Let’s talk about burnout. The technical definition of burnout is as follows:
- the reduction of a fuel or substance to nothing through use or combustion.
- the failure of an electrical device or component through overheating.
You have literally run out of fuel. You probably didn’t realize it but here we are. Sitting on the couch in your pajamas you have worn for 4 days straight eating raw cookie dough chugging your 3rd energy drink of the day wondering why you can’t get the motivation to do what you love.
Then we get to the 3rd definition of burnout 3. physical or mental collapse caused by overwork or stress.
I always thought I understood what burnout was. It was when you get tired of doing something. When you don’t feel the passion or drive to finish projects anymore. I thought I had reached burnout at my last office job. That wasn’t burnout as I have come to realize it. That was being in a job that sucked the life out of me because of bad management and a vortex of terrible humans surrounding me. There is a difference apparently.
The Mayo Clinic also defines the possible causes of burnout –
- Lack of control. An inability to influence decisions that affect your job — such as your schedule, assignments or workload — could lead to job burnout. So could a lack of the resources you need to do your work.
- Unclear job expectations. If you’re unclear about the degree of authority you have or what your supervisor or others expect from you, you’re not likely to feel comfortable at work.
- Dysfunctional workplace dynamics. Perhaps you work with an office bully, or you feel undermined by colleagues or your boss micromanages your work. This can contribute to job stress.
- Extremes of activity. When a job is monotonous or chaotic, you need constant energy to remain focused — which can lead to fatigue and job burnout.
- Lack of social support. If you feel isolated at work and in your personal life, you might feel more stressed.
- Work-life imbalance. If your work takes up so much of your time and effort that you don’t have the energy to spend time with your family and friends, you might burn out quickly.
My work now is what I love. I’ve dreamed of a job like this since I was little. The passion and drive for my job are fueled by the passion of a 1,000 fiery suns. I get to do what I genuinely love for a living and enjoy every minute of it…. So why was it so hard to do it? Why was I struggling to just barely do what I had to?
Every day was getting more difficult to just do the basics. I was so confused. Why was this happening? Nothing changed. Everything was still amazing. Then a friend asked me “When was the last time you took time off? Like, not work time off but a REAL vacation??” I had to think for too long on that. The answer was 2013-ish. Roughly 5 years since I had taken time off. I was working a full-time office job 40 hours a week and hustling on the side for 3+ years to get my own designs and artwork afloat. So that’s 60-70 hour weeks for 3+ years. Poof! Then I quite that hell hole and start my own business and work for a major company as an independent contractor! HEAVEN! I got to choose what 70 hours a week I worked.
It was and still is. The 60+ hour work weeks were never torture and I honestly never realized I worked so much because I am doing what I truly enjoyed. I kept pouring everything I had into my work. Here is where the “burnout” starts to take hold and you never ever realize it until it’s too late.
When I started I felt so honored and privileged to be able to do my art for a living. It was astronomically important for me to never fuck this opportunity up. So, like most creative who has the crushing feeling of imposter syndrome, I kept working and working and working. You feel this overwhelming need to never stop working, ever. I dialed it back after the first year. I rolled into the second year but my attempt at self-care wasn’t enough. The most confusing part of burnout is you can’t understand how you are hurting yourself, in the long run, doing what makes you so happy in the present.
I was prepping for a comic convention I had an artist booth at. I had put off prepping for a year (smart I know) and I was hustling in the last 2-3 weeks to get everything ready. I was working 14-16 hour days to cram in my contract work, client work, con prep and that annoying stuff like eating and showering. I went to the convention. I came back. I worked. Everything seemed normal but felt like I was “in a funk” we have all been there. Then I had a complete and catastrophic meltdown. Nothing made sense to me at all. I couldn’t figure out what was wrong. Imagine you are a car… you just keep driving and you love it! You may top the gas off or shove the trash once a week, but you just keep going. One day the motor just locks up, the transmission seizes in 2nd gear, and just like a cartoon water and steam come flying out of the radiator. Rust has devoured the undercarriage, the tires are bald and metal is showing through, the trunk doesn’t latch anymore and is held shut with a bungee cord and the driver side windshield wiper is the only one that works. What happened?! Everything was great, you just kept driving doing what you love! You never took the time to take care of the car aka yourself.
We all need maintenance. REAL maintenance. Real days off away from work and away from whatever you call your office. Real relaxation whatever that might be to you. As much as I thought I was taking care of myself by having days off, doing projects around the house (not work-related), setting a schedule, or even going to therapy, etc. I wasn’t. I was slowly driving myself into burnout.
I have taken steps to slowly work my way out. I’m approaching significant post-burnout realization and everyday I slowly take steps to figure out what works for me and to never let that happen again.
We all have the drive to do what we love, that unbelievable determination and excitement that keeps us going. It’s an overwhelming feeling of joy and excitement that grips you to push you more and more. We all have to remember that we can’t function on empty tanks and it takes time and effort to realize what helps fill those tanks.