Prioritizing People:

Confront and Conquer Burnout Together

By NAfME Member Dr. Lori Schwartz Reichl 

“You will burn and you will burn out; you will be healed and come back again.”―Fyodor Dostoevsky

Life seems a bit more fragile these days, regardless of what roles we serve professionally and personally. Expectations, positions, careers, health, and households may have changed or will change. As part of the “sandwich” generation, many of us are caring for aging parents while also raising children, along with maintaining the responsibilities of our work. The endless news of war, mass shootings, vehicle collisions, tragic accidents, mental health, and disease causes worry and concern. Every time we turn on the TV, scroll social media, or talk to a friend or relative, it appears someone I know, you know, or we knew at one phase in our lives has fallen ill or died for various reasons. These realizations about lives being stolen away often take our breaths away for a moment in time. Life is a gift and too many of us are living it in a state of despair.

I have been hearing the phrase “Process over Product” much more in recent years, especially in education regarding the “doing” versus the “done” of an activity, project, presentation, or performance. I am drawn to its intention about the experience of learning but feel as though something—or someone—is missing from its meaning. What if we changed this phrase to read “People over Process and Product”? How could this prioritization of people alter our preparation, planning, and performance in our learning, leading, and living spaces? Would we more carefully consider each person rather than the entire family, class, ensemble, or department as a whole?

“There is no ‘I’ in TEAM,” was a phrase I heard echoed by coaches, directors, teachers, and leaders in my youth. I probably said it at some point in my life and career, too. But did I believe it then? Do I believe it now? Could it be negatively impacting how we learn, lead, and love?

A team is made up of many unique individuals, just like (or unlike!) you and me, who learn, lead, and love differently. The many “I’s” intricately make up each grouping of people. With or without a certain “I,” the unit will function differently. A decision, pace, content, or meaning could be altered or lost because of the absence or addition of one person. The process will change. The product may be modified. Think of what happens when we are missing a member of our family, a student in our class, a musician in our ensemble, an athlete on our team, or a leader in our department. There is a void. Without a certain “I,” the group may not exist or excel at its greatest potential.

If we begin the process of producing with “I,” we can first ask ourselves how we feel. Do we feel good about our work? Are we content with our lives? Are we happy to be alive? From there, we can focus on how our loved ones, students, colleagues, and employees may also be feeling.

In researching the components, signs, and stages of burnout and investing a deep concern for our well-being and for those we love, serve, and lead, two California colleagues and I (in Maryland) designed and presented the webinar, “Burnt Out —> Now What?” While living on different sides of the country, we have felt burnout at varying phases in our lives and careers. In preparation for this webinar, I read the attendees’ responses about what symptoms of burnout they are experiencing. I was devastated but not shocked by their responses. There are similarities throughout the numerous responses and an equivalence to how I feel and act each time burnout occurs. The responses included boredom, lack of motivation, little enjoyment, stress/anxiety, exhaustion, being overwhelmed, not wanting to get out of bed, less patience with loved ones, lack of interest in previously enjoyed activities, and waiting for a sign to leave their job. These responses are an obvious sign of needing and wanting help.

In a Harvard Business Review article, Dr. Monique Valcour states,

“Research has also linked burnout to many negative physical and mental health outcomes, including coronary artery disease, hypertension, sleep disturbances, depression, and anxiety, as well as to increased alcohol and drug use. Moreover, burnout has been shown to produce feelings of futility and alienation, undermine the quality of relationships, and diminish long-term career prospects.”

Within the article, Valcour discusses that burnout is a three-component syndrome of exhaustion, cynicism, and inefficacy that arises in response to chronic stressors. Cynicism, Valcour says, “can be the result of work overload, but it is also likely to occur in the presence of high conflict, unfairness, and lack of participation in decision making.” She goes on to clarify, “Inefficacy refers to feelings of incompetence and a lack of achievement and productivity.” Burnout can also begin when “you lack the resources and support to do your job well, including adequate time, information, clear expectations, autonomy, and good relationships with those whose involvement you need to succeed. The absence of feedback and meaningful recognition, which leaves you wondering about the quality of your work and feeling that it’s unappreciated, can also activate this component.”

Burnout does not make us any less of a professional. It makes us human.

My godmother always reminds me, “We are all going through something.” I have taken this to heart when working with students, colleagues, and clients and interacting with friends and family. I am less likely to criticize, chastise, or challenge when I think of her genuine words.

It may or may not surprise us how many people are feeling burned out or experiencing a sense of hopelessness. If not now, at some point in our lives, we may lack energy, confidence, or significance. We may question our choices, decisions, and paths both personally and professionally. We might consider making key changes in the coming days, weeks, or new year. These are all natural feelings to have. These feelings may cause us to not be as concerned with the process, product, or performance in our working situations. We may be more worried about the people—even ourselves!

Burnout can happen to anyone at any time. Change is possible though. 

Consider these 5 key steps to confront and conquer burnout either for yourself or for those you love, serve, and lead:

  1. Recognize

Understand that you, your loved one, student, colleague, or employee may be experiencing burnout. Learn about the symptoms and discover how to identify these.

  1. Examine

Inquire about how you and they are doing. Consider sharing your experience with another person or asking others if they would like to share how they are feeling in their own time and method.

  1. Connect

Find some way or someone to connect with others. Think beyond the familiar, if necessary. Encourage an affirmative evaluation of accomplishments, goals, skills, and interests to shift one’s perspective to a more positive one. Prioritize self-care by reminding yourself and others to exercise, sleep often, and eat well. Join others on this journey.

  1. Follow-Up

Check-in with others as needed. Review how you or they have improved or worsened. Consider additional guidance.

  1. Show Gratitude

Let others know they are appreciated—often. Remind them of their gifts. Showing gratitude is powerful to both the receiver and the giver.

woman sleeping during work at the office

Witthaya Prasongsin/ Moment Collection via Getty Images

To confront and conquer burnout, we should do so together by prioritizing people. Let’s reflect on how we can be more present in the presence of others and aware of what they (and we!) are experiencing. We should encourage, redirect, and support others (and ourselves!) to heal and return to a sense of hopefulness. Let’s prioritize people over the process and product. In doing so, we may notice that the people are more invested, the process is more enjoyable, and the product more superb.

About the author:

Lori Schwartz Reichl 2023

Photo by Richard Twigg Photography

NAfME member Dr. Lori Schwartz Reichl is the visionary thought leader of Making Key Changes. Her career began in music education where she learned the importance of a key changea shift in the tonal center of a piece of music, often used to inject energy or produce significance. She eventually realized the necessity and impact of making key changes in her life, classroom, career, and profession.

Since transitioning out of one classroom as a full-time public-school educator, Dr. Reichl has uniquely created a global classroom for her passionate work. Her mission is to mentor and motivate students, educators, and leaders to create a shared vision by making key changes in their careers, classrooms, companies, and communities. She guides these contributors to unlock their greatest potential, energy, and significance in collaboration with those they love, serve, and lead.

Learn more Subscribe to Dr. Reichl’s Making Key Changes newsletter.

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The National Association for Music Education (NAfME) provides a number of forums for the sharing of information and opinion, including blogs and postings on our website, articles and columns in our magazines and journals, and postings to our Amplify member portal. Unless specifically noted, the views expressed in these media do not necessarily represent the policy or views of the Association, its officers, or its employees.

April 2024 Teaching Music

Published Date

December 5, 2023


  • Teacher Self Care


December 5, 2023. © National Association for Music Education (

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