My first experience of burnout started during my University days. Three out of the four years I juggled classes, cheer dancing, and working for the student council. In short, I got sick every year.
Career-wise, I felt it crept on me early on. I was only in my 2nd year as a Recruiter. I just closed what was then the biggest placement my ex-company made and was handling a few key accounts. After all the successes, things started to go haywire. I lost my energy, was always under stress, made a few bad decisions that resulted in me getting kicked out of those key accounts. It culminated with a series of breakdowns, including the office where I hid in a meeting room in the middle of a workday to cry. I was on “auto-pilot” mode for a while, in the office but not really in the office. Feeling I had no way out, I tried to look for another job. I accepted an offer to join an MNC but rescinded my acceptance later on when I got back to my senses. Fortunately, I still had my old job, but I surely inconvenienced the other employer.
There are a few common factors or telltale signs when “the burn” is about to come. It usually happens when I’m amid continuous wins/success, going through one stressful situation after another, and when I let negativity pile up on my mind. The feeling of burnout is very palpable. Some days, I’m a shooting star: burning bright for a while, then I go down and the light I emanate disappears. Other times, I feel like I’m flying high, only to be hit by something, and I come crashing down to the ground. Or sometimes, it feels like I’ve been running non-stop, and then hit a wall.
It’s not a surprise that burnt has become an epidemic. We are now in a time where we need everything to be fast and consistent, including our achievements. It also seems like the “hustle culture” proliferates and romanticize it like we’re not truly responsible if we’re not burning out. In fact, in 2019, WHO finally took notice of it and called it an “occupational phenomenon”.
In hindsight, I realize that if you’re burned out and the reason is work, it might not mean that you have to look for a new job immediately. Rather, It’s your mind and body telling you that something’s wrong. Perhaps you could try to manage how you deal with burnout first, and when you get your mind out of that funk and are thinking clearly, you can then assess if it’s still worth doing your job. In my case, it was more of me needing to manage my burnouts better as stress and challenges will always be a part of my life, whether I am a Recruiter or doing something else.
What has worked for me so far is to manage my energy and my mind. What I mean is when negative stuff starts to pill up or happen consistently, try to “check out”. Shift your focus elsewhere temporarily to recoup that energy and clear your mind. After this, process the events and situation mentally, and take deliberate actions to address the issues causing the burnout. In the end, you may not need a “new working environment” at all, or that episode may just be your prompt to make that job or career change. The most important thing is to clear your mind first and get yourself in a good place before making big decisions.
I don’t expect my burnouts to disappear. It will come back in my life for sure, as it’s part and parcel of a highly challenging job and the trajectory of our lives in this day and age. Acknowledging what our challenges are, addressing those challenges, and being kind to ourselves will make it possible to conduct ourselves efficiently despite the pressures.
How do you manage your own burnout?