been in tech for 10 years (ex-Zillow, current: Qualtrics) who suffered deep burnout and came back from it with no help of the hacky advice out there.

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