I was recently interviewed for an article on music teacher burnout. The author was not an educator and asked questions similar to those that might be asked of a banker, dentist, or any number of other non-music professions. After a few minutes, I stopped her and asked if she had any exposure to music education. 

She excitedly replied that her daughter was in the fifth grade and had just started the saxophone, but other than that, she did not.

I proceeded to give her a crash course in all things music education: the early mornings, late nights, and endless weekend events, musicals, marching band, angry parents, cranky adjudicators, and the ever evolving standard of excellence. I told her stories of sleep deprivation, missed meals, and the quandary of breaking down one class, preparing for another, and using the restroom during the six minute passing period.

Needless to say she was a bit overwhelmed.

She said, “I had no idea it was like that. Do you have any tips for people wanting to avoid it? Maybe an outside hobby, exercise, or more time away from school?”

"Yes, I have one tip," I replied. "WORK MORE!"

After a brief pause she replied, "I don’t understand, work MORE?"

From my experience, we don’t burnout because of the workload. We burn out because we’ve lost the fire for what we do. Hence the term, burn-out. Our fire is out! The solution to burn-out is not running away, it’s staying and building a new fire.

Listen, speaking from experience, if you teach long enough burnout is unavoidable. If you believe the stats, 52% of YOU are at risk for leaving the profession. Why? Well, we are the most lateral profession on the planet. If you are a really good bank teller, you get promoted to Head Teller. If you are successful at that you move on to Assistant Branch Manager, which is obviously a gateway to Branch Manager. If you find success they you move up to the corporate offices and you become a District Manager, with an eye on joining the executive team with an office in the C-Suites and the seven figure salary.

If you are a world class educator… Well, you get to stay there for thirty years and eat bad cafeteria food. 

In today’s world we not wired to do the same thing for thirty-five years and we shouldn’t be embarrassed to acknowledge that. Burnout isn’t bad. And, we have to stop acting as if it were. It's you bodies way of telling you that it's time for change. 

  • I cannot lift weights the way I did when I was 25

  • I cannot eat or drink the way I did at 25

  • I cannot sleep the way I did at 25

  • I cannot run the way I did at 25

I cannot teach the way I did at 25. Nor should I. I am smarter, more skilled and efficient, thus freeing up time and energies for something new and challenging.

Burnout is in part WHAT we do, but also in HOW we do it. In order to avoiding burning OUT of our profession we have to burn IN to what we do. We have to reinvent both the what and the how we do things.

Yes, burnout is painful, but remember the good with the bad. Being burnt out means you:

  • Pursued excellence at a high level

  • Invested in something in a deep and personal way

  • Dedicated years to perfecting a craft

  • Gave generously of your time and talents

  • Put the success of children above your own well being

The answer is finding something NEW inside of something OLD. For instance, when I started to feel the pangs of burnout: 

  • I took on additional responsibilities of department chair and construction coordinator.

  • When that wasn’t enough I served on my constituent board.

  • After a few years when the burn out returned I became an administrator.

  • After returning to the classroom. I wrote a book.

  • When the fire started to diminish, I started a leadership company.

  • After eight years on the road, feeling a bit crispy, I created Be Part of the Music.

  • Seven years later I began business consulting.

Each one of these new endeavors required more time, more effort, and more work. But, with each added responsibility came the joy of finding our profession anew again. I was able to learn new things, make new mistakes, and surround myself with new people. These events didn’t diminish my career, it extended and enriched it beyond measure. New technologies, opportunities, and schools have made our profession more diverse and open to opportunity than ever before. The landscape of music education is filled with opportunities and options that present endless options for someone who is looking to spark a new flame and re-build their once powerful fire.

So let me ask you, what would keep your burn-on? Is there a new role you can assume, side-business you can start, or thing you can create? Is there a problem you can solve or someone you can help? Is there something that makes you smile or keeps you up at night?

If not, then think in it. If so, then chase it! Because the solution to BURNING OUT, is BURNING ON!

p.s. In the next couple of weeks you will be hearing about new projects that have me burning on. Stay tuned.