Am I Burnt Out or Lazy?

In our high-speed, success-oriented culture, it’s not uncommon to mistake burnout for laziness.


This mislabeling of exhaustion and disinterest as laziness is a pervasive issue, one that this blog post aims to unravel and clarify, answering the question, “am I burnt out or lazy?”


Contrary to popular belief, the state often referred to as ‘laziness’ is not an incontrovertible fact but rather a subjective judgement.


In reality, no one is inherently lazy; instead, many are silently battling burnout or grappling with deep-seated fears. 


Through this post, we will explore the five key hallmarks of burnout, debunk persistent myths about productivity and laziness, and examine the insidious impact of the Success Wound™, which often instils unwarranted guilt for taking rest and necessary breaks. 

Understanding Burnout

Before we delve into the hallmarks of burnout, it’s essential to understand what burnout truly is.


Burnout is a state of emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion caused by prolonged stress and overwork. It’s more than just feeling tired after a long week; it’s a chronic condition that affects your ability to function effectively in your professional and personal life.


Burnout is often the result of relentless pressure to perform at high levels, combined with the feeling that your efforts are not yielding the expected rewards or recognition.

The 5 Hallmarks of Burnout

Persistent Exhaustion: Burnout is characterized by deep, unrelenting fatigue that is not alleviated by regular rest or relaxation. It’s a level of exhaustion that feels bone-deep, affecting both mental and physical energy levels. 

Self-care tools don’t work: It’s likely you have tools to manage everyday stressors. But on burnout, your tools like meditation, exercise, extra sleep, or therapy don’t make a dent big enough to see the improvement required to overcome to persistent, bone-deep exhaustion. There needs to be a larger intervention in order for burnout to be alleviated

Reduced Performance: Tasks that were once manageable or even easy can start to feel insurmountable. This is often accompanied by a decline in productivity and a noticeable drop in work quality.

Cynicism and Detachment: A growing sense of detachment and cynicism towards one’s job is a telltale sign of burnout. It’s more than just having an off day; it’s a persistent feeling of being disconnected from your work and colleagues. 


There are actually ways to quantify how these 5 hallmarks of burnout are impacting you. 

Take this quiz to get your burnout score and understand where you sit on the spectrum of Resilient to Burnt Out! 

Physical Symptoms: Burnout often manifests in physical symptoms such as headaches, stomach issues, or a general sense of malaise. These symptoms are your body’s way of signaling that something is off balance.


If you identify with three or more of these signs, it’s likely that you’re experiencing burnout, not just simple laziness. Understanding these hallmarks is the first step in addressing and ultimately overcoming burnout.


As you can already begin to see, burnout is a medical condition that is much larger than just “laziness”. Let’s take a deeper look at the common myths surrounding laziness that evidence a cultural misconception rather than a personal flaw. 

Myth-Busting: Am I Burnt Out or Lazy??

Physical Symptoms: Burnout often manifests in physical symptoms such as headaches, stomach issues, or a general sense of malaise. These symptoms are your body’s way of signaling that something is off balance.


If you identify with three or more of these signs, it’s likely that you’re experiencing burnout, not just simple laziness. Understanding these hallmarks is the first step in addressing and ultimately overcoming burnout.


As you can already begin to see, burnout is a medical condition that is much larger than just “laziness”. Let’s take a deeper look at the common myths surrounding laziness that evidence a cultural misconception rather than a personal flaw. 

Myth #1 - "If I'm Not Productive, I'm Lazy":

This myth feeds into the deep-rooted Success Wound™, (we will be diving deeper into this later in this post), fostering a sense of guilt or inadequacy when we’re not in a constant state of productivity. It reflects a binary way of thinking that categorizes our actions rigidly as either productive or lazy, with no middle ground. This perspective is not only limiting but also damaging, as it fails to recognize the complex dynamics of human efficiency and wellbeing.


To debunk this myth, it’s essential to understand the symbiotic relationship between rest and productivity. Just as a coin has two distinct yet inseparable sides, rest and productivity are interconnected elements of a balanced life. Rest is not the absence of productivity; rather, it is a vital component that fuels and rejuvenates our capacity to be productive.


Rest as Recharging: Just like a battery needs to recharge to function optimally, our bodies and minds require rest to replenish energy. When we rest, we allow ourselves the necessary time to recover from the mental and physical exertion of our work. The highest performing professional athletes consider rest just as critical as training.


Quality over Quantity: The fixation on constant productivity often leads to long hours of work with diminishing returns. By contrast, well-rested individuals tend to have better concentration, creativity, and problem-solving abilities, leading to higher quality work in shorter periods.


The Role of Rest in Creativity and Innovation: Periods of rest are not just times of inactivity; they often serve as catalysts for new ideas and perspectives. History is replete with examples of great thinkers and inventors who found inspiration during moments of relaxation and leisure.


Physical and Mental Health: Continuous work without adequate rest can lead to burnout, as discussed earlier. By prioritizing rest, we maintain our physical and mental health, which in turn supports sustained productivity over the long term.


The False Equivalence of Busy-ness and Productivity: Being constantly busy doesn’t necessarily mean being productive. True productivity is about the impact and value of the work done, not just the amount of time spent doing it.

am i burnt out or lazy brooke taylor coaching

Myth #2 - "Laziness is an Objective Fact":

The label of ‘laziness’ is frequently tossed around as an undeniable truth, a label that sticks and defines character. What is often perceived as laziness, however, can be a complex mix of deeper, underlying issues that need careful understanding rather than shamed-induced labelling.


