I spent my birthday crying.
I woke up, with my husband whom I love, in a beautiful hotel room, in the spectacularly lovely Colonial Williamsburg.
But I couldn’t summon up the energy to enjoy it, and that was the last straw.
Probably half of my misery could be chalked up to the hotel bed — I hurt and I was so, so tired. For my broken body, a hard bed is the physical and emotional equivalent of a beating. It defies logic, but it’s true.
But the other half? A dam break. Because I needed a damn break.
I was so upset because I was on a vacation I needed so badly. I stopped doing (or trying to do) long enough to feel what was going on.
I was burned out. I was flame-broiled, burnt to a crisp.
For weeks, I had struggled to complete new lessons for 30x500. It wasn’t just that I was tired or feeling uncreative — after nearly 6 years of chronic illness, I’ve gotten very good at achieving despite that kind of thing. I don’t let the ebb and flow of normal feelings stop me.
But now…I struggled to even put words in a sentence. I would stare at the slide for 5 or even 10 minutes, struggling to eke out just one bullet point. I couldn’t tell if my own work was any good. I didn’t have the emotional and mental energy to watch the finished lessons.
(Let me pause here to thank the universe for my 30x500 partner in crime, Alex, who kept the whole show running by himself. And my husband, Thomas, who ran the Freckle side of things, and my team, especially Amber who took over a lot of the office stuff without complaint.)
I never lost my desire to do a good job, but when I reached for my motivation to do any job at all, there was nothing there. It was a blank.
I love writing. I love teaching, and crafting excellent lessons. I love 30x500. But I couldn’t feel it any more.
It should have been terrifying, but I was too shut-down to even realize it had gotten so bad.
I had assumed it was my illness rearing its head. I’d had 3 months of concussion-like symptoms over the fall, and winter sucked, so it was a logical assumption.
But in the absence of work, I was almost (almost!) ok. Yes, my sense of calendar time was more busted than usual. Yes, I let relationships with my beloved friends slip through the cracks. Yes, I was slow, and stumbled over words, and had to ask people to repeat themselves — but…I wasn’t totally frozen, unmade, like I was with my work.
Some days I felt much better — chipper, even, able to look around our brand new office and see things to be done, and do them. But it was superficial. When I sat down to work on my actual job, the new 30x500…all that energy evaporated.
Obvious in hindsight — but at the time, a slow boil.
Here’s the thing: I’m my own boss. I’ve run our business since 2008. And I love my work, but I’m no workaholic — when I got sick, I had to learn how to take it easy. It’s been a long, long time since I burned out, and I forgot what it felt like.
But this winter and spring were crazy: Concussion, endless doctors, physical therapy, Forge launch, writing a book, launching a book, launching a product package, house painting, radiator leak, roof leak, in-laws, new office hunt, contractor hunt, insurance, paperwork, office renovation, office move, podcast launch, things in the works for Freckle, new 30x500, and the last straw, negligence verging on criminal by our accountant.
I kept telling myself, “All I have to do is get through this.”
And I kept telling myself, “This has to get done.”
And because I am a responsible person who does things, I tried and tried and tried to get it done. I’d sit in front of my computer for hours, struggling.
The #1 cause of burnout is a lack of control over your work life.
And, as evidenced by my story, you can do it to yourself, even if you enjoy your work.
The only solution is to stop working and let yourself recover.
If my employees had looked like I did, I would have sent them home. I did this to myself. I’m the boss; I control my own damn work life. And whether you believe it or not, you do, too.
Some of the things I “had” to do, yes, truly couldn’t budge: the office renovation, legal paperwork, insurance, and move really did have to happen.
But the rest?
I picked the schedule, the pace, the dates. I decided what do. I decided to do them at all.
A few months ago, when things weren’t nearly so bad, Alex and I looked into our future — the renovation and move and new product — and realized we had to postpone BaconBizConf.
But I should have paid more attention, gone further.
I’ve rescheduled, postponed, and even canceled so many OMG CRITICAL things in this life and I can tell you…the world has never ended. Even though it feels like it will. I know this. But the burnout made me selectively forget it. Fried those braincells right out of my head.
So, calling shit off is the name of my game right now. Rescheduling, restructuring, and not feeling a lick of guilt about it.
I’m not working. I’m peacing out. It’s not all that fun, but (ironically) it’s what I have to do.
After 10 days, now, I’m beginning to feel little flickers of ooh, that’d be nifty, I want to make it, I want to work…that’s a sign I’m getting better, and that means I need to hold off for a while longer yet.
Today, I’m going to work on a revised schedule for the new 30x500 and other projects I was working on. Then I’m going to relax.
(I couldn’t have even written this essay last week. Literally couldn’t have. That’s why I’m writing this story right now, to remind myself exactly why I am not working…aside from writing this story; and, if you’re familiar with my usual work, you can tell this essay isn’t really up to snuff, because I won’t let myself spend an hour editing it. Ouroboros.)
Are you burned out?
If you think you’re burned out, take a gander at these two links (thanks to 30x500 alum, Marjan):
- Job burnout: How to spot it and take action
- Burnout vs. MDD (Major Depressive Disorder) differential analysis for diagnosis and therapy– using 15 differential symptoms