What Do You Do to Avoid Work Burnout?

It never felt like work. Until, suddenly, it did.


When I read Meg’s letter from the editor this month, I could relate to so much of it. The single-mindedness. The rage. The failure and the ability to keep going. Or, at least, I could relate to it five years ago. Three years later? Not so much.

For most of my life, that ambition, those goals, were who I was. Always climbing, always working toward what came next. And then a few years ago, I just kind of… stopped caring. And not in a “fuck ’em” liberating sort of way. I felt like I had gone from Type A to Type C. Suddenly, for the first time in my life, I was just tired. For no good reason except that pursuing every goal and every opportunity full-speed-ahead for twenty-five years without ever slowing down is tiring. Though the need to make more money in 2013 kept me going, and, coincidentally, had me working much harder than I had in previous years, something had shifted in the years prior. I was doing it, but I wasn’t necessarily loving it. I wasn’t sure, beyond making money, what I was even after anymore.

Around that time, I read Hannah Rosin’s The End of Men and came across this quote:

Many great working women reach the point where they stop and wonder whether the mad daily rush is worth it. Sometimes the moment is forced on them by some job frustration or layoff, but sometimes it starts to preoccupy them for no apparent reason at all. The typical male midlife crisis tends to hit out of the blue and take men by surprise, but for women it’s been lingering all along. They might have felt it during maternity leave, or on the day they walked into the fourth meeting of the morning and desperately wanted to walk back out and find some quiet place to sit and read a magazine. What they need is not a room of their own—they probably have one at home, even if it’s called an office—but just more room, in the crammed minute-by-minute calendars that are their lives. Maybe they think, I could get away with slipping away—not for an hour, with a magazine, but for good. There are, after all, usually children to tend to and a household to manage; it could be justified.

That’s me. I was the girl who just really wanted to read her magazines and be left alone. I, too, had found myself contemplating being a stay-at-home… adult? I didn’t really want kids, but sometimes in the morning as I got ready for work, I just wanted so badly to stay at home and hang out with my dog all day. I’d do some work, sure, but I’d also… I dunno, fold my laundry nicely? Snuggle with my dogs and read some feminist literature? Go to the workout class of my choice? Suddenly, I was fresh out of goals. I’d read what my peers were doing and briefly, half-heartedly, feel like I should do something too. Some days I’d do it. Other days, I’d just say Meh, and sleep in for an extra half-hour. I hadn’t reached the top of the ladder, but I had reached a convenient stopping point. I had been trained to always be thinking about what came next, but suddenly I had no idea what I should do next and I really didn’t feel like figuring it out. But just punching the clock without my eye on some prize didn’t feel right either.

For my whole life, I loved being active and involved. All my activities, all the camps, all the internships, they were my idea, and they were things I truly wanted to do and loved doing. It never felt like work. Until, suddenly, it did.

And I wasn’t alone in feeling this way; many of my friends, too, seemed to be just kind of over it all. Our collective exhaustion reminded me of this quote from Courtney E. Martin’s Perfect Girls, Starving Daughters.

We are the girls with anxiety disorders, filled appointment books, five-year plans. We take ourselves very, very seriously. We are the peacemakers, the do-gooders, the givers, the savers. We are on time, overly prepared, well read, and witty, intellectually curious, always moving… We pride ourselves on getting as little sleep as possible and thrive on self-deprivation. We drink coffee, a lot of it. We are on birth control, Prozac, and multivitamins… We are relentless, judgmental with ourselves, and forgiving to others. We never want to be as passive-aggressive are our mothers, never want to marry men as uninspired as our fathers… We are the daughters of the feminists who said, “You can be anything,” and we heard, “You have to be everything.”

And while part of me knows the pace to which so many of us have become accustomed is simply unsustainable for most normal humans, I don’t think I (or anyone) was wrong to think that you really do have to work that hard to get where you want to be. It’s easy to say, “Take some time off. Unplug on the weekends, do less, no one will care,” but in my experience people do care. And they aren’t especially kind to those who suddenly seem to lack motivation. If you believe that success and happiness is the result hard work, then those who aren’t willing to work as hard as they once did become less deserving. And I’ve bought into this idea too, accepting that the only thing standing between me and success is how incredibly comfy and cozy my bed is.

And it’s easy to say this is just a privileged problem, but I wonder if my need to do everything comes from being raised by a single mother. Of course I thought I had to do everything; that’s what my mom and my grandma both did—because who the hell else was going to do it? And for me, doing everything so I could be the best at something was my ticket out. I often think of the line from the season two premier of Scandal (the best line in the show’s history as far as I’m concerned), when Olivia’s father says, “What did I always tell you?” and she begrudgingly responds, “You have to work twice as hard as they do to achieve half of what they have.” I think every black woman watching felt her heart explode at that line.

