It's Monday afternoon, 2 days after my 33rd birthday and I lay in a slump on the couch completely unable to move. Anxiety: 100%. Motivation: 0. Direction: none. A depression so dark there is no light at the end of the tunnel overwhelms me.
Whats wrong with me? Am I sick? Am I tired? Am I burnt out?
So like with every problem in my life, I google it, and.. my symptoms fit the profile of burnout exactly. Apparently there are 11 stages, the last 3 being Depersonalization, Inner Emptiness, Depression. Tick, tick and tick.
I though wait a sec, how did I miss all these other stages (Working Harder, an inability to switch off, neglecting Needs, Withdrawal, etc.)? Shit, I didn't miss them, I just didn't associate them with a potential problem. In face the other stages look like a guidebook to hustle culture.
So how the hell did I get burnout?
I love what I do, I'm organised, I pace out my list of things to do. This doesn't make sense.
Like a lot of creatives and entrepreneurs, I look up to certain high achievers in the creative industry, with their hundreds of thousand followers, their million dollar product side business, etc. So naturally, I set the same benchmarks for myself.
In doing so, unwittingly, I ended up putting way too much emphasis on the outcome of everything I was doing. Which caused a build up of pressure, to do all the things, achieve all the goals, be 100% productive all of the time. Hustle till my hands bleed (metaphorically). This scenario ended up crushing all of the enjoyment that comes from the journey towards reaching my goals.
When what we do is so closely tied to our identity (designer, developer, entrepreneur), the pressure that we put on ourselves is real, and intense. This pressure can come from wanting to be the best at what we do, or from the ambitious goals we set. Amplified by our insecurities, and fear of failure.
Take this website for example. I have redesigned it about 6 times, coded it twice. It's been 'in development' for about 4 months as I agonise about every little detail.
But here's the thing, I'm a developer, my strengths are in code and strategy. I love design, but my design skills aren't as up to scratch vs the top UX guys I follow on Dribbble. So why put so much pressure to have a perfect design? Why can't I just enjoy the process?
So took pressure off, I reduced my workload, and pumped the breaks in general. It worked, the darkness started to lift.. but I knew it was just a band aid solution, in a couple of weeks ambition would creep in and I would be back in the drivers seat, full throttle flying towards burnout again.
So I got rid of all my 2019 goals, like bill $X. Then I sat down and asked myself:
What are the things (activities) I like doing?
And what are the things I want to do (Outcomes)?
Funnily enough, I didn't write anything about money, or number of clients, or followers.
I wrote down things that motivated me to become a developer in the first place. Like building my own sass product from the ground up, not because I want to make millions from it, but because I want to go through the process.
Its similar to why I like climbing mountains, its not about being on the top of the mountain, its about the work you put in to trek up to the summit.
For too long Ive focused on the end result. Combined with a simple misalignment of my goals, it lead to burnout syndrome.
Take time assessing your goals. Sometimes its easy to default to what society deems successful (which is usually an illusion any way) such as money, status, followers, etc. Because if your goals blindly align to these attributes you may be on the path to dissatisfaction. Working hard without a deeper sense or satisfaction will ultimately lead to burnout. Ask yourself do you need that extra 50K in revenue, or would that time be better spent working on a side project you have a passion for, or time spent with your loved ones, or taking a break.
This is probably an odd posts to launch a blog with. Prior to my burnout I probably would have done some safe generic "Welcome to my blog" post. But now with the pressure I put on myself removed, I figure I can post what I want. My goal for this post, just identify with and hopefully help one person feel better about themselves or improve their journey.