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Preparing High School Students to Bust the Burnout Culture

Our modern day wonders are spectacular compared to any generation before us. With technology like the Internet, and social networks like Facebook and Instagram, it’s created a platform to connect us to so many people around the world that just couldn’t have been done before.

We can send messages, pictures and videos instantly! A hundred years ago, people would have thought of it as sheer supernatural magic!

While society has made these tremendous leaps, it’s also ingrained some negative behaviours that heavily weigh down on us and our mental health that was also never experienced a generation ago.

Back 40 years ago - with your parents, and most your grandparents, life was a lot simpler.

You’re born, you play, you go to school, you graduate, you get a job, you serve, you save, have kids, you retire.

It was the industrial generation. The goal was to make life as clock work and standard as possible, which included our health, happiness and wellbeing.

Today, the demands of society as a whole to keep up with our pace of growth, has put a heavily undesired burden on us and our collective mental health.

It’s created a society of burnout.

What is burnout?

Simply, if you spend more energy than you can recover and it’s turned into a set of habits and unconscious behaviours, that’s burn out.

Studies show today that over 60% of us struggle through burnout and it’s symptoms like anxiety and depression are a real worry for the youth.

We are bombarded with information everyday. Marketers desperately trying to grab and own your attention. Many of us are mentally addicted to our mobile smartphones that we find it difficult to live without it, as if it’s become an extension of ourselves.

New exponential technologies like the Internet of Things, Artificial Intelligence, and Automation will be introduced faster than we can adapt to it, accelerating our social problems like poverty because our values and decision making haven’t caught up to the pace of change.

As a result, we are not readying ourselves mentally and emotionally to live well in this century, and can easily fall into the trap of exhaustion and stress-related illnesses.

Our standard of life might have improved, but our quality of life has gone quite backwards.

That’s why I believe, now more than ever, the importance of a GAP year when designed with intention, is a powerful life transforming approach to set ourselves on the healthy life path.

It’ll positively affect your future career, health, relationships and personal growth.

To share my story, I had an accidental GAP year. In my high school days we had an extra grade - grade 13 or known as OAC.

Being a student achiever back in the day, I intentionally fast tracked to graduate a year early. By accident, I had opted for a non-mandatory course in my last year which left out a compulsory credit and prevented me from graduating early. As a result, I had one class had to take for one semester the following year.

With all that extra time I took it as an opportunity to explore different jobs and interests, travel and most importantly gain experience.

Not just work experience, but also life experience.

To sit down, reflect, and ask myself what I actually want to achieve and experience in my life. To dream and take action. To move beyond fulfilling parental and social expectations, and break the cycle of life as a grind and a paycheck.

The goal is to orientate oneself to explore the deeper questions around meaning: who I am and my purpose of life, which is mandatory if you want to live a fulfilling life.

Fast forward today, I help millennial leaders through interventions and therapy through the Burnout Clinic to reverse burnout and their life crises because that is exactly what they didn’t do earlier in their lives.

While it’s never too late, the pain, consequences and regrets that come from the feeling of emptiness and burnout can be avoided with enough simple foresight earlier in life.

That’s a lesson that is definitely worth considering.

Here are some important skills to consider exploring during your GAP year, that I professionally train to leaders who look to turn their lives around and enjoy a deeply meaningful career and life.

#1 - Learn and get super clear about your values; what is important to you and how to make decisions from them.

Grab a journal or a piece of paper and sit down with yourself and ask this simple question...

What is important to me in the context of (school, career, health, family, life, etc.)?

Do each area separately. Let yourself unload - and keep asking yourself that very question until you have nothing more to answer at least 3 times in a row. Then sort your values from most important to least important.

The top 5 values are your driver values; actively fulfilling them will enable you to wake up really excited about that area of your life. Do it for all your areas of life.

#2 - Orientate yourself on activities that excite you. Develop the sensitivity to connect with things that make you passionate to build skills from that. It’s the secret sauce to do what you love AND get paid well doing it.