I always worked hard with the goal in mind of getting a good job so, what? I could work even harder at said job? The point of all my hard work was just to earn… more work? Great. No wonder at the age of twenty-six, “getting out” actually meant relaxing. Pursuing the things I wanted to pursue that may or may not pay off by standard metrics of success. “Out” would be having the time to clean my pantry, binge-watch House of Cards, fuck around on Pinterest, work out, and write something I’m really proud of just because I felt like it. Is that so much to ask? Well, maybe. Maybe if you’re a woman, or have a shitty background, or are a person of color, or just work in a super competitive industry, it is too much to ask.

I’ve read “The ‘Busy’ Trap,” which is always brought up in conversations like this. I love a lot of what the author had to say in that article (particularly, “If your job wasn’t performed by a cat or a boa constrictor in a Richard Scarry book I’m not sure I believe it’s necessary”), but I didn’t fully relate. Because while I agree that a perfect day is writing for four or five hours and then going to do something else enjoyable, I don’t know if that’s realistic for most writers, or most people. And I’m not sure I need some guy who is already writing for the New York Times telling me to just relax and write a few hours a day, like that’s enough to pay off my student loan debt and get me my own damn column in the New York Times. But I do know that if that’s my goal (and I do believe it is), I’m going to have to work my ass off for now to achieve it. So maybe that’s what I’m working toward: the ability to work less and/or do more enjoyable and flexible work, and sooner rather than later. But it’s not easy to achieve that without busting your ass for years.

To be fair, even Type C me is still doing pretty well for herself. My APW internship was the thing I was hungriest for in a long time, and working toward it and subsequently earning it was a huge gust of oxygen to my dying creative flame. And now as the editorial director at my day job (a contributing editor at APW), I’m working hard and happily again. But I’m honestly not entirely sure what I’m working toward, so I never feel like I’m doing enough. But the last lingering bits of burnout, the voice of “The Busy Trap” telling me that it’s okay to check out a little on the weekends, and my freaking amazing bed keep me from doing more.

Knowing how easy it is to burn out scares me. Not just because it threatens a part of my identity, but also because I know I’m not the only one, and I know it’s not good for any of us. The more of us burning out and opting out of the workforce entirely, the worse off we all are. If businesses start losing all their women when a generation turns thirty, that’s not good for business. If an industry loses a huge portion of its best people every five years, then who will be there to provide the kind of wisdom that only comes with experience? And if we decide to move at an average pace for a while, what happens in a few years when we’re recharged and ready to go hard again? Will it be too late for us?

So today’s open thread is about burning out: what causes it, and how to get through it.

Have you experienced this kind of burnout/exhaustion? Have you run out of fucks to give? If you have, how did you proceed? (i.e. did you say “fuck it,” did you make changes to your lifestyle/goals/etc., or are you pushing through it and staying motivated?) is this experience generational, gendered, or just thanks to specific personality types?

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  • Kina

    WOW did I need this article right now! My current job was what I was hungriest for. And now I’ve had it for years, and I think of what COULD come next, but that deep down hunger that was driving me before…it ain’t there anymore. There are tiny “hmm this would be a nice improvement and logical steps” but not the big “this will be amazing and make it all worth it” ones. Outside of my career I have some aspirations, but even those don’t have the same desperate sense of urgency or worthiness that the aspirations that brought me here did. Anyway, just sharing that you are not alone! I’ve tried to reframe this as enjoying the journey that this is probably the start of, and that maybe this plateau is just a necessary and healthy part of getting to whatever the next step is…

  • Kara

    As I sat reading this post, I just kept nodding, and nodding. I’m so damn tired. I do enjoy most aspects of my job, but I don’t handle the stress well. I even have nightmares about parts of my projects going wrong, or clients disappointed in the work I’ve done, so forth and so on.

    That all in compassing drive….ya, that ended once I entered the “real” world after university. I want to do a good job, and get my sh*t done in a timely manner.

    • anon

      I worked at a place for awhile where I would check my Blackberry before going to sleep at midnight and wake up in a panic at 5 AM thinking I’d missed an email. And chances were, there WAS something in my email inbox that I needed to catch up on. It was horrible. I lasted 2 years before quitting and it’s taken me another 2 years to really recover and feel like a human being again.

      So yeah, I’m with you on the nightmares…it’s the absolute worst to have work encompassing our entire lives and not just the time we spend in the office.

      • Lena and Aggy

        Or the Sunday Night Sweats. Those are the worst (fortunately, I haven’t had them in a while).

