When You Can't Go On: Burnout, Reckoning and Renewal

When You Can't Go On: Burnout, Reckoning and Renewal print $20,
( Kindle edition $9.95, audiobook (90 pages, 2022)
When I burned out, what I wanted but could not find was a practical guide by someone who had experienced burnout themselves. None of the material I found spoke to what I was experiencing or to my sense that our economy is now optimized to burn people out.

I decided to write the guide I wanted but could not find. This is my experience of burnout, reckoning and renewal.

I am not an expert in burnout, I am only an expert in my own burnout .

This book is my account of what helped me. The intended audience is other burnouts and those who want to better understand the experience of burnout.

Burnout is a life-changing experience in a good way , as absurd as that may sound to those in the depths of burnout. To paraphrase Samuel Beckett: I can’t go on but I must go on. There is a way forward.

Read the first chapters for free (PDF) .

The Epidemic Nobody Talks About: Burnout


I’ve burned out twice, once in my early 30s and again in my mid-60s. What I wanted but could not find was a practical guide by someone who had experienced burnout themselves. In the mid-1980s, there were few resources. When I burned out again in 2018, there were numerous books and articles, but none spoke to my feeling that burnout was more than overwork, or to my sense that our society and economy are the kindling that ignites burnout.

I decided to write the guide I wanted but could not find, a guide to burnout as an intensely profound experience, an experience those who haven’t burned out cannot fully understand.

You may find that my experience is different from yours; this is to be expected, for burnout differs with individuals, circumstances and age. What’s universal about burnout is that it is a gift of life, an opportunity to look deep within ourselves and an opportunity to change. In the depths of exhaustion, despair and depression, it feels like a curse. But the more profound the gift, the greater the difficulty in understanding and making use of it.

The story about the desert traveler who comes across a hoard of gold coins comes to mind. To maximize the amount of gold to be carried away, the traveler dumps the food and water from his pack and sets off, empowered by the shimmering dreams of all the luxuries and status the gold would buy. Long before reaching the glittering bazaar where gold reigns supreme, the traveler realizes the real treasure was the water and food that he foolishly dumped, for his life depended not on gold but on what he had tossed away.

This book is organized to first offer a hand to hold for those experiencing burnout: you are not alone; I’ve been in the same place and got through it. So have many others. There are no miracle quick cures (at least to my knowledge), but perhaps reading about my experiences may help in small ways. Over time, small things add up and we feel better.

The second part is intended to help those who want to explore the sources and lessons of burnout. Burnout is a life-changing experience, in a good way, as absurd as that sounds to those in the depths of burnout.

This is my personal account of burnout. I am not a therapist, psychologist, psychiatrist or physician. Those professionals can all provide help; that’s what they are trained to do. This is not an expert’s clinical guide to burnout, or a survey of the literature on burnout. It is not intended as advice or guidance. I am simply sharing one individual’s experience of burnout, reckoning and renewal, and what helped me.

Table of Contents

Chapter One: My Experience of Burnout
Chapter Two: Triage
Get Help
How Long Will It Take to Get Through This?
Make a Simple Recovery Plan
What Helped Me
Chapter Three: Why We Burn Out
Chapter Four: Burnout’s Hidden Complexities: It’s Not Just Work
What Healthcare Misses
The Economy ‘s Role in Burnout
Our Individual Complexities
Our Social Complexities
Loss of Meaning
Summary of Complex Sources of Burnout
Chapter Five: How Do We Feel Good About Ourselves?
Chapter Six: How Did Work Become the Primary Source of Self-Worth?
Chapter Seven: Running on Empty
Chapter Eight: What Changed?
Seasons of Life
Devil’s Pacts
Our Economy’s Devil’s Pact
Summary of What’s Changed
Chapter Nine: Acquiring Yourself
Chapter Ten: Silence and Listening
Chapter Eleven: Life Beyond Burnout
Four Goals
Taking Care of Ourselves
Tapping Our Enthusiasms
Identifying Our Sources of Burnout
Gaining Control of Our Life
Where We Are Now

Read the first chapters (free PDF)

Copyright 2022 Charles Hugh Smith all global rights reserved in all media. No reproduction in any media in any format without written permission of the author.
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