Understanding the Fear of Failure: One of the critical factors often mistaken for laziness is the fear of failure. Many individuals hold back from trying new things or fully committing to tasks because they fear the consequences of failing. This hesitation can easily be misinterpreted as laziness, but in reality, it’s a self-protection mechanism. It’s crucial to ask ourselves: 


Are we avoiding effort because of a character flaw (laziness), or because we’re scared of not doing it well?


The Role of Self-Doubt: Closely tied to the fear of failure is self-doubt. People often procrastinate or seem disengaged when they doubt their capabilities. This isn’t laziness, but a lack of self-confidence, where the individual is unsure about their ability to perform a task successfully.


Mental Health Considerations: Mental health issues like depression and anxiety can significantly impact a person’s energy levels and motivation. These conditions can manifest in ways that mimic laziness, but are actually symptoms of a deeper psychological struggle. It’s essential to differentiate between mental health issues and laziness, as they require different approaches and interventions.


The Impact of Overwhelm: In our culture of constant connectivity and overstimulation, feeling overwhelmed is common. When the brain is overloaded, it may shut down as a coping mechanism, leading to what looks like laziness. It’s a signal that one needs to step back and reset.


Invitation to Self-Reflection: It’s crucial to engage in self-reflection when we find ourselves labeling our behavior or that of others as lazy. Are we possibly afraid of trying due to a fear of failing? Understanding the root cause of our actions can lead to more compassionate and effective solutions.

Myth #3 - "Either You're Lazy or You're Not":

The belief that laziness is a binary state – you’re either lazy or you’re not – is a simplistic view, much like the question “am I burnt out or lazy” that fails to capture the nuanced nature of human behavior and motivation. This binary thinking can lead to overgeneralizations and, similar to Myth #2, may cause us to overlook deeper underlying issues.


Rejecting the Binary Perspective: Human behavior and motivation are rarely, if ever, black and white. Labelling someone as categorically lazy ignores the myriad factors that influence their actions. Emotions, environment, physical health, mental state, and a host of other variables play into how we behave and perform.


The Spectrum of Motivation: Motivation exists on a spectrum and can fluctuate based on numerous factors. Stress, personal issues, lack of sleep, and even the nature of the task at hand can all impact our level of motivation. To view motivation and productivity as fixed states is to misunderstand their dynamic nature.


Overgeneralizations and Misdiagnoses: The binary view of laziness can lead to overgeneralizations that hinder a more profound understanding of an individual’s situation. If someone is struggling with a mental health issue, such as depression, their symptoms might be mistakenly attributed to laziness because we fail to see the complexity of their experience.


The Danger of Labels: Labeling someone as ‘lazy’ can be a self-fulfilling prophecy. It may lead to reduced self-esteem and a belief that change is impossible, which only perpetuates the lack of motivation. Understanding behavior as changeable and influenced by various factors encourages growth and development.


Contextual Behavior: It’s also important to recognize that behavior is often contextual. A person might exhibit low motivation in one area of their life while being highly active and engaged in another, often this is related to the passion and excitement they experience in that area. This contradiction highlights the inadequacy of the lazy/not lazy dichotomy.


The Role of External and Internal Influences: External factors like a toxic work environment or lack of support can significantly impact motivation. Similarly, internal factors such as fear of failure, as mentioned in Myth #2, play a critical role. Recognizing these influences allows for a more holistic approach to addressing what might be perceived as laziness.


Burnout falls on a continuum, and it’s important to know where you fall on it so that you can prevent burnout or curb it’s impact. Take this quiz to understand your burnout score and get specific recommendations for how to build resilience no matter where you are on the continuum. 


Exploring the Root Cause: The Success Wound™

Let’s delve a level deeper and explore the underlying cause of the “am I burnt out or lazy” dilemma. The root lies in the term I have coined, the Success Wound ™ . It’s the pain that emerges from mistaking your success for your self-worth. It leads us to conflate our worthiness of love and belonging with what we produce and achieve, rather than who we are. After coaching and engaging with thousands of high-achieving individuals, I’ve observed that the Success Wound™ is a universal phenomenon, varying in shape and severity across different people.

Causes of the Success Wound™ in High Achieving Women:

Throughout our lives, we received messages and lessons about what it means to be a “good” or “successful” woman, mother, employee, etc. Our educational systems are set up to reward productivity, wrote memorization, and advancing our intellect. We received rewards and punishments in the form of gold stars, grades, accolades, praise, and attention depending on our ability to measure up to what our educational systems, culture, family, and the media deem as “successful”. 


This creates an unconscious belief system within us at a very young age that we get more love in the form of praise, attention, approval, and admiration when we produce good results and achieve remarkable things. Understandably, this false belief system takes root as children and grows with us, as we continue to equate our worth with what we DO rather than who we ARE. 


The Success Wound™ is a universal human trauma that is passed down generationally and festers within our individual and collective subconscious. 

Diagnosing Your Success Wound™:

The capitalist and patriarchal systems in place perpetuate individuals’ success wounds by propagating the myth that success, wealth, and power equate to life fulfilment, especially for women. Signs that you might be suffering from the Success Wound™ include:

  • Feeling burnt out from overworking and chasing unattainable goals, coupled with a fear of losing your edge if you relax.
  • Having a deep aching sense of emptiness, and can never figure out why what you do never feels like *enough*
  • Having a case of the ‘When-I-Have’s”, where future achievements are seen as gateways to happiness.
  • Consuming self-help and peak-performance materials but being paralyzed by fear of failure.
  • Constantly comparing yourself to others and feeling behind or inadequate.
  • Being plagued by fears of not living up to your potential and waking up with regret.
  • Experiencing deteriorating self-trust and self-esteem, leading to dependence on others for guidance.
  • Neglecting self-care and health due to work commitments.

Next steps? Take the quiz 👇