Why Working Hard and Working Smart is NOT Enough: Applied Neuroscience and Career Burnout

Why Working Hard and Working Smart is NOT Enough: Applied Neuroscience and Career Burnout

By Jonathan Roseland

I'm not a doctor, medical professional, or trained therapist. I'm a researcher and pragmatic biohacking practitioner exercising free speech to share evidence as I find it. I make no claims. Please practice skepticism and rational critical thinkingYou should consult a professional about any serious decisions that you might make about your health. Affiliate links in this article support Limitless Mindset - spend over $150 and you'll be eligible to join the Limitless Mindset Secret Society.

Society tells us as we grow up that if we work hard and work smart persistently we will achieve financial success, get ahead in business, and be truly happy.

In actuality, smart, ambitious, and creative, people are at high risk for career burnout despite their hard work and persistent efforts. Hopefully, the very real cautionary tale presented in this article will illustrate why this happens and how you can avoid burnout in your career or business life.

This story is about an old friend I had that drastically influenced the career path I have pursued. I will call my friend Yuri (not his real name) and he was a Russian immigrant. I've always thought very highly of Russians and people from Eastern European cultures. They are very direct and aggressive, but at the same time, they are very loyal and hard-working people.

Me Old Friends

I met my friend Yuri at the end of my last year in high school, he was about a year older than me, and I was very impressed by him.

  • At 20, he was a top-performing salesperson at a car dealership.
  • He was always happy to buy his friends dinner or buy everyone a round of drinks.
  • He was tall, and handsome, and wore nice clothes and a nice watch.
  • And drove a nice luxury sedan at a time when most of my friends drove old Honda Civics.

I remember him being a street, social, and business-savvy young man. Yuri even had big plans to one day open his own car dealership and go into business for himself. Yuri was a winner.

Car SalesUpon graduation, I really didn't know what I wanted to do, I was sick of being a waiter at restaurants and I had no idea what would be a worthwhile college degree to pursue. I decided I should try doing the same thing Yuri did for work, he gave me some tips for nailing an interview as a car salesman. I applied and soon after graduating high school, I had a job as a car salesman at the busiest Toyota dealership in my state. This put me on an entrepreneurial career path.

Yuri soon left the car business for the (at the time) booming real estate finance business, where he did even better. He got me a job at a finance firm where I advanced quickly and continued to grow my sales and deal-making skill sets. We had a very active social life, Yuri smoked plenty of cigarettes, drank daily (like a good Russian!), and partied hard (like many a successful young man does). We were having a great time; working harder and playing harder than anyone we knew.

RE Finance BizAs the boom times in the real estate finance business subsided, I began my career in corporate America. Yuri was promoted at his brokerage and got a greater workload of increasingly difficult-to-finance deals to manage. Yuri spent arduously long hours in the office trying to save finance deals as the 2008 financial crisis was growing. We still partied quite a bit as Yuri had a lot of stress to blow off from work.

After several years in corporate America, I cashed out my 401K investment portfolio, fired my boss, and went into business for myself. Around the same time, Yuri suffered a long-due burnout from the stress and quit his job.

Unfortunately, this story doesn't have a happy ending.

Sad Story Bad Part of TownYears have passed, and Yuri now lives in a crappy apartment in a bad part of town, he never opened his own dealership or started his own business, he can't hold down a job for more than a few months and he got 2 DUI's (serious drinking and driving penalties). From time to time I still spend time with him but my old friend is gone. He's antisocial and kind of a buzzkill to hang out with even though he's blackout drunk. I've also noticed that he's very forgetful of things.

Why does this happen?

Why does a smart, hard-working person become a loser in their career? Someone might say he made some bad decisions in business, but bad decisions are an inevitability of business. His current state is a result of the complete mismanagement of his brain health. Over the 8 years I've known Yuri he...

  • Drunk heavily.
  • Not exercised or had any kind of fitness regimen.
  • Smoked lots of cigarettes.
  • Worked very hard in high-stress deal-making environments.
  • Ate plenty of fast food, junk food, and cheap food.
  • While Yuri had very challenging jobs, he never really pursued intellectual development outside of his workplace.

Let's analyze Yuri's story from an applied neuroscience perspective:

  1. High Cortisol StressWorking in a 100% commission, deal-based environment, Yuri has had for years chronically high cortisol levels that have been wrecking his mind with stress. This stress has affected his ability to think critically and form memories. Now lots of successful people work in high-stress commission and deal-based environments, but they do so with very effective natural stress relief mechanisms in place like a daily exercise regimen, a diet high in antioxidants, an active sex life, or a loving family to come home to. Unfortunately, Yuri had none of these things consistently.
  2. Ambition or career motivation is part of the natural award and arousal system faculty in our brains. When we accomplish our goals or desires our brain awards us with a burst of feel-good neurotransmitters. Yuri has spent years exposing his award and arousal system to unnatural chemical stimulants (cigarettes, constant alcohol, and crappy food) which have re-programmed his award and arousal system. At the same time, constant high stress levels inhibit the uptake of feel-good neurotransmitters by the neurons in the mind. Proportionally the more accomplishing a goal stresses you out the less good you will feel when you actually accomplish it.

Ambitious PeopleI tell this story because the kind of smart, ambitious people who read Limitless Mindset are at high risk of succumbing to a sort of career-motivated martyr complex wherein we subject ourselves to massive amounts of stress to get ahead in the workplace or embody this trite maxim: Entrepreneurship is living a few years of your life like most people won't so that you can spend the rest of your life like most people can't.

Entrepreneurship PlatitudeThis feel-good platitude, is true for exceptionally few people, for the vast majority of people who own or operate their own business, entrepreneurship is a lifelong commitment. Of the small percentage of entrepreneurs that have an exit (where someone buys their company) or build a semi-autonomous cashflow generating system, most start another company or in some way continue working, and very few spend the rest of their lives relaxing.

As we can see in the case of Yuri, this strategy of working unhealthily hard in hopes of a major payoff at some point in the future is not a sustainable career strategy.

burnout funny meme


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