It's your GAP YEAR. Be very specific with what you do - and more importantly it must excite you. As you get better with it, you'll develop the intuitive ability to connect on powerful emotional states like passion, joy, love, excitement.

As you gain experience from those states, it will begin to form connections, patterns and skills that you will use to ultimately solve the problems that are important to you. You will be motivated to learn the skills needed to solve these problems.

That's when you move from a boring job, a good career to your career calling!

#3 - Learn a mindfulness type of practice. It could be meditation, Yoga, regular walks in the park, journaling, etc., that becomes a part of your life. This develops you to be intentional with your life so you don’t fall victim by the expectations of others.

It's funny how historically practices like mindfulness and meditation was left to the gurus, monks and spiritual masters to attain enlightenment. Hidden on the mountain tops across the world.

As a side effect, as science began to study these practices began to realize how powerful it is to help us deal with stress, anxiety, pains, and a whole slew of negative emotions that generally lead us down a path of destructive behaviours.

Now an entire field of "bio-hacking" has emerged to take these practices and help us attain better mastery of our physical, mental and emotional well-being and help us navigate the complexities of the 21st century.

#4 - Dream and Imagine! Create a positive outlook in life and condition your mindset to gain the resilience to create positive ripples with all your relationships around your natural talents.

Who likes a naysayer right?

From a psychology perspective, as one begins to worry, feel anxious, scared and become overwhelmed by fear - it stems from our own filters and beliefs we have subscribed to in our lives. As a side effect, it leads many of us into a conditioned reality of poor mental health.

Now on the same flip side, actively practicing your abilities to dream and imagine positive futures develops neuro pathways, filters and beliefs that reinforce a positive reality in our world view.

Most importantly taking action from this space reinforces a positive mindset and mental health, and the ability to achieve the goals that we desire.

#5 - Have fun! Learn how to fulfill responsibilities playfully. It will take you a long way in life, especially gaining more sensitivity around tapping into your natural creativity and curiosity.

Most of us are conditioned to think that responsibilities carry a burden, and if left unchecked can suck you into that thinking and ultimately down the rabbit hole of burnout.

Fun and play are natural states that tap into our creativity. Especially during a Gap Year, it allows you more freedom to put that into practice AND show the results that come from it. A key take away is to demonstrate that you can fulfill responsibilities playfully and be a living example of it.

If you’re a parent looking to encourage your teenage adults to develop a stronger connection to a more fulfilling life - help co-create and design the GAP year with them.

It’s a great opportunity to re-think some of your own experiences, and the social norms, limiting beliefs and decisions that might have or are still holding you down from living each day more stress free and fulfilling.

It’s a great exercise to start or continue the conversation around adulting.

Join the #GAPYEAR movement and research all the different ways to explore how to create a meaningful gap year. From volunteering, traveling, learning new skills and deeply discovering who you are.

You can get more information and resources from my amazing Canadian friends at the Canadian Gap Year Association.

It’s really powerful and profound that a simple thing like disconnecting yourself from the expectations of life can create a life transformation.

A well crafted Gap Year can help you develop the resources inside and experiences to help you reach the deeper and more fulfilling goals in your life. Most importantly, you can be an active player to show how to turn the culture of burnout around, by being a role model for positive mental health and how to intentionally design and create your own amazing life experiences.

A Gap Year is always a #storyworthtelling.

Until next time, #keepthepassionalive!

A little about me... Hi! I'm Duncan So, Executive Director at, the Founder & Chief Catalyst of, a Systems Change Agency, and the Head of Global Education at the Phinklife Institute for Social Impact empowering leaders for social impact.


Want to breakthrough your burnout and creating meaningful work for yourself or your organization? Start here at:

A little about me... Hi! I'm Duncan So, Executive Director at, the Founder & Chief Catalyst of, a Systems Change Agency, and the Head of Global Education at the Phinklife Institute for Social Impact empowering leaders for social impact.