The neon in this photo by mana5280 on Unsplash is actually in my hometown.

Turn and Face the Strange Changes: A Journey from Burnout to Balance

Aaron Dignan
8 min readMay 7, 2023


I have to admit, I was running on fumes. It was January, and I was stretched so thin that I could barely function. My friends, family, and coworkers were telling me that I wasn’t showing up for them, and it was painfully clear that something had to change.

The truth is, I was stuck in a vicious loop that was a recipe of my own making. I had said “yes” to too many things for far too long. Projects, meetings, tasks, requests, events, hobbies, and ideas (including entirely new businesses). And my enthusiasm, perfectionism, and admiration-seeking nature—combined with lifelong ADHD—had created a chaotic whirlwind that had slowly worn me down.

Up to this point, I had managed to skate by, keeping up appearances and maintaining the illusion of success. But this time, I knew couldn’t solve the problem by trying harder. I had nothing left to give.

Who had I become? I was living a life of achievement and ambition, rather than genuine connections and fulfillment. And yet, my personal brand was all about human flourishing at work! Was I full of shit? 😳

Hitting The Wall and Embracing Change

Burnout had finally caught up to me, and I didn’t have the energy to keep spinning plates. I panicked, and then did the only thing I could do: I gave up. I took a break. No, not a vacation. A break. Something I hadn’t done in twenty years. I just… stopped.

First, I stepped away from work. No meetings. No writing. No podcasting. No fundraising. I deleted Slack and Superhuman from my phone. But I kept on self-medicating—with television, video games, comfort foods, and late nights. There was some relief there, but I was filling the void instead of facing it.

A week later, in a moment of clarity and desperation, my family and I tried something unprecedented. We stopped using screens (all of them) for a week. The first few days were agony. I thought my son would never forgive me. But by and by everyone seemed to find a new gear. We started playing board games, reading, walking, drawing, and cooking together. I started to catch myself staring into space for far longer than I ever could have imagined. I started falling asleep naturally—without a device falling on my face—for the first time in years. I even began to eat better. As it turns out, if you’re well rested and stress free, you choose different food.

Every once in a while, a little panic would rise in me. Agitation. I should be doing something! I have to do something! But I didn’t. And eventually, a little switch in me flipped.

You see, I told myself a story when I was very young, so young that I don’t remember it starting. And that story got under my skin and stayed there. The story went, “You are not enough. In order to be worthy of love and attention, you have to do great things. If you stop, or you fail, then you’ll feel your feelings, and they’re too scary to face.”

So, I learned to hide from my feelings and bury myself in pursuit. There wasn’t a year in my life when I wasn’t in relentless pursuit of greatness in something. Academics. Action Sports. Music. Entrepreneurship. You name it. My agenda was achievement first, everything (and everyone) else second. “You’ll be calm, present, and happy later—after you have conquered the world,” I thought. Yikes.

Now, finally, that was starting to turn on its head. What would it look like to live my life so that I felt a measure of presence and peace right now? What would it look like to work in a way that felt sustainable… physically, cognitively, and emotionally? What would it look like to be in an authentic relationship with other people, wanting nothing but the pleasure of their company? I was strangely committed to finding out. 🤔

Building a New Life — One Change at a Time

In order to shake things up, I needed to learn more about my brain and how it works (or doesn’t). So, I had a neuropsychological exam conducted by a nearby psychologist. I started working with a coach (and a therapist too). I figured, why not throw everything I’ve got at this? In the process, I learned a lot about myself, most importantly that I have a long road of self-discovery ahead of me.

The TL;DR about my brain was this: I was a dopamine addict. My (now diagnosed) ADHD presented as a nonstop hunt for novelty. Historically, any chance I had to get stimulation, I was gonna take it. And one rush fed the next. If you procrastinate at work, you get the buzz of last minute productivity. And if that wears you out, you can eat sugar. And if that makes you hopped up, you can stay up late attacking zombies on the PS5. It never ended. Even a few moments of downtime without a screen felt interminable. I was cycling Adderall to make it through the day, and THC gummies to get to sleep.

But now, with so few distractions in my life, I was starting to rebuild my days as dopamine free zones. I created a schedule of sorts, for me and my family. It gave us guidance and boundaries. And that structure really helped me relax. I stopped worrying about what I was missing or forgetting (a typical ADHD pattern) and started showing up to my life. I had spend 40+ years as a human doing and now I was a human being (or something resembling one 😉).

