The First Step to Avoiding Burnout

Daily Reflection / Produced by The High Calling
9111274504 3f275c5240 k 0

“You’re going to wear yourself out—and the people, too. This job is too heavy a burden for you to handle all by yourself.”

Exodus 18:13-26

Recently, I was investigating several different MBA programs around the country. One of them suggested taking a quick survey to assess my entrepreneurial prowess.

Ten minutes later, I was looking at a series of pie charts that told me I needed to be more controlling. A good business entrepreneur, the report said, stays deeply engaged with every facet of the work. I puzzled over that and finally decided that particular MBA program was not for me. I understood what they meant. Good leaders maintain a high level of quality control, but I believe this happens best through inspiration and delegation.

When I hear about startups that require eighty-hour workweeks, I think about Moses and his father-in-law, Jethro. Jethro pointed out that Moses was on the road to burn out. His workweek was unsustainable.

Jeff Tangney, CEO of Doximity, said something similar recently at SXSW interactive in Austin, Texas. “You can’t produce quality work at an eighty-hour a week pace,” Tangney said, “so we don’t cherish or support the folks who are pretending to be heroes.”

When I am feeling overwhelmed, I try to examine myself first. Am I pretending to be the hero at work or at home or at church? Do I have an overdeveloped sense of my own importance?

Moses certainly did, but it’s easy to see why. After all, Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt. He parted the Red Sea. He made water come out of a rock. He wrote the Ten Commandments and the Torah. Except Moses didn’t do any of those things. God did those things through Moses. Any success Moses experienced was not his, but God’s. Any success I experience is not mine, but God’s.

Guess what? Jethro understood this, thousands of years ago. Success and heroism are just too big for us. They burn us out, and they burn out the people around us too.

The really big jobs, the jobs worth doing, are always bigger than we can handle on our own.


The next day Moses took his seat to serve as judge for the people, and they stood around him from morning till evening. When his father-in-law saw all that Moses was doing for the people, he said, “What is this you are doing for the people? Why do you alone sit as judge, while all these people stand around you from morning till evening?”

Moses answered him, “Because the people come to me to seek God’s will. Whenever they have a dispute, it is brought to me, and I decide between the parties and inform them of God’s decrees and instructions.”

Moses’ father-in-law replied, “What you are doing is not good. You and these people who come to you will only wear yourselves out. The work is too heavy for you; you cannot handle it alone. Listen now to me and I will give you some advice, and may God be with you. You must be the people’s representative before God and bring their disputes to him. Teach them his decrees and instructions, and show them the way they are to live and how they are to behave. But select capable men from all the people—men who fear God, trustworthy men who hate dishonest gain—and appoint them as officials over thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens. Have them serve as judges for the people at all times, but have them bring every difficult case to you; the simple cases they can decide themselves. That will make your load lighter, because they will share it with you. If you do this and God so commands, you will be able to stand the strain, and all these people will go home satisfied.”

Moses listened to his father-in-law and did everything he said. He chose capable men from all Israel and made them leaders of the people, officials over thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens. They served as judges for the people at all times. The difficult cases they brought to Moses, but the simple ones they decided themselves.

Exodus 18:13-26

QUESTIONS FOR FURTHER REFLECTION: Do you like to think of yourself as a hero? Are you managing your time well at work and at home? Are you feeling in over your head?

PRAYER: Dear God, there always seems to be too much to do. More meetings. More deadlines. More places to be and more people wanting a piece of our time. Or maybe, God, I’m just thinking more highly of myself than I ought to think. Help me be clear minded, leaning on you rather than my own strength. Help me also to lean on others around me—my spouse, my colleagues, and my friends—and help me find good and kind people to share the load when I feel like I am in over my head. And help me also find time and energy to share their loads when they need help. Amen.