        • My friend started a Sunday Night Stress Baking blog.

          • Lena and Aggy

            Are there a lot of posts where she eats the batter straight out of the bowl? Because that’s what I’d be doing to combat Sunday Night Sweats :)

          • Pretty much. She’s branched into savory things, like pickles. Her poor/lucky boyfriend.

      • ferrous

        I used to work at a clinic where we were paged (vibrating beepers) whenever a patient arrived, usually every 15-20 minutes. (There were some days I didn’t go to the toilet to pee.) I would sit bolt upright in the middle of the night, grabbing at my waist to stop the pager I thought was going off. I lasted two years, it took me the better part of a year to recover. I can’t work in that kind of setting again, just thinking about it makes me feel ill.

    • ItsyBit

      I also have stress nightmares, often job related! While in retrospect some of them are actually funny (while in college and working retail, I had a nightmare that the customers who wouldn’t leave the store turned into ninjas and I had to fight them off to close the store and go home), in the moment I just want to be AWAY from work for a while. How do you shut it off?!

      • I think this means we are trying to be overly responsible. I don’t know how to shut it off but I have these kinds of retail nightmares all the time. My supervisor said that means I shouldn’t be doing retail. Ha! I shouldn’t be.

      • Amanda

        My best/worst retail dream was that I was having to shower and do laundry at work, all the while trying to find some sneaky way to not be naked in front of customers. :/

    • BD

      This is really bad for me because I have anxiety issues on top of being so damn tired of work. I’ve lost sleep over that crap. I got to where every time I saw an email from my crew chief in my inbox, I’d freak, assuming something had gone wrong. Which only adds to the feeling of being burned out. I’ve gotten better, but I still really need to find that magic medium of caring enough to still do good work, but not caring so much that it drains me and drives me batty.

  • Laura C

    Well, I got a PhD, did a two-year postdoctoral fellowship, and then walked away and switched careers entirely, which I guess was possibly burnout-related. Although also more complicated than that. Burnout for me these days is always a threat, but it’s also generally short-lived because I seem to have a pretty radical defense system: I shut down. I can go flat-out for a while if I need to, but then, no matter what I was planning, there will be a day when I barely get out of bed. Not out of depression, just out of “I can’t anymore.”

    My day-to-day defense system is usually effective, though. I used to like The West Wing, but now that I read and write about politics for a living, no politically themed fiction is tolerable. Not House of Cards, not West Wing, nothing. Beyond that, I reject any pressure to upscale my tastes. I like romance novels and bad crime shows and I am not going to push myself to watch a show that I’d feel like I could never miss or that’s gritty and intense. When I’m relaxing, I am really, really relaxing, and I don’t want to feel a commitment to keep relaxing in the same way. And I mean, maybe for you Breaking Bad or The Good Wife is amazingly relaxing, so go for it. But they stress me out and have no place in my down time.

    It helps that my boss now is paranoid about his staff burning out; one of the most common lectures we get is the one telling us to take more time off.

    • ItsyBit

      Good for your boss. Also good for you for knowing what helps and what hurts when you’re home. While I was working on a psych unit, some weird part of me thought it was a good idea to watch Girl, Interrupted while relaxing at home and I couldn’t for the life of me figure out why on earth I was so stressed out by the end of the night. My fiancé was so sweet. “Honey, you just spent an extra two hours at work. Have some tea and let’s watch The Office instead.”

    • Outside Bride

      That’s funny about not being able to watch certain shows. When I was in grad school I lived in a big house with lots of people, mostly women. I have never seen so many romance novels consumed, including by myself! Yay to fluffy entertainment that allows you to turn your brain off.

  • Kelly

    I am burned out. I am two years shy of partnership at a corporate law firm and seriously doubting whether I want/need to sustain this pace at work indefinitely. At my recent annual review I was told by a female partner that my work product is consistently good and that my working relationships with partners, colleagues, and staff is excellent – however, “off the record,” some of the older male partners are “concerned about the effect that getting married will do to my commitment to the firm” and so the situation will be revisited in six months after the wedding. WHAT?! Of course they would leave that out of my written review. I was flabbergasted and so disheartened. I guess 5 years of 60-80 hour weeks, canceling of vacations, willingness to work evenings/ weekends/pick up emergency projects does not account for much now that I am (finally) in a committed relationship. Of course, I am grateful to be employed and generally enjoy the work I do. Interested to read everyone’s take on how to push through burn out.

    • c

      WOW. That is a crazy story.

