Burning out is not a growth hack.

Joan Westenberg
7 min readJan 15, 2024

When did we all start believing that overwork is the way to success, that anything less than being pushed to the edge of what is personally possible equates to not even trying?

It’s widely accepted in today’s world, and it’s incredibly dangerous and unhealthy. I’m going to tell you something that I know to be true.

Hustle is essential, but the hustle isn’t worth a damn thing if the hustler has collapsed from exhaustion. I’ve seen that repeatedly from young founders and seasoned entrepreneurs who have bought into the hustle-as-existence mentality. These folks work 12-hour days, seven days a week, grinding it out to make their creative careers happen, losing a little bit of themselves with every passing second.

The accepted truth is that if they punish and push themselves to the absolute max, the universe will reward them with success, and that’s bulls**t.

Do you know what’s going to happen?

They’ll fall apart. They’ll become just another series of burned-out wrecks who lost it all on the way to the top. We’ll all pass them by, shake our heads sadly, and say, what could have been?

The endless all-nighters aren’t going to tip the scales in their favour. The interminable five AM starts don’t make them a well-oiled machine. And no matter how many times they tweet about being better than the rest of us, it won’t make their lifestyle more appealing.

Designer Scott Berkun talks about the unglamorous nature of burnout.

“Burnout means you’ve pushed your creative energy beyond the point of recovery. Like a well of water, creative energy replenishes itself slowly over time. A person who has pushed their creativity well too hard for too long will, like its watery counterpart, one day find it empty. Usually, by the time you notice something is seriously wrong, there’s little energy left to work with.”

When you’re on empty, there’s nowhere else to go. There’s nowhere to turn to. There’s no backup plan for running yourself completely dry, and there’s no life hack that’s going to solve it. The way we idolize burnout levels of input and output is incredibly harmful. It’s impossible to do great work, to build your career, and to do it…

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