It’s Ok to Talk About It

This week, my dear friend Stacey King Gordon wrote about her professional burnout. I’m sharing this with you because I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it.

Most of the people I know are like me: hardworking people who are good at what we do. Because we’re good at it, we do more and more work. We can’t turn it off. Work is in our heads in the middle of the night, as we watch the ceiling fan spin. It’s with us in the car, the shower, the gym. And it’s not that we’re particularly stressed about it. Sometimes the projects that take the most out of me are the ones that are most interesting and exciting. It’s just how my brain works, and maybe yours as well. I see myself and my colleagues continue give it our all. Work, by its nature, continues to take.

As Stacey says,

I’m the motherly one who is always warning them: you’re going to burn out. You need to take care of yourself. Get sleep, rest on weekends, stay off Messenger at night. They ignore me. They love to work! Work is their life! Why should they slow down when they feel so motivated and excited by what they’re doing?

I totally get it. Because until a few years ago, I had always been that person, inwardly driven to take on the world. I loved to work. I was good at it. By contrast, I’d always had a hard time with things most people are naturals at: making friends, hanging out casually, partying, relaxing, having hobbies. Work was what came naturally to me. 

The emphasis in the quote above is mine. I get it, because there’s so much in this that I relate to. And I see just how easy it is to slide into burnout mode.

Burnout is a real thing. It happens when you least expect it. You may toil for years at the same pace and suddenly found yourself in the middle of burnout without even seeing it coming. It’s good to love your work. But you have to love it in moderation, because if you don’t, burnout will make you hate it, and it’s harder — much harder — to bounce back from that.

I’ve freelanced off and on since 1998, but have been running this business full time since 2006. When I started this iteration of it, I decided that on one Friday each month, I’d take the afternoon off and go to the movies. How many times have I actually done this in 11 years? Once, on a business trip, when a client canceled our meeting. To put in in baseball terms, that’s a batting average of .008. The only movies I watch are on airplanes when I’m flying for business trips. As anyone who’s dealt with commercial air travel knows, that’s the opposite of relaxing.

So what’s the answer? I’m not entirely sure. Even when I distance myself from the computer, the work is still in my brain. It follows me everywhere I go. And while I’m fine with it now, I realize that it may not always be that way.

That’s why I’m going to listen to Stacey’s advice. I’m going to sit down and do some real planning for 2018. I’m going to find a way to set time aside to learn something new or simply do something enjoyable — mandatory time that can’t be pushed aside, like movie day has been. Because thanks to Stacey, I realize that the time to address the burnout is before it hits.

I hope that you’ll do the same.

Update: Someone sent me a link to this article about Japan and overwork that has many parallels to Stacey’s story.

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