In the 10 days since his public admission that he is a burnt-out case, Metro general manager Theodore C. Lutz has discovered he is not alone.

"A number of People have come to me and told me, 'It's something I wish I had the guts to do'... It's a pattern that's emerging in some of these tough urban jobs," he said last week.

Lutz, 33, bright and widely praised, stunned the local establishment by announcing that he will resign his $58,000-a-year job in April, after just 2 1/2 years, to "renew depleted intellectual, emotional and physical resources."

Popular, dedicated officials who go over the side are rare. But their numbers are increasing, according to experts surveyed across the country, and their candid revelationa raise serious questions about the "macho" expectations placed on public servants.

Besides Lutz, ready examples include the seemingly energetic and ambitious Fairfax County supervisor, Alan H. Magazine, 34, who announced the week before last that he will not seek reelection, and Rep. Gary A. Myers (R-Pa.), who chucked a sure seat in Congress last year to go back to his old job as foreman in a steel plant.

Lutz's blueprint for "self-renewal" is to play some baseball -- his "first love," he said -- and to read some books and spend more time with his wife Willa and infant son Christopher. He hopes to lose about five pounds, too.

His retirement, will last six months or a year or "until the money runs out," he said, a mad Waldenesque gleam in his tired eyes.

Lutz has been described as a "whiz kid." But his own perspective, from inside looking out, was that his success was killing him. He saw himself drifting toward beccoming a "plastic man" who would stretch his principles in every direction and speak bureaucratic "pablum" in an effort to accommodate the pack of competing special interest groups and the seven or eight local, state and federal political bodies, including the U.S. Congress, which had a piece of him.

Lutz and his wife spoke last week about the "subtle tension, the constant, never-ending pressure," "the midnight phone calls you know can never be anything good," "the sleepless nights of worry," "the nagging fear that something is going to go wrong," the lack of vacation time and, worst of all, the constant glare of publicity.

Today's public officials suffer increasingly from this kind of burnout." It is a syndrome urban specialists first detected in welfare case workers, hospital workers and others who deal constantly with human misery.

Burnout may be characteristic by emotional callousness, apathy, a tendency to avoid taking risks and to depersonalize dealings with others, along with various physical symptoms.

The "Me-Decade" emphasis on selffulfillment, changes in attitudes toward work and the roles of men and women and general disillusionment with the bigness and complexity of goverbment -- all these factors have made society more sympathetic toward someone who takes a step like Lutz's, according to some social psychologists and urban specialists.

"Thirty years ago, for instance, a man would have had to escape to Tagiti," said Dr. Daniel Geller, a social psychologist at Georgetown University. "People would have thought there was something worng with him. today, many people believe there's more to life than work. They respect a man who does this. Some even envy him."

"The amount of time it takes to do this job is just not compatible with how much time I want to spend with my family," said Myers, the congressman-turnd-plant-foreman.

"You get burned out... I hardly ever saw my wife," said Norman Christeller. a member of the Montgomery County Council who decided to retire after eight years. He was one of four widely praised local government officials to jump ship last year.

Government specialists cite other examples across the country the head of the University of Cincinnati, a school superintendent, a city manager.

"A person can get into one of these jobs and find he doesn't know how to get out," said Frank Sherwood, a professor at the Federal Executive Institute who has studied the problem. "Sometimes they end up getting fired. Other times they just go into a psychological funk.

"There is a fair amount of concern about this," he added. "A feeling that we ought to create more career mobility, to make it easier for these people to move into other, less pressured jobs without its seeming a terrible defeat."

Perhaps the toughest new factor officials must contend with is the growing tendency of ordinary citizens to coalesce into special interest groups that can be shrill and pitiless. Competing these days for a piece of a "contracting pie," as one expert put it, these marauding bands are particularly tough on officials at the local level, within buttonholing distance.

Interest groups are often "unwilling to compromise, sometimes angry and they don't follow set rules," said Donald Borut of the International City Managers Association. "In some cases... they may actually hit out, start malicious rumors (about the official), although that is not the norm."

"It's a no-win situation," Willa Lutz said, describing a day when she had some friends over for lunch at their house in Arlington and her husband stopped by.

"He posed them a problem he was dealing with and asked how they would vote on the matter. Half of them voted one way, and the others voted the opposite. Their reactions were so vehement on both sides that Ted just walked away from the table.

"So in the end, it comes down ot your conscience, and either way you go, you can expect bad repercussions," she added.

"Every group and every citizen expect you to have some kind of magic wand to take care of their particular problem," her husband said. "It's naturl that, since each of them pays a fraction of the costs in taxes, they all think they own you."

As Metro's general manager, Lutz felt he was in danger of developing a "fortress mentality, an us-against-them attitude that leads to the worst possible decisions."

The anxieties of public officials are intensified also by a tightening web of federal regulations that reduce their room to manenver, according to Borut.

His organization has been working with the non-profit Menninger Foundation in Tapeka, Kan., to provide group counseling for executives. These counseling sessions address everything from "curb and gutter problems" to pressure from a hostile city council member.

Public officials "ought to be able to relax, think, get a little joy out of life and their work," said Borut. "Somehow we've got to create a little better balance between public responsiblity and private needs."

"Willa and I have wondered how I will adjust to not being in the limelight," said Lutz "You get used to that. It's an ego thing. I won't be Ted Lutz, 'Mr. Metro,' anymore."

Nonrecognition will probably be good for him, Lutz has decided. "At parties, you know, I never have to worry about conversation. Everybody wants to talk about Metro. Now, I'll have to learn to focus on what the other person is about."

Lutz swears he has made no decisions about when or where he will go back to work, although he said he has already turned down some job offers. "I am in a puasi-political job, after all, and people have become so cynical, a lot of them, they think (the resignation) was as mokesscreen" to enable him to negotiate a better deal, or run for something.

"People don't believe you just want to take time off to get your body and soul restored."

About his next job, whenever, his wife said, "I intend to be fairly vocal about that. I want him to be ina job he enjoys. I don't think he has been very happy lately, and I envy some of my friends whose husbands love their work. They are not in the public eye."

Still Lutz said, by education and natural bent, he fells best suited for public service. "I'll probably end up going back -- unless of course somebody wants to make me general manager of the San Diego Padres."