A new buzzword is Hungarian-American psychologist’s Mihaly Csíkszentmihályi’s concept of “flow.” People are happiest when they are in a state of flow—a state of concentration or complete absorption with the activity at hand and the situation. Such a state requires several conditions. For example:

  1. Motivations: One is engaged in the acts because they are intrinsically rewarding, rather than to achieve external goals. Intrinsically motivated people are more likely to be goal-directed and enjoy challenges that lead to an increase in overall happiness.
  2. Good Job Match: To achieve a flow state, both skill level and challenge level must be matched and high; if skill and challenge are low and matched, then apathy results.
  3. Personality Type: Such a person has curiosity, persistence, and humility.

Mekarvim very often can tick off this list and achieve close to what is being asked. Until they burnout, that is.  

The Symptoms of Burnout

Burnout is a syndrome of physical and emotional exhaustion and reduced personal accomplishment. It is a response to the chronic emotional and physical strain of a high-powered or otherwise demanding position.

There are both psychological and physiological symptoms indicative of burnout. These are different for short and long-term burnout.  The primary symptom of short-term burnout is tension; the primary symptom of long-term burnout is lack of energy and motivation. 

Short-Term Burnout

Physiological symptoms might include chest pains, frequent headaches, colds, etc. Psychological symptoms include apathy, irritability, boredom, rejection of input from others, an increasingly negative attitude to one’s work and the undermining of one’s self-confidence and self-concept.

Long-Term Burnout

In cases of long-term burnout the person may stop caring altogether. One begins to say to oneself, “This is just a job. I will do what needs to be done, but I have no interest in doing anything more.” Free moments begin to become painful experiences. This could produce a vicious cycle whereby one no longer has any job satisfaction. Eventually, this creeps into other aspects of the person’s life, including family relationships.

Causes of Burnout

  1. Excessively high and stressful workload. Continuous sense of overwhelm. 
  2. Difficulty in measuring the success of the undertaking. 
  3. Lack of a feeling that you are building something. 
  4. Lack of positive feedback and recognition. 
  5. Toxic work environment – where you feel you are continuously under siege, being belittled, or worse. 
  6. Tediousness and lack of challenge. 
  7. Dead-end with no career path prospects. 
  8. Failing to set feasible and attainable goals.
  9. No access to a support system.
  10. Failure to grow in your job. 

In future blogs we will deal with how you prevent burnout to begin with and how you cure it once you have it. To prevent burnout, there is no one-solution plug-in to do it. It requires a multi-dimensional approach involving many factors we will discuss. Once you have it though, it requires emergency measures. 

However, all of this applies to short-term burnout. Long-term burnout requires one to take a step back. Remember, we stated that long-term burnout is reflected by exhaustion and a lack of inspiration and motivation. This requires fundamental changes in life and takes much more time to recover. 

In a revealing analysis, Boyatzis, McKee and Goleman describe how one can lose one’s bearings and meaning in one’s job [1], i.e. suffer from long-term burnout. In this scenario, a person finds himself in a job which started out as fulfilling but has gradually become less meaningful. Often this feeling creeps up; one begins to feel bored and can even feel trapped. You lose all motivation and, if the phone is not ringing or you are not giving a shiur you just feel like you want to get out of there. Since most kiruv people are high achievers, these feelings may be masked for years, hidden under the frenzy of activity. As a leader, you may even think that you are exhibiting a trait of effective leaders: adaptability. But without strong self-awareness, people risk adapting to such an extent that they no longer recognize themselves. And self-awareness in these situations is hard to come by. Once you’ve lost touch with your passion and dreams, the very routine of work and the habits of your mind can make it difficult to reconnect.

The Wrong Response to Long-Term Burnout

The first reaction to all of this is to begin to say, “Look, it’s a job, better than most. All jobs have their downside. I’ll do what I have to do and get my meaning out of life elsewhere. Besides, I can’t just pick up and allow what I built up over the last 20 years to collapse. Besides, I have a family to feed. Anyway, who is going to hire a 50 year-old, with seven kids?” The problem with this is that we spend so much time involved in kiruv that there isn’t much else to our lives. For most of us, there are no hobbies, side-projects or serious learning sedarim to take care of our deeper needs for self-fulfillment. We are left with kiruv and family (with learning always falling short of our needs) as the central pillars of our life and woe betide us if our kiruv becomes just a job. 

There is no problem if this happens over the short-term, say a few months. But longer than that requires action. It requires you to follow your heart. Many kiruv professionals have been so used to the idea that they will simply be doing this for the rest of their lives that they gradually adjust to the letdowns, frustrations, and even boredom of their work until they surrender to a routine that’s incompatible with who they are and what they truly want. This is truly a tragic situation. In such situations, it is time to follow your heart and, in consultation with Daas Torah, to follow it to new and unusual places. This does not mean that you have to leave altogether, but you must follow some tried and tested strategies for renewal.

Should You Make a Career Change?

There are four fundamental questions to check if you should continue or not in your current situation.

1. How satisfied you? Is the level of your satisfaction slowly dropping? Is this going to end badly?   

2. What are specific results that you want to achieve – a personal mission statement for 1-2 years (personal growth)? How likely are you to achieve those in your current job? 

3. If you take the risk, will you be in a different situation than you are now – is it going to be better, worse or the same? In other words, is the job the problem or are you the problem? 

4. Are you staying in your current job because you are stuck? Because you are too frightened to move? What do you need (mentoring, professional skills, networking) to get unstuck? Are you terrified that your boss will find out and this will compromise or endanger your current employment? 

The vital rules which govern this decision making are as follows:

  1. You must actively make the decision and not allow the situation to continue by default. 
  2. The decision must be made irrespective of whether you know how to implement it. Divide the issues up. Make the decision based on relevant variables, and then put everything else in a mental folder called, “The consequences of the decision.”
  3. Ask yourself whether, if your decision does not work out, you will still feel that you made the right choice, given what you knew, and that you won’t beat yourself up for making it. This applies whether you decide to stay in your current situation or to leave. Even if, in retrospect it was the wrong decision, you should feel that at the time you made the best decision that you could.  
  4. Risk Management:  The level and range of risks you are taking in making your decision should not be combined into one “choke-hold” that is overwhelming. Look at each risk separately.
  5. Be prepared to take a lower salary or lower job for the sake of your long-term progress. In Hebrew we call this a ירידה לצורך עליה  – “A going down in order to go up.” 
  6. Get Help: Identify what kind of help you need to work through and do what you need to do.  Do not remain stuck. 

In the next blog, I will deal with some of the methodologies of how one goes about doing all of this. 


[1] Reawakening Your Passion for Work, By Richard Boyatzis, Annie McKee, and Daniel Goleman Harvard Business Review, April 2002 



Rabbi Avraham Edelstein is the Education Director of Neve Yerushalayim College for Women and a senior advisor to Olami. Many of Rabbi Edelstein’s foundational publications addressing the world of Kiruv appear on OlamiResources.com: Series on Kiruv and Chinuch, Commentary on Chumash and Yom Tovim, The Laws of Outreach, as well as contributing articles.  

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