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The Tiger Is Always Coming


Sun May 19 2024

The Tiger Is Always Coming

Your body must differentiate between a tiger and a printer.

Living a stress-free life is not only physiologically impossible, as Kristen Donnelly points out, stress can protect you from tigers.


“You want stress in your life because your body needs to tell you if there’s a tiger coming because that’s part of stress,” Donnelly says, referring to human biology. “Now, our bodies don’t know the difference between a tiger and a jammed printer, so we’ve got to work on this a little bit.”

But there’s a difference between stress and burnout. Burnout, Donnelly says, is your mind’s and body’s response to being stuck in a state of high stress.

“Essentially, the tiger is always coming,” she notes, “whether the tiger is there or not.”

Donnelly, a trained sociologist and founder and president of Abbey Research, began her ATD24 session with a brief history lesson on the Puritans and how, somehow, people in the US largely continue to live by these Puritanical philosophies: working hard means you’re a good person; hard work means doing it by yourself; and sleep is for when you die.

“America is a culture of burnout,” Donnelly explains. “And by that, we mean a culture that values burnout.”


Despite the culture the US has cultivated in the centuries since the Puritans began establishing that mindset, every individual has a personal responsibility not to give in to burnout.

To do that, Donnelly and Abbey Research Vice President Erin Hinson established the four Rs of burnout mitigation:

  • Rest is a traditional method of trying to get more sleep.

  • Rejuvenation means embracing the fun and joyous things in life.

  • Realignment means remembering who you are and that you are important.

  • Reconnection is about knowing who in your life keeps you centered.

“There’s more parts to us than just our bodies,” Donnelly states. “And there’s more answers to burnout than, ‘Take a vacation.’ You need to be happy. Joy is a non-negotiable part of the human existence. I promise.”

Donnelly concludes the session by reminding everyone in the room that they do a great job, regardless of how overwhelmed they may feel.

“You’re showing up every day at work to make people better people,” Donnelly says. “That’s a rare and special instinct that you all have.”


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