I Boxed Myself In And Didn’t Know The Way Out: A Cautionary Tale of Burnout
Aidan hanging up the pet portrait I had made of his dog, courtesy of http://www.grinvites.org
A lot of times, people write about stuff after they’ve already gone through it, but I don’t think most of us, myself included, spend a lot of time writing about the tough parts when we’re actually IN the tough parts. I’m not sure what it is- maybe it’s the idea that in this online, social media-frenzied world, we feel we have to show the good stuff or we can talk about the bad stuff, but only after we’ve overcome it to show we’ve grown and learned and all that jazz.
I’m gonna take a little departure from what I normally see (and do!) and talk to you about something that is going on RIGHT NOW because I suspect many of you are struggling with something right now, and I also suspect that you may not have told anyone.
So here goes:
I’ve been facing some real burnout. I knew I was going to have a busy fall, so Aidan and I went all out on Labor Day Weekend. We had a fun date night at my favorite BYOB in Manhattan, and then we had two Sunday Fundays in Queens on both Saturday and Sunday. We explored 2 new neighborhoods, discovered a hidden brewery, practiced taking pictures with our DSLRs and went to a tortilla-making factory near Citi Field. I felt expansive, creative and fun, and I was churning out ideas left, right and center- both for future adventures we might take together, as well as fun ideas for my business and for my clients.
It was glorious.
Then Labor Day hit, and I went immediately into hunker down mode. Cue the beginnings of burnout! You see, I was beta testing my online career change course with 12 women and I was planning my wedding (sans wedding planner). This large workload was on top of my normal day-to-day work, not to mention being there for my wonderful clients. I decided that in order to get it all done, I had to say no to (most) friend and social engagements and 90% of external meetings. I focused on my health and exercise, and my work- and that’s it.
As the weeks wore on, I became increasingly stressed, despite my intense wellness efforts. My stomach was nearly constantly hurting, my head felt like it had a giant ever-tightening clamp on it, and I started going through the motions. Cue, increased potential for burnout! I write in a daily intention and gratitude journal every day, and even that had become rote- I didn’t actually FEEL what I was writing about. Then there were the days that I felt an all-out panic over my to-do list, and even creating my to-do list was enough to raise the fear of who-knows-what in me. I’d race around from task to task, never fully being where I was- whether it was at pilates or with Aidan or heck, writing blogs, which used to bring me such joy.
Anyway, you can guess how this ends: this hamster wheel situation culminated in me getting really dizzy and nearly passing out in a pilates class a couple of weeks ago. Hello, Burnout!
In other words, I was miserable and felt terrible. And how’s this for irony: I was speaking at W.E.L.L. Summit, one of the premiere annual wellness conferences that same week, too! Oy.
So, how the heck did I get here, and how can I change course to move ahead?
- I thought I could do it all. In typical Recovering Event Planner fashion, I thought I could easily handle this. I’m efficient, able to do a lot at once and flourish under pressure, or so I thought. I met my match this time, and I underestimated my take-on-too-much nature. And add a dash of stubbornness to this equation and you get a whole lotta pushing ahead despite myself.
- I didn’t ask for help. This is related to #1, but it’s important for this to have its own section- if you’re feeling stuck and increasingly isolated you must ask for help! People are happy to help if you just ask- they are not mind readers, for Pete’s sake! For me, I had to get over the vulnerability of asking for help. It feels weird to admit you’re stressed and overwhelmed and can’t handle it all. I reached out to a couple of close friends and told them what was going on as well as my business coach, sister, and therapist. I got a little something from each of them: my friends threw me a fake bridal shower and cooked me dinner, my business coach helped me slow down and take a look at what was truly important and my sister made wedding magic happen- and she told me it would all be ok. Who are those people for you? What do you need from them? ASK. I guarantee it will make you stronger, not weaker. I also hired a pretty amazing assistant who has taken a lot of tasks that drive me nuts and take me tons of time off my plate. Maybe you work for a company so you can’t just go hire a work assistant, but you can offload certain things- maybe you have a cleaning service come in once a month or you drop your wash off to be done by someone, or maybe you hire a personal assistant to do errands for you. Think about the time for money thing and think about what would truly free you up so you’re not working all day and playing catch up with your life and errands all night and on weekends.
- I sucked the fun out of everything. I’m a pretty fun person, but when I’m stressed, boy, do I know how to take the fun out of everything. WOW. I even didn’t allow myself to have fun- no adventures, I put my career retreat/winery idea completely on hold and didn’t discuss it for 2 months,
- I became formulaic and my days became predictable. This is semi-related to #3, but it also needs its own category. EVERY DAY WAS THE SAME. This led to repeating the same things without really living it. I didn’t make any plans or create any impromptu opportunities. I was a slave to my work and forgot about creating. If this is sounding familiar, I urge you to set aside some time to find something fun and creative that sparks your fancy and go do it. Don’t wait for permission or for the busy period to pass or whatever. Yes, I totally get that during busy periods you may not get to do AS MUCH as you’d like or experience as much as you’d like, but make the time for something for yourself so you can avoid fainting in pilates class.
- I forgot one major thing. This is as good as it gets, folks. (Ok, and by that, I do NOT mean- “it’s all downhill from here!”) I just mean things are pretty damn awesome. I’m about to marry the person I love most in this world, I own and run my own business (and I’m a certified corporation) and I’m learning stuff every day. In other words, this is exactly what I’ve been working for, both personally and professionally and really, when I take a step back, I’ve made it. And my point in saying this is, that if you don’t quite feel that way yet, keep at it and I guarantee you will (but take breaks, for the love of god!). And if you have been feeling stressed and uncreative and you take a step back and realize the same thing I did, BOOM. You’ve made it too (whatever ‘it’ is to you).