Why Some People Break Out While Others Burn Out

I love watching athletes compete. Whether it’s junior pro, high school, college, or professional sports, I’m in! There is just something inside me that comes to life when I watch a game being played. I can’t help myself. I get into it.

One thing I learned early in my career as a sports broadcaster is the athletes who are considered to be the fiercest competitors are also driven and motivated people. And when I say driven, I’m mean driven. You can’t buy this kind of drive. You can’t teach it either. It comes from within. And it’s unmistakable. You can see it in their eyes. You can feel it in their voice. And you can watch it play out even during practice.

While you can certainly find what I’m talking about in sports, you can also find it just about everywhere. Now that’s not to suggest everyone around you is driven or motivated. The truth is some people are happy to simply glide along through life. It’s a shame because life shouldn’t be something you endure; it should be something you embrace.


Life is a great adventure. And those with enough drive and motivation should be willing to say yes, even if it means they’ll need to go through some peaks and valleys along the way. It’s why you were created. You aren’t just filling space on this earth; you have a mission to complete and a plan to deliver on.

So how can you know if you’re a driven or motivated person? Here are some telling signs:

·      You light up and other people notice when you talk about it. The cadence of your speech, your body language, and even your energy changes.

·      You find the time and energy to learn, practice, and improve your skills in a specific area. You make the first move. No one must tell you to do it.

·      You refuse to be deterred by any challenge or obstacle. Instead, you’re inspired to push through all resistance.

But what are the signs someone isn’t motivated or driven? That’s easy:

·      Any excuse will do. There is always a reason not to do something.

·      They postpone and procrastinate as much and as often as possible. There is always something else more urgent or important.

·      They lack the commitment to endure for any length of time. It’s easy to start strong. But the one who wins is the one who stays in the game the longest.


There is a great book you need to read if you’re really interested in learning more about this. It’s by Malcolm Gladwell. He is the author of many popular books, articles, and blog posts. But this book is especially relevant to this topic.

In Gladwell’s book, Outliers, he suggests it takes 10,000 hours to reach a break out or inflection point. He documents numerous examples throughout the book. But it’s the concept that really intrigued me.

In a culture where it’s easier and more likely to burn out than break out, Gladwell’s principle is a litmus test for those who want to know and discover their divine design. If you’re not willing to invest 10,000 hours in learning, attempting, testing, and experimenting with a skill or activity, you’re unlikely to possess the drive or motivation necessary to turn your passion into a life project that will ultimately yield a legacy.

Translate this to leading organizations and people. The longer I’m in leadership, the more I’m convinced knowledge is not the gap that keeps people and organizations from breaking out. It’s sourcing the focus, intensity, drive, and motivation necessary to attempt something significant long enough to get it right.

If you’re not experiencing a break out in at least one area of your life, I believe the root cause can be found in one of these three things:

·      You aren’t chasing the right things. It may be time to reassess or refocus your intended outcomes.

·      You aren’t patient enough to work without recognition until you reach an inflection point. You may need to consider whether you’re living out of the expectations of others or really working toward work that is meaningful and important to you.

·      You don’t have the right people around you. I believe in mentors. You need someone to help you see things in you that are difficult or impossible to see in yourself.


I met an attorney on a plane once. He clearly looked successful. Custom suit. Leather briefcase. He said all the right things, did all the right things, and believed all the right things. I bet most people envied what they perceived to be someone who had it all together.

But it wasn’t long until he started to tell me how his life was anything but ideal. He didn’t have a good relationship with his wife. He felt disconnected from his kids. And he didn’t get as energized by the wins he accomplished in his career like he once did.

The more he talked, the more I realized he wasn’t living in alignment with his divine design. He was pushing himself through the motions but wasn’t really driven to do the things he was doing or motivated to continue to live the life he was living.

There are two ways to live life. You can live your life moving toward something or running away from something. Clearly, this guy felt like anything less than his current lifestyle would ensure he repeated the life he had growing up. His motivation was an inverted one. He wanted to ensure he didn’t experience something instead of trying to create something new. That’s a hard way to live.

So I asked him what would he do differently if time and money were no object. He said he’d rather give up being a partner in a large law firm and break out on his own. He told me about a time when he saw his dad bullied by a big corporation into taking a buy out he didn’t think was fair. He became an attorney to help the little guy fight against the big guy.

As he talked, his energy changed. His voice picked up. And I could tell there was something in him he only rarely tapped into.

I asked him if he had shared this with his wife. He shook his head in agreement. He even said she was all for it because she thought it would bring the family together since he would be happier.

He said he’d been thinking a lot about life and how empty his felt right now. But he knew it didn’t have to remain that way. He was wrestling through an inevitable decision to jump. I just smiled and encouraged him not to wait any longer.


The truth is drive and motivation are required to accomplish anything great in life. Whether you’re an entrepreneur, executive, pastor, or educator, you will burn out if you’re not living in alignment and agreement with your divine design. It’s the only path to achieve the break out you want to experience.

Anyone who has ever coached a great athlete, led a great team, or decided to make a significant shift in their career, knows passion must result in commitment. Eventually, the resistance will come. And how you respond will reveal what really drives you.

The very thing that will determine whether you burn out or break out comes down to knowing one thing—the source of your drive and motivation. If you can wrap your mind and soul around that and never let it go, nothing will be able to stop you from fulfilling your destiny. It will be an eternal source of life for you and will lead you into a life of meaning, significance, and purpose.

REFLECT: What drives or motivates you to do what you do? If you could change anything about your life right now, what would it be? What’s holding you back from doing that now? Are you living from a shallow place of expectation or a deep place of drive and motivation?