Are you a snoozy canary?

This post was written by Megan on April 17, 2010
Posted Under: burnout and society

Snoozy canary cartoon



'Burnout' officially began in the 1970’s when everything was a blur anyway…

Obviously people were burned out out before then. But the 1970s saw the condition become 'branded'. 

Now the term 'burnout' is thrown into conversation pretty easily these days.  You either have it, or are conscious of being in danger of it, or you know people who have burned out. 

So why do you think burnout is now so…popular? 


How burnout happens might seem pretty clear 

We stress too much and work too hard.  Maybe play too hard, too. These times seem more demanding, the pace so much faster now. Or am I just getting old?


Are we becoming ghosts in the machine?

A friend of mine, recently turned 70, thinks that the internet is partly responsible for our overly up-tempo lives. Bear in mind that this 70 year old conducts tertiary education programs online and chats to her students via virtual cafes.

But despite this extraordinary woman's hearty embrace of the web, she is convinced that our expectations of immediacy (therefore, speedy reactions to deliver immediacy) stem from the internet.

Or rather, our response to the internet.

Because the internet is just a tool. It's how we use – and abuse – it that becomes the real issue. If it is the real issue.


How do normal people handle the pace today? 

Apparently they take neuroenhancers. Well, some do. Actually quite a lot do, it seems, if the article called 'Brain Gain' (published last year in the New Yorker Magazine) is anything to go by.

Author of the article, Margaret Talbot ends her piece with a summary that woke me up to where we are at:

"The experience that neuroenhancement offers is not, for the most part, about opening the doors of perception, or about breaking the bonds of the self, or about experiencing a surge of genius. It’s about squeezing out an extra few hours to finish those sales figures when you’d really rather collapse into bed…"

In short, it's all about productivity. Survival, even.

We've come a long way from the 70s, baby. We now take drugs to be better students and employees – not to be worse ones. A horrible and shocking revelation. 

But this is a fine enough explanation of how bad health can happen to good people.  Of how we can get burned out 'en masse'.


Are we snoozy canaries in the mine?

Thinking of these people who work at the pace of the internet (with or without productivity drugs)….
Are burned out folk a bright yellow sign, warning these people? Calling out to the 'miners of life' out there that it's time for smoke-o?  That it's time to wriggle out of their tunnels of industry and take a breath of fresh air? See the sun?

i.e. get away from the computer…the internet…even from reading entertaining blog posts (gasp).
Could we, as burnees, perhaps be much more important than we think we are?
Could we, in our sombre and fatigued state, be the vital inspiration required for others to be happy and healthy?
Bedtime for this post
So, if you are burned out, consider yourself a very precious snoozy canary. A snoozy canary that will one day be not so snoozy. You will start to hum to yourself and…ever so gradually…find yourself releasing into song. A new song that's so much better than any other song you have known before.
In the meantime, know that you are a vital inspiration to others. Just by being you. 


This post was written by Megan Hills.  Megan is a writer and cartoonist who sings 'A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square' rather loudly while alone cooking. The neighbour hasn't complained…yet. Find out more about Megan

Reader Comments

Megan, thanks for your blog. You make some really salient points. Especially your comment that the Internet is a tool – and it is up to us how we choose to use it. I often wonder if all this 'busyness' we engage in (like hours spent browsing the Net) is actually a mechanism we use to avoid thinking about (and doing) what really matters … such as finding out what we really want to do – even if we are afraid of the challenge - and pursuing it. I think people have always experienced stress, it's just that our ancestors were stressed by trying to survive (and that stress was an important 'fuel' in driving them to do what they needed to do to ensure their survival), whereas today, with most people's survival needs taken care of, we seem to suffer intense psychological stress that can't be so easily resolved. The rise of the 'self-help' book seems to point to people looking for answers 'without' when maybe it's all there – within us – and we just don't recognise it.

Written By Monique on April 18th, 2010 @ 1:19 pm

How many canaries have to suffer before the word takes notice?  Or is it just seen as justifiable animal/human cruelty in the name of econimics and productivity.  Mm those sorts of questions just make me feel burnt out too ; 0

Written By Amanda Dearden on April 19th, 2010 @ 10:59 am

A timely reminder for all of us.
I run a Chinese Medicine business and regularly treat sufferers of burnout. It seems that so much of the problem comes from our addictions to stimulus. Yes we all love to be stimulated but our bodies aren't designed to be stimulated and 'feel good' all the time. Eventually it is not even feeling good but the rush of hormones we get with stress whether it be good or bad. It's like Stokholm syndrome where the person feels more comfortable with the negative because it is what they know.
Thanks for the reminder we all need to listen to.

Written By Jeff Shearer on April 20th, 2010 @ 11:53 am

How many canaries have to suffer before the word takes notice?  Or is it just seen as justifiable animal/human cruelty in the name of econimics and productivity.  Mm those sorts of questions just make me feel burnt out too ; 0

Written By Amy on April 23rd, 2010 @ 9:30 pm

"These times seem more demanding, the pace so much faster now. Or am I just getting old?"

I totally agree with you. I am only 20, but have noticed that just within the past couple years, the pace seems to have picked up drastically. Everyone wants to be perfect and do it much before anyone else. 
Students start searching for colleges earlier and earlier. Do you really need to look at colleges in your freshman year?! Clothing stores start selling spring clothes in January. We haven't even hit winter yet, people! You are expected to have a master plan 6 months before you plan to do anything, no matter what it is and you are expected to have perfected that plan. It's exhausting to even think about.

Written By Claire on January 18th, 2012 @ 5:09 am

Thanks soooo much for your view on the pace of life as a 20 year old (I’m 44 year old…but often behave like a child while feeling 104:)). Always good to check in across generations. Seems we’re all feeling a bit the same, ja? The need to be ‘perfect’ while also attempting to control the future are slithering their sneaky ways into our daily lives. My heart sank when I saw Easter eggs already appearing in the supermarkets in the middle of January. However, I believe hot cross buns should be available throughout the year.

Whenever I’m feeling overwhelmed with it all, I check in with myself and the message is always the same: ‘First…let’s take a deep breath….now…another…okay, let’s note that this is all bloody insane, and it doesn’t have to be like this.’

Written By Megan on January 22nd, 2012 @ 12:15 pm

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