Geek Job Guru: The Danger of Hobby Burnout

We always hear about burnout. People are burnt out. They’re burnt out on the jobs. Burnout is a concern as we work in a meandering economy during a time of technological and social transition. You could get burnt out just studying burnt out, and there’s probably some poor soul out there who’s experienced that.  Said poor soul is also probably writing a paper on that and is very tired by now.

Now we geeks are considered to be inclined to burnout. We’re usually pretty obsessive and hard working. We throw ourselves into things. Having been surrounded by, well, “our people” for decades I’ve certainly seen any amount of burnout among my fellow geeks. Frankly, I think it’s a good thing for us to be wary of reaching that point because in my experience, we do it really well . . . or badly depending on your point of view.

We know burnout is bad for us for obvious reason. We get exhausted. It’s hard to care about things. Nothing seems to be getting done and yet we’re so busy. It just tires you out and can harm your career, your life, and your relations.

So we try to relax, to prevent, alleviate, or at least stave off the burnout. We turn to our hobbies.

There’s just one problem – we can get burnt out on our hobbies too and have nowhere to turn.  We get Hobby Burnout.

In fact, we’re uniquely equipped to do just that.

Hobby Burnout

I’ll be straight up – I’ve experienced Hobby Burnout a few times. I’ve known people who’ve experienced it before. I never really had the words for it until I saw the author of Manga Therapy discuss it and name it, and it struck me “this is a thing.”

When I look back on my experiences and those of others, what hobby burnout is actually pretty clear:

  • A person shows all the signs of burnout – the lack of interest, purpose, tiredness, etc
  • The burnout comes from their hobbyist activities. Usually this burnout occurs either from intense activity or from intense social commitments – or both.
  • Usually this burnout occurs as the person actually has a “hobbyist” job they’re doing and they burnt out on that.
  • We don’t really notice it because “it’s fun.”

THe latter is one of the things that keeps us from noticing Hobby Burnout – we think we’re having fun. We don’t notice the fun has become a job, and it’s a job we’ve become burnt out on. We’ve camouflaged our own chance to burn ourselves out.

The social aspect is also another issue of Hobby Burnout that concerns me. The social pressures we face can be compelling and daunting, ad we may not notice how much they push us. You don’t want to let your friends down after all so you work on that site, that fanfic, or that costume.  I’ve seen it before, plenty of times.

Hobby Burnout is an insidious thing, sneaking up on us because we can’t see how we pressure ourselves.

I think the geek crowd is in specific danger of Hobby Burnout.

The Challenge Of The Geek

We’re in exceptional danger because of our nature as enthusiasts. We get into things deeply, passionately, and actively. We dive on in, and don’t always think of the repercussions. Our idea of fun is working hard on things.

We can be as passionate about our hobbies as we are about our jobs. This is a prime opportunity for Hobby Burnout.

Those cases of Hobby Burnout I saw? Also all from the geek community (which isn’t surprising when you consider that’s my demographic). Hell, the term I adapted came from a post at a Manga site which kind of tells you something

We geeks need to be aware not just of our chance to burnout on the jobs, but on our hobbies – because what inclines us to overdoing it can affect us in all spheres of our lives. In fact, I think this is a prime Career concern for we geeks.

The Dangers of Dual Burnout

My big concern is that our inclinations can lead us to becoming “doubly burnt out” – something I’m sure you’ve probably seen before. You meet someone who is tired of their hobbies and their career, and that great purposelessness has engulfed them.

I see this double burnout happening in several ways:

  1. Stress on our job further drives us to our hobbies, and we go so far into our hobbies we burnt out there too.
  2. Burnout in one sphere makes us distractible enough that we burn out in the other sphere and thus have no refuge or reliable sphere of life.
  3.  One sphere of our life burns us out, and we try and cut it off and isolate it, and thus make our life less whole.  In turn we suffer as it’s like juggling two or more lives.

Come to think of it those burnout cases I saw? I saw all these cases too.

Career Focus

Ultimately I think we geeks need to remember Hobby Burnout happens as well as regular burnout. In fact, it’s a core part of being good at our careers.

Our careers, unless we own our own business, have a lot of external factors. We cannot control them, and some of them may end up leading us toward burnout. But our hobbies?

Hour hobbies are areas we should take control of. They can refresh us and excite us, and indeed spawn new careers (maybe getting us out of the one that’s burning us out). When we burn out on these, we are more at the mercy of career burnout – or can be so vulnerable we can end up causing it, as noted.

So if you’re a professional geek (and you’re reading this, so enough said), keep an eye out on regular burnout, but keep extra vigilance for Hobby Burnout. Its hard to see, we’re vulnerable to it, and it can take away the resources we need to cope with our careers.

– Steven Savage

Steven Savage is a Geek 2.0 writer, speaker, blogger, and job coach.  He blogs on careers at, publishes books on career and culture at, and does a site of creative tools at He can be reached at