HomeVolume 7August 2022Avoiding burnout: an ode to adrienne maree brown

Avoiding burnout: an ode to adrienne maree brown

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Avoiding burnout: an ode to adrienne maree brown

BRITTANY CESARINI is the Director of Communications at Global Health Corps. Brittany holds a degree in Public Policy with a focus on Gender Studies and African Studies from Princeton University. Here, she shares an anecdote on not letting your work push you to burnout, cultivating humility, and making life more about others.

There’s so much good advice out there on how to prevent and manage burnout. But the foundation of real change is a change in mindset and narrative. So I encourage young professionals to start with what’s most within your control: your beautiful, powerful, flexible mind. 

“it helps to say that i’m on the edge of burnout. in the past i flew right by all the telltale signs and right into the flames, almost welcoming the rest that came when I relinquished all ability to live in my life.”
–adrienne maree brown 

When I was starting out after college, I was a prisoner to grind culture, often tempted to run right into the flames of burnout. It felt intoxicating. Look at me! My defining characteristic is my work ethic. I will let it define me at all costs – anguished mind, achy body, unwatered hobbies and relationships be damned.

At the heart of this self-destructive tendency was fear. Without the unshakeable work ethic I’ve been cultivating since childhood, what do I have to stand on? I’m not that funny. I’m not that smart. I’m not that interesting.

Besides, the world was always on fire. Shouldn’t I be right there in the flames or risk complacency? Every headline was a taunt, reminding me I wasn’t doing enough. Every Tweet was an invite to do more, do better, and do it yesterday. Every protest was a demand to quit my current job and work on what I “should” be passionate about – gun violence, the criminal injustice system, the war in Iraq, gender-based violence, homelessness, climate change, etc.

Cultivating self-love & humility

Thankfully, through conversations, reflection, reading, therapy, and life experiences, my internal narratives have shifted over the past decade. I’m a little older now, a little softer, and a little wiser. Definitely more tired, but also more anchored and hopeful, even as heartbreaking fires rage around us.

Most importantly, I love myself more.
Paradoxically, I think of myself less.

At a cellular level, I know that the entire future of our community, our society, our planet does not rest on my shoulders. I extend grace (okay, and some gentle ribbing) to the version of myself that once acted like it did.

“humility can let our shoulders drop, can make us more adaptive and flexible…and more accepting of the truth that the outcome is not only a mystery, but so so so much bigger than our work…[we can] relax in our smallness, our insignificance.”
–adrienne maree brown 

I now say no to commitments that mean I won’t get enough sleep, fresh air, exercise, and quality time with loved ones. I am practicing relaxing (with varied success from week to week), scheduling it as non-negotiable, and not feeling shameful about needing it. 


Once I learned to love myself more, and got a grip on genuine humility, the next step of the journey was to practice being in and about community.

“the more i prioritize caring for myself, caring for my community, and accepting care from my community, the better and brighter spark in the movement flame i can be.”
–adrienne maree brown 

As a human, a white person, an American with educational privilege married to a Black man, mothering a biracial son, I have a responsibility to be awake and engaged. To keep learning and trying. To contribute to a radically different future where everyone lives with care and dignity and abundance.

It’s not about me; it is about us who envision that future. I show up to my life and my work to make the us bigger and stronger, to make that future more likely. And if I want to contribute to that ambitious long-term project, I have to take care of myself and others along the way. 

Paradoxically, this allows me to contribute more, because my definition of contribution is not limited to leadership roles or driving a project forward at work. I donate (money or time, even in small amounts), I participate in mutual aid efforts, I support friends and be supported, I amplify others, I lend my skills and expertise in behind-the-scenes ways without needing credit, a title, or purview on the return on my investment.

Ultimately, I can grieve what’s heartbreaking and choose to rest and release the illusion of control, because I know there are many others out there contributing.  

Rejecting binaries & seeking connections

“everything is small. everything is changing me…everything is an invitation to practice being free and interacting with other free beings.”
–adrienne maree brown 

Looking for and threading connections has helped me step back from the edge of burnout many times. On the whole, the binaries between work and life, between productive and non-productive ways to spend our time, are not real. The sooner we live accordingly, the healthier we’ll be.

I work hard at my day job, but these days I also put time, energy, and thoughtfulness into having fun, spending time with my people, and resting. When I consider every realm of life as a canvas to live out my values and create a better future, I keep burnout at bay.

Raising my three-year-old son to name his feelings, choose his clothes, and consider other opinions has a lot to do with creating a more equitable future. Setting aside my endless to-do list to call a friend, share encouragement, or watch a funny video is a radical choice in the face of exploitative capitalism. Daily exercise and good sleep are a necessary balm and fuel for me to show up as a colleague, friend, mother, wife, sister, daughter, and neighbor. It’s all connected.

Illustrations by ANANYA PATEL

Brittany Cesarini

Brittany is the Director of Communications at Global Health Corps, an international non-profit working with rising leaders in the U.S. and Africa. Fluent in Swahili and an avid reader, writer, and hiker, Brittany currently lives in Northeast Pennsylvania with her husband and their young son. 



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