How 'Passion Boundaries' Can Protect You From Burnout
June 12, 2019
Finding and pursuing your passion has always seemed like the ultimate end goal.
It’s in how we interact with children (What do you want to be when you grow up?) and it’s on display in the media through stories of people who sacrificed it all for the pursuit of their dreams.
While the ability to follow your passions isn’t expected from everyone (it is a luxury, after all), it’s widely lauded as the hallmark of “making it,” right alongside that white picket fence dream.
The idea that hard work pays off might be true for some, but for a lot of people, hard work also might result in burnout. So much so that burnout was officially classified as an "occupational phenomenon" by the World Health Organization this year.
But there’s more that meets the eye with burnout. Subsets of burnout, like passion burnout, are something that we tend to brush aside. That’s most likely due to the longstanding tradition to fall in line with the pervasive "do what you love" mentality, not to mention the way we tie our passions so closely to our identities.
Surveys show that millennials actually prioritize passion more than previous generations, and while it may feel good, research shows that there can be a hidden downside to that.
According to a recent study out of Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business, employees who are more passionate about their work are more easily exploited by other people in the workplace.
"The findings show that people see it as more acceptable to make passionate employees do extra, unpaid, and more demeaning work than they did for employees without the same passion," according to the study.
Researchers found that this was likely because of two reasons: The first was that people believed work was a reward in itself for a passionate employee, and the second was the assumption that “the employee would have volunteered anyway."
“Our research is not anti-passion,” Jae Yun Kim, one of the study's co-authors, said in a Duke press release about the study. “There is excellent evidence that passionate workers benefit in many ways. It’s simply a warning that we should not let the current cultural emphasis on finding passion in our work be co-opted by the human tendency to legitimize or ignore exploitation.”
Here, a few steps you can take to make sure your passion doesn't turn into burnout.
Set a ‘Passion Boundary’
One of the markers for a healthy relationship—whether it be with a partner, your job, or your hobbies—is your ability to set boundaries. So why shouldn’t the same be applied to your passions, too?
I had this realization when I became burned out on one of my passions: photography. I came to understand that doing the thing I loved too much made it feel like a job that I wasn’t interested in keeping. But when I set up a boundary for my passions, and became more selective about when and where I would whip out my camera, I was able to be more present and keep stress at bay.
Try gauging how you’re feeling then next time you’re doing something you’re passionate about. Checking in with yourself in an honest and frequent way can help you understand if you need to draw the line at times.
Setting boundaries doesn’t mean you must constantly say "no" to people or opportunities. It means being able to discern whether or not a "yes" or "no" is in the best interest of your mental health—and whether or not you’re willing to make that a priority.
Balance Different Types of Passions
Research shows that there are two different types of passion: harmonious and obsessive. Harmonious passion is when you do something simply because it brings you joy, while obsessive passion is when you do something because of external motivations (like achieving a certain status).
When we’re experiencing harmonious passion, we’re able to foster an overall, positive wellbeing. But when we’re solely focused on obsessive passion, we’re more likely to feel anxiety, stress, or low self-esteem if we don’t reach our goals.
Finding a balance between the two different types of passions can help you set boundaries, too. If you feel like you’re leaning towards obsessive passion, try reeling it in by taking away any external value that might be at play and do something just for the pure joy of doing it—even if you’re not that great at it.
Find Your Allies
Being taken advantage of in the workplace is never fun, especially when it's a job you're passionate about. Whether it's in the office or with your own personal passions, finding people to help advocate on your behalf is key to moving forward.
Maybe it's a co-worker who can help get across that your plate is full—or maybe it's a friend who can stand up for you when you're unable. Finding stakeholders in your wellbeing (bonus points if they practice community care!) and having a conversation with them about how you're feeling is one of the first steps you can take towards protecting your energy.
You deserve to savor your passions and feel fulfilled by them—without a side of burnout.
Read next: The Type of Burnout We Rarely Talk About
Today’s recommended meditation: