Hi, I have shiny object syndrome

Jenni Gritters
6 min readFeb 2, 2024

You know that feeling, right? The one you get when someone offers you a new gig and your dopamine levels skyrocket? Saying yes to a new project — any project, frankly — is a hell of a drug. Even better if it’s highly paid, something you’re really passionate about, or offered by a person who reached out because they appreciate your expertise.

But what happens when you say yes to all of those new things? What happens when that new-project-joy haze fades and you’re left with a pile of work that you actually have to complete?

The answer: Burnout.

Often, we make a decision to say yes based on what I call “shiny object syndrome.” It’s a knee-jerk reaction born out of novelty and enthusiasm. It’s not really a positive or a negative; sometimes those decisions work out! Often, saying yes to everything that comes our way helps us build up our businesses at the start. But over time, we may find ourselves saying yes so quickly that we end up with a pile of work that feels unfocused, misaligned or unintentional. Sound familiar?

Today I’m going to talk about how to slowly teach yourself to move toward a place of proactivity instead of reactivity. Today I’m talking about taking control, one assignment at a time.

First, the research: Humans are built to adapt when we’re under stress. This is called allostasis. One of the primary ways we deal with stress is to engage in what researchers call “pro-social” behaviors, which are behaviors intended to help other people. This makes sense: the more stressed you are, the more danger you feel. And the more danger you feel, the more likely you are to seek support from others by being helpful and saying yes.

Business ownership is generally a stress-laden style of work. We often don’t know where our next paycheck is coming from. We may be waiting for client payments, or searching for work but hearing crickets. And there are economic factors that cause stress, too — ahem, layoffs and a recession. So when we’re stressed, we’re more likely to say yes. It’s a normal response. It’s a safe response. It creates the illusion of security. It keeps other people happy. Sometimes it also creates actual financial security.

Here’s what this looks like in real life: Kai’s work mix was a hot mess. They knew…

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Jenni Gritters

I’m a writer and business coach for freelance creatives based in Central Oregon. I write about the psychology of small business ownership.