I’m approaching 40 in February, and I am burnt out with my job. I’ve been writing and getting professionally published for the past 27 years and I am exhausted. So much so that I am questioning whether or not writing and blogging are things I want to continue doing for the rest of my working life.
Experiencing burnout is nothing new for people. If you work non-stop for years on end with very few breaks, then eventually the human mind is going to say “stop!”. And if you choose to ignore that inner voice, then you will become exhausted to the point that you will hate your job, and everything associated with it. Cue the mid-life crisis!
Burnout is also associated with the impression that those who work less are not ambitious enough or loyal enough. People feel the need to prove themselves to their boss and colleagues. They volunteer for overtime every day, they do the exhausting business travel, they come in at weekends and holidays, they run themselves into the ground to impress their employer. In this era where jobs are scarce, people are scared to do anything that would jeopardize their source of income.
Yahoo CEO and former Googler Marissa Meyer said this about burnout :
“Burnout is about resentment. It’s about knowing what matters to you so much that if you don’t get it that you’re resentful”.
But as my colleague commented to me, this is probably more accurate for people in her high-flying demanding position, who won’t stop until they have conquered the world.
So how do you get to love your job again? As Austin Powers would say, how do you get your mojo back? Based on my own experiences, this is what helps.
Remember Why You Fell In Love With Your Job In The First Place
Quite often, it is easy to forget why we fell in love with our chosen profession to begin with. When you begin the job, it is the start of something magical where anything could happen. You’re an idealist. A real go-getter.
Fast-forward 20 years later, and all you can focus on is getting up at 7.00am, the 2 hour commute, the never-ending pile of paper on your desk, the yelling boss. If you are freelance, then it’s probably the finances (especially the taxes), the dissatisfied customers (there’s always one), following all the regulations, the long hours….suddenly work is a poisoned chalice, something to be feared. When you are in bed at night, you can’t sleep and are sick with fear about going back to work tomorrow.
So when you start to feel burnt out, you need to step back from your job a bit and ask yourself why you decided to be what you are. What made you a postman and not an astronaut? Get a notebook and make a list. What attracted you to the job? Why is that attraction now gone? Can you get it back? Why is the meaning of life 42? Maybe you wanted to work on something specific but got sidetracked? If so, can you rewind a bit and do your pet project? Or go for a walk and think about these questions in your head.
Read Inspirational Success Stories From Others In Your Field
Maybe it’s just me, but when I am burnt out from the job, it helps to read about others in the same field who succeeded against the odds. It makes me feel I can do it too after all.
For example, I am obviously a writer. So I have just finished reading “Daily Rituals” by Mason Currey. This book detailed the daily rituals of famous writers and artists. This helped me to slightly amend my own daily ritual. I have also finished reading “The Zhivago Affair” by Peter Finn, in which it goes into the gripping account of how the classic book “Dr Zhivago” was smuggled out of the Soviet Union and published in the West.
The result of all this reading? With my amended daily schedule, I am now writing a novel. Not as good as Dr Zhivago obviously but it got me going again.
Try it with your profession. Find books about people that “made it” and see if it sparks ideas in your brain and re-energizes you.
Schedule Regular Leisure Time & Separate It From Work Time
One of the mistakes I frequently made in the last 10 years was working non-stop day and night 7 days a week. I thought that I wouldn’t be successful if I took breaks so I kept working. I missed family dinners, I didn’t go out, I refused to take holidays. Naturally this put a strain on my marriage, and my health as well.
So don’t make the mistakes that I made. Schedule at least one day in the week when you take the entire day off from work (2 days would be better, but 1 is better than nothing). Switch off all computers and mobile phones. No checking of email, Facebook or Twitter. Your empire won’t collapse because you took a day off. Unless you’re Darth Vader that is.
Sleep till lunchtime, get laid, make a very unhealthy but extremely tasty meal, walk around all day in your underwear (or nothing at all). In other words, be a slob, lie back, crack open the six pack and watch re-runs of Baywatch.
Many people make the mistake of thinking that they have to cram a huge amount of work into a small period of time. The phones are ringing, the email inboxes are filling up with [URGENT!] subject lines, customers are visiting the office and demanding your immediate attention….it gives a whole new meaning to the term “multi-tasking”.
But multi-tasking doesn’t mean working yourself to death. Do one thing at a time – everything else can wait. Prioritize each task in order of importance. And work to the best of your ability. If you get to the end of the day and the tasks aren’t finished, then leave them till tomorrow. If your boss complains, suggest perhaps that employing an assistant might be in order. But don’t ruin your health and well-being on account of your job. It isn’t worth it. Why build up a pension when you won’t be alive to enjoy it?
For a long time, exercise was a bit of a dirty word to me. But getting a dog last year, with his constant demands to pull me up the hill three times a day, has shown me that exercise is not as bad as I previously thought. Fresh air is not poisonous after all! My mother was right all these years!
Exercise gets the blood pumping and the body reinvigorated. It also makes you more fit and has kids chasing you down the street. But the dog is STILL pulling me up the hill, when it should be the other way around.
If It’s Self-Doubt About Eroding Skill Sets, Find Ways To Remedy That
It’s perfectly normal after a period of time has passed in your job, when you think to yourself that the skills you thought you had were degrading. So suddenly you have no confidence in how to do your job. You’re passing your astronaut duties onto colleagues and starting to doubt yourself, which is the real enemy. Because when doubt starts to take a hold of you, it can be difficult to shake it off.
It’s also easy to doubt your skill sets because everything changes so fast these days. New technologies come out at lightning speed, people are always popping up with new training courses, seminars, software…..and the Internet helps with that. Look at how often TED is updated with talks on every conceivable subject.
So the solution is to find ways to update your skills. The Internet is a treasure trove of information, whether it is free online courses, TED talks, or other talks on YouTube (all of the major universities maintain active YouTube channels). If you need to update your computer programming skills, go to Codecademy. If you need to update your foreign language skills, go to Duolingo.
Or just ask your boss. Many companies will pay for their employees to do further education courses.
Alter The Way You Do Your Tasks. Learn a New Tool
It can become very easy to get stuck in your ways, doing the same thing the same way over and over. So when you reach a state of burnout, maybe what’s needed is to jumpstart the brain with a new way of doing the task at hand? Get your internal GPS to reroute to another method which will get your brain going again.
For example, in my writing situation, whenever I see Microsoft Word now, I feel really exhausted and I don’t want to do the required task. I’ve seen Word too many times over the years, and now I can barely get a single word down if I am using the software. So I suddenly switched and after trying out various other apps, I finally settled on Scrivener.
This app is the writer’s dream – you can write each chapter in a separate document, plan out your characters, store your research, format the finished piece correctly, and much more. We recently published a manual on how to use it.
So with your profession, find a different way to approach your job. Find a different tool or way of thinking.
Burnout is something that can be avoided if you can recognize the signs, and take proactive steps to deal with it. How do YOU deal with it?