Although I didn’t phrase it quite like that, I did, I quit my job. Well, I burned out of it, to be fair.
So, to just “quit” a job without any prospects, or desire to find another one, is not really like me. Let alone leaving a job that I worked hard to get, keep, and excel in. My total exhaustion won out, though, and the day I gave my notice was the day I was unemployed – and incredibly relieved.
Now, I am not a burnout expert. It took a solid two years for me to understand what was happening to my mind and body, and even then I tried to push through it. Millions of people push through burnout and it was a privilege for me to walk away from mine, this I understand.
Thinking I was in a silo, I took to talking to friends, coworkers, doctors, and strangers on the internet, and my wholly un-scientific analysis is that most of us, at least Americans, are fried. Between the pandemic, supply-chain issues, a housing crisis, political upheaval, and the risk of getting very sick or losing someone we loved, all add up to something. For me, this added up to my total inability to shut down and relax. Slowly slogging through life without any gas in the tank, so to speak.
A few signs of burnout
- Excessively cynical at work
- Lack of purpose
- Fatigue or running out of energy quickly
- Lack of creativity
- Difficulty focusing
- Feeling disillusioned
- Changes in sleep patterns
- Self-medicating with TV, food, alcohol, or drugs
- Stomach issues
Who burns out?
So it seems to me that burnout is significantly more prevalent amongst my generation, the millennials, hence the term “burnout generation.” At least it seems clear to me when I speak with others my age or around it.
However, really anyone can burn out for any one of the reasons listed below. Burnout, to me, was just something that happened to people who couldn’t push through. Who were weak, or not very hard workers. Clearly, I was wrong, and now I know, but if you asked me five years ago about burn out, I would have had some nebulous, judgy description.
To be honest, at first, I thought I was depressed. Anxiety wasn’t new to me, so it was the next logical step – clearly, it must all be some sort of chemical imbalance. 2022 Bri was out there looking for a pill and ignoring the fact that I worked non-stop, had no social life, rarely worked out, was numbing with food and wine, and struggled to get up in the morning.
I’d always worked hard and been successful. Even if I was tired or not particularly interested in something, I could always pull through. It got to the point where I just couldn’t do it, I didn’t have the energy to do it. When talking to friends, I’d compare it to trying to run through waist-deep mud. Everything was just slow-going and more difficult than it actually needed to be for me.
There are plenty of things that can lead to burnout, including:
- Working long hours
- Feeling a lack of control at work
- Job insecurity
- Poor self-care
- Lack of adequate social support
- Disconnect with the company and personal values
- Not seeing a purpose in one’s work
- Emotional exhaustion – often seen in helping professions
- Lack of autonomy
- Insufficient rewards for work well done
Personally, I felt a lot of these. Primarily, though, I struggled to find a work-life balance, which is relatively common these days with staffing shortages and technology creep. That, and I had a hard time slowing down. There was never enough time in the day and I’m far too curious a person to only do one thing all the time.
So, this is my manifesto: What I want for myself is a slower life. No, I don’t know how this looks yet, or how to make it happen, or what the hell I’m going to do now, but I have the gift of a little time to figure it out. Midlife crisis, who? I’m not halfway yet. At least I hope not.
Time to change
At this point in my life, I’m almost 40, overweight, and struggling with anxiety. I have not yet stopped checking my phone every 30 seconds – but three weeks into my self-imposed sabbatical, I will say I’m doing much better.
Before I quit my job I felt like I was struggling to breathe.
Now, I’m seeing through tiny cracks in who I am to who I used to be. Angling towards what brings me joy, I’m interested in cooking, reading, and writing. Over the next year of this sabbatical, I hope to be hiking, laying in hammocks, drifting at sea, and watching clouds meander. Moreover, I want three-hour meals, leisurely naps, and purposeless walks. What I dream of right now is a connection to the earth and a harmonious understanding of my own body.
Ideas that sprang forth – cooking schools in Italy or France. Buying land in Alaska or Arizona and building a home. Living a seasonal life.
Burnout recovery can take anywhere from 3 weeks to 3 years, apparently. So that’s fun.
In all the wisdom of all the listicles and medical journals I read in 2022, none of them really said to “quit your job,” exactly, but some got close and said things like “consider your options.” Which is about as vague as “it’ll feel better when it quits hurtin'”
Removing one or more factors of the cause of burnout can help. Adding in positive things like seeking therapy, increasing physical exercise, and more socialization can help. The internet gods also suggest things like going for walks, meditating, journaling (this website counts for me), building a support network, taking a vacation, and sleeping a whole lot.
Yes, internet, yes; I will do all of these things.
Can I sustain this type of life? I don’t freaking know.
Will I feel better and enjoy work again? No idea.
If I want my world to change, I will need to do something different. So keep watching if you’d like to see my decision process, my trial and error moving forward. Of course, it could be a dumpster fire. Or not. Either way, it’ll be interesting!
Brianna is a businessperson with a passion for social science and healthy living. They seem to always intersect and come together on Indie. If you’d like to read more articles like this one, check out Indie. Thanks, as always, for reading!