I’ve always had a fondness for word origins. Knowing a word’s history can reveal the essential insight that led to its birth, and it can also help us understand its different meanings. While some words trace their roots back thousands of years, others have recent beginnings. Such is the case with “burnout,” a word that originated in 1940s aviation. Burnout was first used to describe the functional cessation of a jet engine due to overheating.1 In other words, burnout was the death of a machine. It’s chilling, then, in these days of renewed fears over airplane safety, that the same term has come to mean a feeling of total defeat in our work lives.
Think about it: When a jet engine burns out, there’s nothing left to propel the aircraft forward. All that remains is a free fall. And when we experience burnout, there’s nothing left to push us forward in our careers. We lose the motivation to meet day-to-day challenges. Career burnout can also result in significant physical and psychological damage. (Think high blood pressure and depression.) Instead of machines, we are the ones who enter physical and emotional free fall.
This month’s cover story takes a closer look at burnout in the dental hygiene profession. While there can be many causes of burnout, Christa Crilley McConaghy, RDH, focuses on one of most prevalent—boredom. It’s not hard to imagine how it happens. Over time, you get comfortable with your skills. You recognize common patient problems and know how to handle them. One appointment starts to feel like the next. The days start to run together. Slowly but surely, those things that initially motivated you—be it achieving financial security or clinical competence—fade away as you sink into routine. The next thing you know, you’re dependent on your job, but it isn’t giving anything back to you.
The good news is that there’s a solution. So if “the feeling is gone” for you or someone you care about in your work life, flip to page 16. Relight the fire and get those mental jet engines burning hot.
1. Burnout. Merriam-Webster website. https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/burnout. Accessed April 21, 2019.