Can You Get Ahead Without Burning Out?

burning out to get ahead


Shannon at Financially Blond had a post earlier this week about how she had taken on too many projects and was Running On Empty. She is in the early stages of self employment and feels like she can’t say no to projects, just in case one of them might be the golden ticket.  I can relate 100%. When I was trying to run a two office practice, work a second job, and start a blog, 5 hours of sleep each night would have seemed like a luxury. While I knew it was not forever, it was still really stressful. There were days when I would have rather poked my eyes with forks than look at a computer. Isn’t there an easier way ? Can you get ahead without burning out?

The Easy Way

Actually, there is an easier way. It’s called spending less than you earn from day one. In this scenario, we would have started maxing out our retirement accounts from the first jobs we ever had and never spent more than we earned. We would have never gotten into debt or lived beyond our means. In this case, we didn’t have to take out student loans to get an education and our housing costs remained affordable. This also requires that we have steady, reliable jobs that don’t make us want to poke forks in our eyes.  If we’re smart enough and fortunate enough to do that, we’ll be able to retire comfortably someday without really having to do anything extra.

I Have To Do What?

If you’re like me, maybe you didn’t get those directions until you were already hopelessly lost. In that case, I”m sorry but you probably will have to work until the point of burn out. If you are in debt, chose the wrong career, or just want to do something every day that makes you feel alive, you’ll have to go get it. It isn’t going to fall into your lap on a silver platter. I know the thought of coming home after a full time job to several more hours of work is not appealing in the least, but it does have it’s advantages.

The upside to working like a crazy mad person was that it allowed us to pay off our credit card debt once and for all. Since then, I’ve sold my practice and am not in the office as much, but I still hustle just about every day because I’ve seen what can happen if you work hard enough. I am bound and determined to leave my optometry career within 10 years. That doesn’t mean I won’t ever look at an eyeball, but I’ll do it because I want to, not because I have to. Being able to do this requires continual focus on the long term goal and taking advantage of opportunities that come up, even if it means I won’t be watching Law and Order marathons on Netflix. It also means I might fail or change course, but those are minor setbacks not game enders.

I’m not alone. Almost every blogger I know has the same mentality. We are always making room for one more project even when there isn’t a nanometer of room left. It is important to know your limits. I can work really hard for several days in a row if I know I can take a few days off. I also do much better when I feel like my family is taken care of. If I neglect cooking, cleaning, or spending time with them to complete a job, that’s not a win in my book. You also need to take time for yourself. For me that means getting up early to exercise or reading a book later at night after everyone has gone to bed (sleep just doesn’t rank high enough I guess!). Burnout is inevitable. It’s how you deal with it that counts.

When Is It Ever Enough?

I can’t answer that because I’m not there yet. We made a big step earlier this week that gets us much closer to our long term goal of financial independence (more to come later), but it is going to require major work in the mean time. I feel like we’ve done this a few times before, and we’ll do it again until we don’t need to anymore.Many of you are in the same boat with with side hustles, growing businesses, or new jobs. I’m hoping that there will be an end point when I know enough is enough, and then, I’ll stop working so hard.

That being said, I’ll probably never be one to sit around and do nothing all day. I can see myself slowing down, and I’ll embrace that when the time comes. I will also say that I never feel quite as alive as when we make a huge step toward the future that we want. If I was bound to the 9-5 for another 30 years, I don’t think I’d ever get to experience that feeling.

So I guess the answer to my question, “Can you get ahead without burning out?‘ is no. I think you have to experience some burn out in order to appreciate the payoff. Maybe I’m too much of a martyr, but that’s how I see it.

Do you think it’s possible to get ahead without burning out? How do you try and balance the need to work harder versus taking time for yourself?

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Written By
Sydney White is a Texas-born stay at home mom who enjoys spending time with her family, bargain hunting and, of course, writing. She is currently the editor-in-chief of


  1. I believe that in order to maintain our creativity and open up avenues of synchronicity,

    I must spend time “filling the well” as Julia Cameron puts it in “The Artist’s Way.” I stop doing what I “should” do, and I do what intrigues me and is just plain fun. It could be taking a hike with my dog (Blackie, the Wonder Dog), going to an improve show, giving a speech at Toastmasters, or hanging out in a bookstore reading books.

    1. I think we do that, just probably not as often as we should. I think that’s why I always need some sort of trip planned, even if it’s months away. I’m OK to work harder if I know something fun is on the horizon.

