WHAT happens when you run a machine too hard and too long?

It burns out. The same thing happens to a human machine - you. When people struggle too hard and too long to reach a goal, they burn out.

Burnout is a state of fatigue and/or frustration brought on by an intense pursuit of a goal or devotion to a cause. It brings on a series of physical, emotional and psychological problems.

Victims of burnout

Super achievers often suffer from burnout. They usually have overly full schedules and yet still find the time to take on more.

They have a difficult time saying "no" to the requests of others.

When working on projects, they usually do more than their share. Part of their problem relates to their inability or unwillingness to delegate things to others.

They like things done right and done on time. Consequently, they do almost everything themselves.

I liken burnout victims to jugglers. They pick up three balls - jobs, tasks and causes - and start juggling them.

Once they feel competent enough, they pick up two more balls. Then, three more. Now, they are juggling eight tasks at the same time.

Other people marvel at the burnout victim's ability to do so many things at the same time.

The victim's response is: "I work well under pressure." That is true.

However, nobody works well under extreme levels of tension and pressure for extended periods of time.

Eventually, the overall quality of the victim's work diminishes, and people around him become increasingly sceptical, disappointed and critical of his work.

The victim senses these negative feelings and overcompensates by pushing himself even harder.

He actually picks up four more balls for his juggling act. The quality of his work deteriorates even further. And the vicious cycle of burnout claims another victim.

Losing perspective

People who fall prey to burnout are not incompetent in their work.

They have simply lost their perspective of what is really important in life.

They strive too hard to reach a goal in one area of their lives, such as their business or profession, and let the other areas, such as their family, social and personal lives, flounder.

They usually do not heed the warning signals or symptoms of burnout because they honestly believe things will get better soon. They don't!

Burnout victims simply expose themselves to too much stress over too short a period of time, and they crash and burn.

Even when they are lucky enough to achieve their goal and get what they want, it usually isn't what they expected.

In other words, the reward doesn't seem to compensate them for their efforts.

Signs of burning out

If you are suffering from burnout, you are probably exhibiting some or all of the burnout symptoms.

These include constant exhaustion, paranoia, forgetfulness, emotional tension, boredom, lethargy, impatience, irritability, scepticism and cynicism, and a superman complex - you feel all-powerful.

Do not rush to the burnout doctor if you are experiencing some of these symptoms. It is common for people to experience some of these ills occasionally, yet temporarily, in some areas of their lives.

Burnout victims have symptoms that are constant, growing and pervasive throughout all aspects of their lives. They are truly sick physically and emotionally.

Being successful is not easy. It takes hard work, smart work and dedication.

However, if you try too hard to succeed at the expense of other areas of your life, it is only a matter of time before you burn out.

The consequences of burnout are not pretty. You do not have to fall victim to it if you keep your goals in perspective and your total life in balance. You will be successful in all areas of your life, not just work.