Burnout culture in academia is harmful—let’s find other ways to measure success

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Crying, feeling numb, having too much going on, being behind in every class, not spending enough time with your friends, wanting to stay in bed all day—we all know the feeling. It’s burnout, and suddenly it’s the norm.

But burnout is dangerous, and it must stop.

The Mayo Clinic defines burnout as “a state of physical or emotional exhaustion that also involves a sense of reduced accomplishment and loss of personal identity.”

There are many implications of burnout, which include poorer physical and mental health, self-isolation, losing interest in previously enjoyable activities, and decreased school performance.

In academia—where burnout culture is particularly present—we may find ourselves praising students who don’t get enough sleep, have too much on their plate, or always take something on when asked, no matter how overwhelming.

We think we’re promoting signs of hard work and dedication, when we’re actually promoting burnout and all of its implications.

We need to stop measuring success by how burnt out or overwhelmed someone feels.

Getting four hours of sleep isn’t the goal. Being so busy you forget to eat isn’t the goal. Taking on extracurriculars to the point where your relationships are suffering isn’t the goal.

Damaging our mental and physical health for our grades shouldn’t be the goal. That isn’t ‘successful,’ it’s stupid.

By placing these unhealthy habits under the guise of hard work and dedication, burnout becomes the goal. We find ourselves encouraging a harmful narrative with long-term consequences.

When it comes to academia, burnout isn’t sustainable in the long run.

At first, it’s ‘gosh I really need this reading week,’ then it’s ‘I need it to be the weekend again,’ until one day you wake up exhausted, unable to be productive—sometimes unable to get out of bed.

Maybe you can push yourself through the week, the semester, the year, but most of us have many years of school ahead. If you’re hoping to pursue any type of graduate degree, you can’t stay burnt out for the next, two, five, 10 years of your life. You won’t make it.

In my experience, keeping myself busy to the point where I can’t catch my breath is dangerous. I won’t survive in academia if I continue like this.

Knowing when to stop, when to say ‘no,’ is an essential quality.

I’ve learned sometimes it’s best to get an extra hour of sleep instead of an extra hour of sleep-deprived studying. I’ve learned when to say no if someone asks me for something outside of my job description‒which I don’t have room for. I’ve learned that as cool as some extracurriculars sound, and as perfect I would be for some positions, sometimes I just can’t do everything.

Being smart and capable isn’t just about showing how far you can push yourself—it’s about knowing when to stop, too.

Violetta is a second-year Health Sciences student and The Journal’s Production Manager.

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