#36 A (My) Story of Burnout
On burning out and charting a new path forward
I’m burnt out. And that’s not a euphemism for tired or stressed. I am depleted and clinically overworked and overtired. Like so many of us, I spent much of last year overwhelmed and stressed out in addition to having a job that was unhealthy for my wellbeing on multiple levels. As some of you know, I left that job and went on creative sabbatical last September. I thought leaving the toxic work and career situation would solve the whole burnout thing. It did not.
A few of weeks ago I hit a wall. Mentally, emotionally, and motivationally I was done. I had nothing more to give. Except I had freelance jobs to do and writing commitments to take up and consulting clients to solve brands for and a small business to manage. I didn’t really have time to be sick and tired and unable to even force myself to try. Except, I had no choice. Because I couldn’t keep going—I didn’t have that inhuman drive to push through, I’d used it all up.
According to the Mayo Clinic work-related burnout can be caused by various factors including:
Lack of control.
Unclear job expectations.
Dysfunctional workplace dynamics.
Extremes of activity.
Lack of social support.
I was (un)lucky enough to have dealt with most of these at once and did not address them and the repercussions at the time. (If I hadn’t transferred to a new and wonderful boss near the end, I would have hit that wall harder and sooner.)
So, I’ve spent the past few weeks clearing. Making room for me to address and heal from the burnout that was hanging like an anvil held by a fraying string over my life and had crashed down hard at the end of January. That has mostly meant finishing projects, ending contracts and putting new projects on hold. It’s meant reading a lot of books to help me understand what I was dealing with, it meant refocusing my therapy sessions for the next little bit and my life away from ambition and productivity and toward healing and balance. I’m leaning into the projects that energize me and stepping back from the things that contribute to my depletion as I try to figure out what balance and harmony and joy in my life and career look like. I’m doing this so I can spend next 35+ years of my life contributing meaningfully, doing what I love, and being in a place where I can feel it and nurture it and enjoy it.
To quote myself (and to actually do it this time), “I'm stepping back from the pursuit of productivity and leaning into the space that is left behind.” This, I am learning, is waaaaay harder than it sounds; For a Type A, INFJ, Eneagram 5, Virgo it is downright painful on some days.
I think you know by now that I don’t tell you things just for the fun of it, or the ego. I’m telling you because this newsletter is one of those things that energizes me and contributes to a sense of joy in the work I do. Especially when you send a note back to tell me how it’s helped or is helping you think through an element of your story. Which means, it will continue over the next few months even as I step back from other commitments to reset and refocus. But, it may change a little. My missives may be shorter or more experimental as I continue to explore what harmony looks like for me and what sharing my knowledge and the power of storytelling can be in newsletter format.
“Every person needs to take one day away. A day in which one consciously separates the past from the future. Jobs, family, employers, and friends can exist one day without any one of us, and if our egos permit us to confess, they could exist eternally in our absence. Each person deserves a day away in which no problems are confronted, no solutions searched for. Each of us needs to withdraw from the cares which will not withdraw from us.” -Maya Angelou
I’m taking more than a day, but I think Maya would understand. Stay with me as I go on this journey, I think this will be fun and I’ll certainly share that part of the adventure with you as well.
Stories Well Told
What’s nice about hitting a wall during a pandemic is that I’m not alone in this and the resources are abundant. The first book on burnout I read was also, so far, the best. It’s called, Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle. It’s written from and for a white feminist perspective, which is not my brand of feminism, but it is unbelievably helpful (and scientific and detailed), and I encourage you to read it if you’re dealing with burnout or high levels of stress. Brené Brown also did a podcast episode on the book, which is a nice primer or great for non-readers. I also went back to Brené’s book The Gifts of Imperfection, which is helping me sort through some of the mess that made room for burnout in my life. This “Call Your Girlfriends” podcast episode is also so relatable and helpful in understanding the lived and clinical experience of burnout. Well worth a listen. I’m sorry these are all so gendered (though Brene’s is not)—they’re helpful whatever your gender identity so I encourage you to give it a shot—I find it frustrating but accept the reality in the short term.
In the meantime, please do reach out with questions, ideas, thoughts. I’m taking a new step on this journey in storytelling, and I’d love for you to join me and help me think about it in new ways (remember, you can always just respond to this email if you’re signed up for email or leave a note in the comments below if you are not—I respond to them all).
Also, if you’re enjoying this or if there’s something you’d like me to cover in a future letter—an element of your storytelling you may be struggling with, please let me know by leaving a comment below. I’m here to help.
Thanks for reading and I’ll “see” you next week. Whatever the world may bring, there will always be important stories that need you to tell them. I’ll be here to help.