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Burnout: Is it a dead end or an opportunity?

Rebecca Shaw for Progressive Dairy Published on 15 March 2021

Burnout was never a word that crossed my mind. Sure, I’ve felt tired, worn down, unmotivated and sometimes a little sad, especially this last year. However, when a friend and co-worker of mine recommended I read Can’t even: How millennials became the burnout generation by Anne Helen Petersen, something inside me just clicked. I knew I needed that book.

While the book focuses specifically on millennials and who and what contributed to their culture, I think the core concept is relatable to all ages. Burnout is real, and we need to understand it, learn how to recognize it, how to come back from it and even how to prevent it.



What is burnout? Petersen explains that burnout was first recognized as a psychological diagnosis in 1974, applied by the psychologist Herbert Freudenberger to cases of physical or mental collapse as the result of over work. While burnout is a “relative” of exhaustion, they do differ. Exhaustion is going to the point where you can’t go any further. Burnout is reaching that point and pushing yourself to keep going, whether it is for days, weeks or even years. How do you know if you’re in the middle of a burnout? You may begin to realize that the anticipated feeling of accomplishment that follows an exhausting task – like finishing your latest article, paying the bills or milking the last group of cows – never comes.

There is no shortage of difficult and stressful tasks in the dairy industry. Fluctuations in milk price, keeping up with consumer influence and demands, the management and cost of quality and long-term labor, building a safe and trusted workforce versus potential undercover activists, managing your somatic cell count, interpreting the endless data collected on your farm, managing loans and debt, undesirable weather you can’t control, and oh yah, living through a global pandemic. So, I’m offering you validation from a stranger on the internet – it’s OK to be overwhelmed.

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This book inspired me to talk to my co-worker and cattle-content guru Dorothy Tate, who recommended the book, and Yvette Longenecker, a partner in her family’s dairy farm, co-operator of a custom harvesting business and mom to four of my favorite Blair County Dairy Bowl kids. Together, we discussed how we can bounce back from and/or prevent burnout from happening, now that we have clearly defined what it is. And, guess what – it’s a simple answer. We can’t have our entire value and worth tied to our work – something that is difficult, especially in dairy farming, but possible and critical.

Dorothy and I talked about all the different things that make us feel valued and happy outside of feeling accomplished in our careers. “I hesitate to say I’ve truly been burned out, but I have been spiraling down a dangerous path where I was placing my whole self-worth and value in work…. I do think the key to avoiding burnout is keeping in perspective the things that bring you joy. I’m trying to be intentional about writing 10 things I’m grateful for everyday – the small things like my son’s laugh, warm coffee or the first signs of spring.” Dorothy continued, “I find joy in the Lord and His promises for me and the gifts he’s given me – my husband, my sons, a fully-able body to exercise, run and chase my kiddos, and space to be outdoors. I also love to get lost in a good book and pre-kiddos, I used to sew quilts.”


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Yvette offered another great perspective: “I have definitely experienced burnout. I can’t imagine there’s a mother – or farmer – out there who hasn’t. To me, burnout is when a small thing will make you feel like you’re being pushed over the edge.” She recognizes and acknowledges when she feels this way, and has set goals for herself this year, like enjoying her coffee alone with no interruptions, reading her Bible, keeping close to her friends and closing the activity ring on her watch each day. “Stop feeling guilty about letting go. And, learn to put yourself first once in a while. I find that I am a better mother, wife, friend, daughter and employer when I give myself some ‘selfish’ time to relax, regroup and reset.”

Burnout isn’t an excuse or a dead end. It’s an opportunity for us to reevaluate what is important to us and to identify things that keep us sane – even when it feels impossible. Another co-worker of mine, Jack, made a statement that really resonated with me: “Love your job when you can and love other things when you can’t.” If you can do one thing for yourself after reading this blog, do this.  end mark

PHOTO: Photo by Mike Dixon.

Rebecca Shaw
  • Rebecca Shaw

  • Senior Account Executive, Public Relations
  • Bader Rutter
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PHOTO 1: Bader Rutter executive Dorothy Tate recommends avoiding burnout by keeping in perspective the things that bring joy.

PHOTO 2: Yevette Longenecker says it’s important not to feel guilty about letting go and putting yourself first. Photos courtesy of Rebecca Shaw.