When Values Are Misaligned: A Recipe for Burnout

When I was growing up, kids played M.A.S.H. If you’ve never heard of the game, it was like a fortune telling version of, amongst other things, what kind of dwelling you would end up in. You could get a Mansion, Apartment, Shack, or House. Other such categories included a life partner, the number of kids you would have, what kind of car you would drive, and what career you would work in.

Back in the ‘80s when my elementary school friends played the game, everyone wanted to work in either the entertainment industry (i.e., actress or singer) or in the lucrative industries (i.e., doctor or lawyer). While being famous was an obvious draw, the more practical solution was to be rich and there was a clear line between certain careers and #financialsuccess.

Although the medical and legal fields were popular with my peers, I never thought of entering either of these industries. It’s not that I wasn’t interested in money. It just wasn’t what I wanted to do. Fast forward by about three decades: I ironically ended up working with many people in these fields for an unforeseen reason: they were burning out.

High Pressure Burnout

It is estimated that one in two doctors experience #burnout on the job. While fewer statistics about burnout exist for lawyers, these professionals often exhibit clear burnout symptoms including substance abuse issues.

It is clear that these high demanding careers can lead to burnout due to those grueling hours and high expectations which sometimes emanate from the industry and sometimes from the high achiever in those industries. What needs to be examined, though, is why individuals are drawn to those careers and what can be done to prevent burnout.

Examining Values

As a coach, I often want to know about #values. We all have them, but we’re not always aware of how they drive us and sometimes we focus on a select few while we ignore the rest.

When we were playing M.A.S.H as kids, we likely didn’t know much about any singular profession, but we knew what adults had drilled into our heads: be a doctor or a lawyer. These were considered respectable professions. This is what you did with your life if you were smart. There is prestige associated with these trajectories, not only for the work that you do, but for the journey you have to take to get there. In addition, once you made it, wads of cash would apparently start falling on you from the sky.

As kids we knew money was a good thing. You could use it to buy things with. Those with money had more options and options were good to have. You never wanted to be the kid whose family didn’t have money because you couldn't allow yourself all the luxuries of life that your friends got to experience. And if that’s how you grew up, you wanted to make sure this didn’t continue for the rest of time. For the lucky ones who came from more financially secure homes, there was more of an expectation to be accomplished and make your parents proud.

Surely, everyone has a different reason for why they enter in the career of their choosing. But when we start the #coaching process, we want #clarity. And by focusing on values, we get a better understanding about what drives the individual’s decision-making process.

What are the values that led you to pursuing this career? Are they the same values that keep you there? These are important questions. Some people might go into a career with passion and idealism, but then find that while it is lucrative, it is also soul crushing. As much as they would like to make a career move, they sometimes feel lost. How else will they be able to support their lifestyle? Any other career would likely mean a serious pay cut. So while altruism may have gotten them there, money is the value that might keep them in the game.

What happens if your personal values are different from those of people in your profession? I recently interviewed a lawyer who shared that as a junior lawyer, he was taught that he needs to put in 2500 hours over the course of 10 years. This would help him make partner, he was told. This is the culture and if you don’t follow the norm, you’re considered “subpar.” Talk about pressure.

A mismatch in values is one of the reason why professionals burn out. It’s important for you to take a long hard look at why you do what you do and if it isn’t working for you, consider alternatives. And yes, sometimes these changes will require a change in lifestyle, at least in the short-term, but you have to look at what the cost is of staying in your profession.

Stress As A Result Of Mismatched Values

If you’re burning out because of your values being out of sorts, you are at risk for experiencing chronic #stress and developing stress-related issues. This can negatively affect your health in many ways including a greater risk for developing 41 different autoimmune diseases! Researchers reported that men who had diabetes, heart disease, or a history of stroke and who worked in high demand jobs over which they had little control over their workload, were 68 percent more likely to experience premature death.

Stress can also manifest cognitively. You know what it’s like when you have so much on your mind that you can’t turn the damn thing off? You try to get to #sleep, but your brain is doing a marathon. You review your day and worry about all that you have coming up the following morning. When you think about another ‘to do’ item, you don’t want to forget it, so you spend hours rehearsing it in your head. The next thing you know, it’s time to wake up. You try to peel yourself off the sheets and you feel the dread of facing another day at the office. So while stress may keep you from getting proper sleep, ironically, when you don’t sleep you experience further symptoms like irritability and difficulty concentrating. Just when you needed to focus and get more done, you experience brain fog.

A Balanced Life

Values encompass different areas of our lives. We have work-related values such as autonomy, financial stability, or finding a sense of meaning. Family-related values may include spending quality time with loved ones, helping one another, and being a role-model for your children. Health-related values include feeling good physically, being in control of your emotions and behaviors, and experiencing peace of mind.

As you can guess, focusing on the various areas of our life is vitally important. We don’t have to pick one area to focus on. In fact, it is when we focus on just one area that we have great #success in that area and experience failures in all the rest. If you’re looking for a true measure of success, it might entail living a more #balanced life. This is why we delve into values for the various life areas.

While you have your personal values, your workplace has values of its own. In today’s day and age, the way to get ahead is to work more. When we prioritize our family, it creates conflict. We can no longer rely on our bosses to remind us to go home at the end of the day. It is our job to be mindful of our time, our commitments, and make informed decisions that are value-driven. Otherwise, we experience #guilt for having a life outside of work. We believe that we ‘should’ be working, even when we’re at home.

If you’re chasing a paycheck, reflect on “what’s beyond the money?” Is it family life, serving the community, or being a good friend? Remember that money is a means to an end. When we get too caught up in financial goals, sometimes we forget that life is more than a contest and that we get the most value out of relationships, not material goods. You likely need less money than you think to live a happy and meaningful life. Money is a tool, but you have to be guided by a deeper vision of what that money can provide you with and be sure to live with integrity.


We are sometimes compelled to a certain line of work because of a particular value that we hold. Once we make it through all our schooling and start working, we learn that our profession may entail elements that aren’t right for us. If you’re feeling burned out, it is time to reassess your values and ask yourself what really matters to you most. Are you living by your values or are you staying in your career because you don’t see a way out? If so, it might be time to seek help so you are better aligned with your values, have more meaning and control over your destiny.

Life is not randomly predicted by childhood games. Values drive our decisions. But if you’re in the mood for fun and feel curious to see what a computer might have to say about your future, you can now play a digital version of M.A.S.H.

It's a good thing we have the ability to choose for ourselves.

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