  2. I must admit I really struggle with this whole trade-off of ‘work-like-crazy-now-to-work-less-later’ and ‘enjoy the moments / stop to smell the roses etc etc’. When I do slow down for too long I start feeling flat and miss the feeling of accomplishing something and adding value to the world. But when I’m flat out I sometimes worry I’m not putting my time into areas that align most with my values. Not that I’m afraid of hard work, I just fear the slippery slope of lifting my head up in 10 years and realising ‘oops, that really wasn’t the path I wanted to take’. I think as long as your making progress every day to some important goals – whether financial (early retirement) or personal (spend time with my wife and daughter every day) – you can’t have too many regrets.

    1. No regrets is a wonderful way to live and something I strive for every day, even if it is a huge challenge to find balance.

  3. This is a tough one for me to take a stance on. I pride myself on my work ethic, and I always strive to go above and beyond, and that can (and has) led to burnout. I don’t enjoy stressing myself out, though, so I do scale back when I start to feel overwhelmed. Of course, I do what I need to to earn a living, but I won’t sacrifice my sanity to do it. Then again, I think we all have different breaking points, and I know some people would have no problem taking on double of the amount of work I do. I’m hoping that a combination of hard work and cutting expenses will be enough for us to get ahead financially!

    1. I feel like I do quite a bit and then run into people who do twice as much, and I do feel like a slacker. I should be glad about our progress and only worry about myself.

  4. I’ll be the lazy one of the group. I’ve burned myself out before and I don’t think it really helped me get ahead. I try to focus on making our lives simpler now instead. Even though it’s added a few years onto our FI date, I think we prefer to have a happier ride to get there.

    1. I think I burn out when I feel like I’m not making forward progress. When I worked all the time on my practice without a ton of return, it was burn out city. I feel like life is much more dynamic now and I don’t mind working harder.

  5. I don’t think it’s possible. Even if you got really “lucky” and got some ridiculous job at a young age like a pro athlete, you probably dedicated a ridiculous percentage of your time to get to that point and once you’re there you need to continue to dedicate even a higher percentage of your time to keep your spot. I think it’s best to just work as hard as you can until you are “just near” burnout. At least if you have big goals and ambitions for your life.

  6. I know for me I’m not built for burnout, meaning it can happen really fast and have a huge negative affect on me if I’m not careful. Im built for balance. I don’t know how some of my “industry” counterparts an work on a tv show for months at a time and be there from 6am to 10pm every day, then think they can just catch up on sleep for a couple months in the summer. I need daily balance or else my body falls apart. The point being, if burnout is what it takes to get ahead, then may I never get ahead.

    1. I don’t need balance every day, but I try to slow down at least one day on the weekend. We all need to know our limits.

    1. I try to look at the long term payoff. I don’t mind being to the point of burnout if it gets me to the place we want to be.

  7. Great post Kim and thank you for mentioning mine! I think about this a lot myself, obviously, and for me it just comes down to my work ethic. I don’t really have many speeds other than fast and chill. However, in my mind, I run hard so that I can chill more and I hope to do more chilling as I get older so I won’t feel quite the pressure to run so hard. Truthfully, I really just love what I do and I love challenging myself. I just need to stop and take more breaks along the way.

    1. Fast and chill! I love it. I will work like mad until Thursday so I can take Friday really slow. There isn’t much medium speed in our house either.

  8. Well you know that I definitely work a lot and had to in order to climb out of the pile of debt I had. I still have the workaholic/hustler mentality even though I don’t need to work as hard – I feel like it’s in my DNA! I just can’t seem to sit still and do absolutely nothing most of the time but I am learning that it’s ok and healthy to relax a little more.

    1. It is important to relax, but I also do not want to not put every effort toward goals now so we can have time to do what we want later.

  9. I’m probably not the best person to talk about not burning out… I do tend to burn the candle on both ends, as it were. I really enjoy everything I’m working on (sometimes not so much my 9-5 job), but, it’s all part of the process for me right now. It helps that Mr. FW and I have really defined goals and timelines. Without that, I think I’d be much more prone to feeling burned out. I was actually thinking of making a list of the things I’ve given up in favor of hustling towards financial independence and I realized that most of them are things I don’t need anyway (like watching TV, painting my nails, bathing… kidding on that last one. Most days anyway 🙂 ).

    1. It is funny how many things that you originally feel you’ve given up turn out to be not that important at all. I think I’d give up gift giving of all types if we didn’t have a kid.

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