What Bruce Lee Taught Us About Workplace Burnout

Years ago someone hit me in the head so hard I actually saw stars! I’ve also been choked to the point of blacking out, and I’ve even had the privilege of knocking someone out cold. (Yes, I have to admit it felt good!) Such was a common occurrence when I was training in martial arts.

Many motivating factors fueled my interest in the sport. One of them was the late Bruce Lee. Bruce Lee was an incredible athlete and martial artist. What resonated more with me was that he was also a consummate student. He was always trying to improve himself. If Lee wanted to learn something, he studied it. If he couldn’t sleep, he performed push-ups. Lee took every opportunity to better himself. One way he did so was to consistently toughen his knuckles to increase power in his striking and to prevent injury. He accomplished this by hitting progressively denser materials like bags of sand, pellets, and even rocks. Over time his knuckles developed callouses leaving them stronger and more impervious to pain.

Working in high-stress environments has the same effect. Burnout is the lack of satisfaction with your work, characterized by mental and even physical exhaustion. Studies show 85% of healthcare providers experience burnout1. Most often it is a gradual process that takes place over time. It is a repetitive phenomenon that wears a person down emotionally. Eventually, like Bruce Lee, a person can develop callouses. Yet these callouses are invisible. They are emotional callouses that can leave a person numb.

Experts offer plenty of recommendations to mitigate burnout. Work-life balance, taking breaks, and meditation are examples of ways to avoid and minimize burnout. To prevent burnout and recover from it, there is one crucial thing you need to know: your S.E.L.F.

The term “work-life” balance is misleading. They are not opposite sides of a scale. Work is a part of your life. It’s just not your whole life. Your job should not define who you are. It is a part of you, but not the whole you. You need to know what areas of your life are strong and what areas are weak. Knowing your S.E.L.F. means balancing four key areas of your life:

S – Share

Communicate your thoughts.

Sharing is therapeutic. With whom are you sharing your life? These could be friends, family, spouse, or even counselors. Someone you can share your concerns, frustrations, and joys. If this is uncomfortable, then write it down. Getting it out is essential whether it be verbally or in written form.

E – Employment

Value your work.

Studies show retirees who pursue a relaxing lifestyle die earlier than those who seek meaningful work2. Remind yourself what makes your work significant instead of focusing solely on completing tasks.

L – Love

Find a hobby.

Discover what you love to do outside of work. Traveling, learning an instrument, or taking time to read a good book are all simple ways to de-stress. Fueling a passion other than work sustains the energy you need to do your jobs.

F – Faith

Know your worldview.

Everybody has a way in which they view the world. Is it through a religious lens, a humanistic lens? Where are you placing your faith? This factor will affect every aspect of your life, so it matters tremendously. Make sure you know what you believe and why you believe it.

By knowing your S.E.L.F., you can prevent and recover from burnout. Understand the areas where you may be putting too much focus, and what areas need more attention. Creating a balanced life is a continuous process and takes time. Take a lesson from Bruce Lee and take advantage of every opportunity to improve yourself. If you do, you will be a better caregiver, and your patients will receive better care.

To learn more about how I help caregivers avoid burnout through keynotes and workshops visit my speaking page at https://jimdamron.com/speaking/.



1 Shanafelt TD., et al. Burnout and satisfaction with work-life balance among US physicians relative to the general US population. Arch Intern Med. 2012; 172: 1377-85.

2 Borzykowski, Bryan. “Can Retirement Kill You?” www.bbc.com; 08/14/13.



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