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The End of Burnout: Why Work Drains Us and How to Build Better Lives
by Jonathan Malesic
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Going beyond the how and why of burnout, a former tenured professor combines academic methods and first-person experience to propose new ways for resisting our cultural obsession with work and transforming our vision of human flourishing. Burnout has become our go-to term for talking about the pressure and dissatisfaction we experience at work. But because we don't really understand what burnout means, the discourse does little to help workers who are suffering from exhaustion and despair. Jonathan Malesic was one of those workers, and to escape he quit his job as a tenured professor. In The End of Burnout, he dives into the history and psychology of burnout, traces the origin of the high ideals we bring to our dismal jobs, and profiles the individuals and communities who are already resisting our cultural commitment to constant work. In The End of Burnout, Malesic traces his own history as someone who burned out of a tenured job to frame this rigorous investigation of how and why so many of us feel worn out, alienated, and useless in our work. Through research on the science, culture, and philosophy of burnout, Malesic explores the gap between our vocation and our jobs, and between the ideals we have for work and the reality of what we have to do. He eschews the usual prevailing wisdom in confronting burnout ("Learn to say no!" "Practice mindfulness!") to examine how our jobs have been constructed as a symbol of our value and our total identity. Beyond looking at what drives burnout--unfairness, a lack of autonomy, a breakdown of community, mismatches of values--this book spotlights groups that are addressing these failures of ethics. We can look to communities of monks, employees of a Dallas nonprofit, intense hobbyists, and artists with disabilities to see the possibilities for resisting a "total work" environment and the paths to recognizing the dignity of workers and nonworkers alike. In this critical yet deeply humane book, Malesic offers the vocabulary we need to recognize burnout, overcome burnout culture, and find moral significance in our lives beyond work.
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Melvil Decimal System (DDC)158.723 — Philosophy and Psychology Psychology Applied Psychology Industrial psychology Job stress Burnout
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The first half of the book is dedicated to defining and delineating burnout as a concept and an experience. Briefly, the gap between our ideals about work and the actual experience of work is what leads to burnout. For many people, work is a path toward self-actualization; but combined with deteriorating working conditions, the persistence of the Protestant work ethic, the idea of work as "a calling," and the pull to always be "on the clock" mentally, work becomes a perfect recipe for burnout. It completely subsumes the self. 'Work occupies not only our time by our psyches, too. We have no way to understand ourselves, and now way to express our humanity, except through our jobs. Even before we burn out, we lose much of our identity and our ability to live a good life." (p. 132)
Malesic shows burnout to be a spectrum. He differentiates between those experiencing burnout without being "burned out" (i.e., they are still doing their job) and being fully burned out and incapable of work. The second half of the book explores remedies and introduces people who have found ways to escape the burnout cycle (spoiler: work less and stop rooting your self worth in your job).
It's been a while since I read a non-fiction book with so much enthusiasm. And while I'm sure much of its appeal was due to my own feelings of burnout, I would recommend this book to anyone interested in refining their understanding of the "burnout epidemic." ( )