At the age of 26, DJ Tim Bergling, known as Avicii, was at the height of his career. In just a few short years, he’d gone from sleeping on friend’s couches to headlining EDM festivals as a superstar DJ and getting paid millions of dollars to do something he loved. He’d rocketed from nowhere to a life of fame and fortune, yet, just when he appeared to be riding high on the crest of a wave, he made the decision to retire from touring and live performances. Appearances can be deceiving. To onlookers and fans, Avicii was living the dream, but his own view was quite different, summed up by his words:
“My life is all about stress.”
Over a period of five years, Avicii played 220 DJ sets in 261 weeks, including 26 shows in 27 days, released two albums and three EPs, modelled as the face of Ralph Lauren, and travelled extensively from one country to the next in non-stop tour mode. He may have rocketed from nowhere to stardom, but five years of pushing the limits of what is was physically and mentally possible to sustain was inevitably going to take its toll. At the age of 26, Avicii was burned out.
“There was never an end to the shows, even when I hit a wall.” – Avicii
Burnout is the result of excessive and prolonged stress. It leaves you feeling physically, mentally, and emotionally exhausted. You’re totally overwhelmed and unable to cope with the endless demands being placed on you, and you reach a point where you’re no longer motivated by or even interested in anything you do. Herbert Freudenberger coined the term “burnout” back in 1974, and in his book, Burnout: The High Cost of High Achievement, he defined it as, “The extinction of motivation or incentive, especially where one’s devotion to a cause or relationship fails to produce the desired results.”
Avicii’s fast-paced, non-stop lifestyle had turned the one thing he loved and the one thing he was exceptionally successful at doing into something he dreaded doing and something he felt less and less capable of doing. He was performing in huge venues packed full of fans who couldn’t get enough of his music, but he felt increasingly nervous about going on stage at live events, becoming increasingly anxious about his ability to do what he did. He was suffering the effects of performance anxiety, also known as stage fright.
So how can someone at the peak of their career with sold-out venues as proof of their popularity slip into doubting themselves and their ability to perform? Burnout is an undeniable factor, but personality also has a role to play. As a self-confessed introvert, Avicii was never comfortable in the spotlight.
As a teenager, he began mixing music in his bedroom and sharing it online, able to hide his identity behind the name of Avicii. He describes himself as being shy at this point in life, terrified of speaking in front of people, and self-conscious over frequent outbreaks of acne. He dreamed of being able to DJ in a club, but the manager who discovered him through his online postings saw a much bigger future for him – and so the road to burnout begins.
“I didn’t take the time to think about what I really wanted to do. I just went along with the flow. I was running after an ideal happiness that wasn’t my own.” – Avicii
Success followed, but it brought overwhelming pressure and stress along with it. His young age along with his empathetic personality traits made it difficult for him to say no, and pushy promoters took full advantage. At the time of announcing his retirement, he said, “When I started touring, I was eighteen years old. I was straight out of high school, I had shows every single day. I completely overdid it.” All Tim wanted to do was make music, but his manager, promoters, fans, and the whole industry wanted their piece of the phenomenon that was Avicii.
Wanting to please everyone and wanting to fit in not only made it hard to say no to more dates on his punishing schedule, it also made it hard to say no to the party lifestyle that came with it. Accepting every drink that came his way soon led to alcohol-related health concerns, and both his gallbladder and appendix were eventually removed. Alcohol had been giving him the courage to push through the performance anxiety that was threatening to stop him in his tracks, but these health issues provided a wake-up call that Avicii realised he needed to pay attention to. He had been telling his manager that he was physically and mentally exhausted, but no one was listening, so he did the one thing that would give him back control. He retired.
“I have too little left for the life of a real person behind the artist.” – Tim Bergling/Avicii
Now free from the relentless demands of touring, Avicii was able to return to being Tim and doing what he loved to do – making music. With the pressures removed, Tim’s story should now have a happy ending, but just two years later at the age of 28, he took his own life.
The performance anxiety had been removed, but Tim’s perfectionism remained. The pressures and stresses in his life were now linked to his need to produce “perfection” in every piece of music he created, and his desire to rediscover the real Tim behind the Avicii front led to an on-going struggle to find answers to questions about Meaning, Life, and Happiness.
Happiness it seems, eluded him. Perhaps failing to pay attention to the subtle signs and symptoms of burnout led to the real Tim being lost for too long and the struggle to reconnect became a whole new road to burnout in itself.
In 2017, Tim posted a Dolly Parton quote on social media: “If you don’t like the road you’re walking, start paving another one.” The message we should all take from Tim’s tragic story is that burnout can have serious consequences and we should all pay attention to the signals that flag a need for change. You don’t need to be a DJ superstar playing to crowds of fans to experience performance anxiety, so if you feel your life is all about stress and you’re starting to dread what you do or beginning to doubt you’re ability to do what you’ve always done, it’s a wake-up call – and you need to listen. Burnout doesn’t happen overnight, it’s a gradual process, but if the signs are there and they go unheeded, they’re going to keep on getting worse. Make sure the road you’re walking is the one you want to walk, and that the happiness you’re running after is your own.
Don MacNaughton is a High-Performance Coach and has worked tirelessly to help clients achieve success in the world of sport and business over the past 15 years. The next, highly popular, NLP Diploma and Life Coaching Certificate course starts in April 2019. Click here for more information or to sign up.