Me being me, I couldn’t help but turn my new goals and insights into experiments. And I fumbled my way to a new operating system at home.

My shiny new “Life OS” is designed to minimize dopamine and maximize balance and presence. Here’s what it looks like after eight weeks of practice:

Technology Habits

  • Everything in my home is automated via Apple Homepod and Philips Hue. Changes in lights and music throughout the day remind me what mode I’m in, from cooking to sleep.
  • Our lights are synced with the Sun, so when it’s dark, it’s pretty dim in our house too. This is helping me stay in a natural rhythm and head to bed early.
  • I deleted everything interesting from my phone (including ALL content apps), and switched the screen to black and white in the accessibility settings. It’s boring now. I leave it behind every chance I get, and have upgraded my Apple Watch to do everything I need to do on the go, including unlock and start my car.
  • No phones in bed. No phone in my hands when I’m with my family (unless I’m doing something for them on it).
  • No video games. None. I put the PS5 in storage, and sold the Oculus.
  • I only watch TV twice a week. We do family movie night on Fridays, and my wife and I still watch Succession on Sunday night (I may be in recovery but I’m not a monster).
  • I bought a Kindle and now I read fiction every day, whenever I’m bored. It feeds my imagination and reminds me what it means to be human.

Other Habits

  • I got an office space ten minutes from my home, and I work there from 8:30am to 3:30pm M-F. I get more done in those limited hours than I did continuously working from home 24/7. The scope of my roles and projects is far more focused, and it has helped a ton.
  • I ride my bike to and from work (weather permitting).
  • We take a walk every day as a family (weather permitting).
  • I cook breakfast and dinner. Slowly.
  • I don’t eat after dinner. It helps me sleep.
  • The family builds a grocery list with Siri throughout the week, and we shop together and do meal prep as a family on Sundays.
  • I’ve been calling people just to ask them how they’re doing. I think it’s unsettling to people that have known me for a while.

Above all, I’ve learned that I can’t do so much. I never learned how to make my schedule and to do list reflect my capacity and my values. The question was only ever, “How can I do more?” So, I’m practicing. In a way, I feel like a kid again, learning how to live a life where the goal has changed. 🤗

The Pursuit of Balance and the Art of Being

I’m no longer in the achievement business—hanging up my spurs. I want to cultivate a life that reflects what I truly care about, rather than chasing after the superficial markers of success. I want to nurture genuine connections with the people I care about, instead of treating relationships like transactions (yes, that means YOU, I’d love to hear from you).

I’m not saying I won’t continue starting and scaling businesses. Quite the opposite. I love coming up with new ideas and gathering people around a flame. But, I’m going to be far more honest with myself (and everyone else) about how much I can handle, what brings me joy, and when it’s time for me to step away so I can start again. One thing at a time. One step at a time. And whenever I get lost, I have a pretty simple mantra:

Slow down.

Get back into your body.

Feel the feelings.

You are enough.

And if I’m really anxious…

Will this matter in a year? In ten?

As I continue on this journey of learning and change, I ask for your well wishes and support. I know it won’t be easy, but I’m committed to making the changes necessary to live a more balanced and fulfilling life. I hope that no part of this story suggested that I know what I’m doing, because I definitely don’t. Any positive changes or epiphanies I’ve experienced thus far have been the result of my good fortune and the wonderful people around me.

I still hear the siren song of my old life from time to time—that rush of anxiety and urgency will pass through me out of nowhere—and I try to just wave at it. Hello, old friend.

To anyone else struggling with burnout or feeling lost, remember that it’s never too late to turn and face the strange changes within you. Sometimes the hardest lessons are the ones that lead us to our most profound transformations.

Special thanks to my wife Britt and my son Huxley for holding me through this, and putting up with me beforehand. You two are the center of my universe. I’d also like to thank my friends and colleagues at The Ready for supporting me and making this transformation possible (as they do for so many others). I look forward to seeing you soon. And to the Murmur team, thank you for the lightness and conviction you bring each and every day. Finally, to my Mom, Dad, and Brother, I love you.



Aaron Dignan

Founder @theready and @murmur, investor, friend to misfit toys. Author of Brave New Work and co-host of the Brave New Work podcast.