I’ve been quite apprehensive about writing this post. Not because I’m embarrassed or have anything to hide, but because I’m still figuring the ‘story’ out for myself. And most of all, how the story ends.
I’m almost there but not rushing the process. It’s been a long road and while incredibly painful at times looking back I wouldn’t change a thing.
So back to the start.
I’ve always been Type-A. Do more, be more, achieve more was practically tattooed on my arm.
This attitude all came to a head about two years ago when I started to notice the warning signs: being unable to relax, a racing mind 24/7, feeling like I was ‘wasting time’ if I took a break… all the signs of Burnout were there.
Later, I looked back to this time and wrote down all of the things I’d been working on leading up to my crash:
- Working full-time in a high-stress job
- Frequent long haul and local work travel amounting to spending at least 30% of my time away from home
- Studying for a masters degree full-time (which I insisted on getting full marks for)
- Providing ad-hoc health/nutrition coaching to family and friends
- Renovating and renting out an investment property
- Setting up an online business and planning multiple live events
- Packing up and moving to the other side of the world after 10 years abroad
- Taking part in weekly Toastmasters meetings which involved writing and delivering speeches to a group
- Mentoring local high school kids in biology and chemistry
All of these things were in addition to everyday life – trying to exercise, eat well, be a good partner and see friends. Although looking back it’s any wonder I was able to squeeze any of these activities in!
I don’t share this list to sound impressive – in fact, it should be the opposite. It was pure stupidity, and I honestly don’t know how I did this for so long!
My time was scheduled from the moment I opened my eyes in the morning to when I closed them at night, and at the time this seemed normal (FYI – it’s not).
I would tell myself that this is what successful people do but it was a cop-out. I wasn’t doing anything well and my health was suffering in the process. I went on at this pace for a year or so but things seemed to get more and more manic leading up to breaking point.
I had this constant dread of running out of time and was rushing through everything. I was in all respects wasting my life.
The crash finally came after I’d given up a lot of these commitments, but after the damage had already been done. The tipping point came after I’d held a live event for my business and nearly suffered a panic attack the morning and days afterwards.
My urge was to power through and keep working, but I couldn’t do it anymore.
A switch had flipped – thank god – and I could no longer go on the way I’d been living. I didn’t know it at the time but after that day things were never the same again. It was the start of Burnout.
The days and weeks following that day were hard. I was dealing with the guilt of cancelling a live event that I was scheduled to speak at while also trying to keep up the facade that everything was fine to clients, family and friends.
A little voice told me I needed to close my business but I blocked it out for months before I finally got the courage to listen.
I didn’t know what was happening to me, I thought I just needed a break so kept trying to figure out what to do next – to no avail. I was spinning my wheels for quite a few months before I was ready to admit it had to go.
Around this time I fell pregnant which was obviously a blessing but also made life even harder for the next few months. Extreme morning sickness and constant nausea meant I spent a lot of time resting, which was just what I needed.
I had no choice but to listen to my body and focus on getting better.
On the Up
Knowing you’re going to bring life into the world is a pretty massive reality check.
I didn’t want to be the kind of parent who misses their child’s upbringing because they were working all the time – or staring into a screen constantly – so this gave me the clarity I needed to let go of my business.
Whilst it had been a passion of mine, it was also the main source of stress and anxiety in my life, as well as being incredibly time-consuming.
I was also naturally starting to think more about the things get that really mattered to me – not the list of accolades or achievements, but family, creativity and adventure.
My recovery was not in any way linear. I’d have good weeks and bad months. An overseas holiday bought up some uncomfortable (and inconvenient) feelings but I had no choice but to surrender to the process and let it all unfurl.
Some people may be reading this thinking that Burnout is not a real condition, or that it’s just extreme tiredness.
It so much more than that.
There’s a huge psychological component that doesn’t get spoken about a lot. Perfectionism plays a huge role, as does ‘people pleasing’ – both of which played a part in mine.
A lot of it can be ego driven too – wanting to achieve something because you think it’s what you should want out of life. Then when you work your arse off and make sacrifices to get it you crash and burn when you don’t get the satisfaction you crave.
It’s also the letting go of dreams, of an imagined future and parts of your identity. My identity was so wrapped up in being a successful, ambitious businessperson that when that part of my life fell away so did my self-esteem.
I realised you need time to shed your old skin and must be patient in waiting for the new one to grow…often leaving you out in the cold in the meantime. And it will grow, with time. This skin is much tougher than the one you had before but it can take some getting used to.
Accepting the regret and forgiving yourself takes time too. Thankfully I’d not hurt anyone else in the process of burning out but it could have been much worse and I’m so thankful it wasn’t.
There’s embarrassment and shame too – that you have been perceived to have failed in some way or let people down. But you soon realise that everyone else is focused on what they are doing and most people just want you to be happy. They don’t care about anything else, especially not your long list of achievements.
This aspect was incredibly real for me. I hate giving up or failing but over time I realised that I’d actually grown more than I ever had in my life, which could hardly be considered a failure.
You just have to reframe, digest and let time do its thing. It certainly did for me.
So that was then.
Nowadays, life is good. I did a lot of work trying to understand how I got to this point and to ensure I don’t steer myself down that path again.
Figuring out my Why has played a big part of my current happiness and clarity, and helped me understand and be more comfortable with why the past didn’t work out as I’d planned.
I no longer have 1,000 things on my to-do list, and rather choose to focus on doing a couple of things well. And I feel much more fulfilled and happy than I ever have.
No doubt life brings with it its ups and downs but for now, I remember where I’ve come from and am choosing the more relaxed, slow path.
To quote the prolific Ferris Bueller, life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you might miss it.
I think this might just be my new slogan.