      Will your work hours become more manageable when you make partner? If so, it may be worth pushing through to get there. If the hours are going to stay relatively the same, I definitely think it’s worth asking if it’s worth staying at a place that questions your commitment because you dare get married — and imagine what would happen if you decided to have a kid. Can you go in-house or switch to the government? A lot less money, but at least you’d have a life.

    • Meg Keene

      BECAUSE IT’S ILLEGAL. So yeah, they would leave that off the record. But you have a lawsuit if you want it, so there is that.

      • Kelly

        Totally illegal. I was shocked, because otherwise it has been a great firm to work for and generally respectful of work/life balance. The female partner followed it up by saying that although we’ve made great strides, it is still tough to be a woman in firm, no matter how unfair that may be (whomp). And that everyone believes in me and wants to see me succeed. Because I genuinely like and respect the partners I work for, I’m choosing to believe that the comment wasn’t as . . . threatening? dire? as it initially sounded. They have each invested a good bit of time developing me as an attorney, and seem genuinely happy for my engagement/marriage. But still, that review did nothing for the burn out that has been steadily building the last few months. Hoping to recharge on the honeymoon :)

        • Meredith

          Illegal? Certainly. Horrifying? Absolutely. Deeply, deeply unfair? The sad part is that it doesn’t really surprise me and I’ve been there (mine was doubts about my commitment after a baby

    • JenClaireM

      What?! That is a truly horrifying thing to say. I am incensed for you. How are you supposed to react to that? Thank them for showing you how dismissive and sexist they are? I just… I’m really sorry your company has that kind of attitude. And how convenient that they left that off the record, since it’s, you know, discrimination. I don’t blame you for questioning how much you want to sustain an intense work pace at this company. If you do stay there and make partner, you could become part of a change in the culture, but it also seems totally reasonable to walk away from it.

  • anon

    I went through a huge burnout a few years ago while I was finishing law school while working full-time at a job I hated. And although I was very fortunate to get a job as a lawyer (rare these days!) it isn’t a job I particularly enjoy. The best word to use for how I felt about it all is “betrayed.” I’d done the right things, checked the right boxes, and I was supposed to be rewarded with a great life and I job I loved — and instead I ended up with a job I found uninspiring and uninteresting.

    What I’ve come to realize over the past 2 years is that I’m never going to LOVE my job, and my job cannot be WHO I am. But I can go find a job that I enjoy and then have the rest of my time for myself to pursue other goals. Running marathons, buying a house, making that house better, adopting pets, learning to cook fancy meals…all of these are things I’ve either accomplished or am working toward, and it feels amazing.

    I’m so *relieved* that I no longer have to define myself as a super-ambitious career person. Doing that almost gave me a nervous breakdown. I suppose this is the time in my life that I should be leaning in, but I don’t have it in me. I don’t even think I *want* to be at the top anymore…I just want to be comfortable and feel like I’m putting a little good back into the world. So now, although I’m poking around for other jobs that I think I would enjoy more than my current job, my bar is no longer “must be a job I love,” but rather “must be a job that I enjoy but has decent hours and gives me enough time to go home and take my dog on a long walk.”

    • Kina

      Fist bump to another runner! Coming up on Marathon #10 :) Definitely part of my don’t-burn-out-on-life-and-be-happy plan.

    • Nicole

      That was one thing I was wondering while reading this, does anyone love their job? Are we asking too much if we all just want to “love” our jobs?

      It’s like a recent article I was reading about marriage. They estimate that some marriages are crumbling because people expect their partner to meet all of their psychological needs. Marriage used to be an institution built solely on the physical needs (e.g., food, water, shelter, sex). When you’re asking your partner to fulfill your inner most desires, are you asking for too much?

      The way the current workforce is built seems to not allow women to LOVE their jobs. Right now, I view my job as keeping me away from the things I love, like my fiancé, family and friends. Maybe burnout is when we expect too much for something that will never fulfill us. Identifying what does fulfill us (e.g., hobbies, people) may help.

      • anon

        I think “loving” our jobs IS asking too much…which is why, honestly, when I saw the topic for this month, I just could NOT relate. I’m not hungry for it anymore when it comes to my career; I’m hungry for having a badass relationship with my soon-to-be husband and training for marathons and having a great home and reading a bunch of books.

        My problem was not simply getting into a job that I didn’t like — it was letting go of a dream, the dream that my decade of hard work and jobs I hated and 6 figures of student loan debt would all pay off because I would get THE job and live THE life. That all came crashing down when I realized that THE job doesn’t exist…but I have the power to create THE life that I want to live.

        So here I am, still trying to figure it all out…I would, ideally, like to have a job that I enjoy more than my current job, but I’m not willing to give up pay or hours of free time to do it. Which means I may be at my current job for awhile. And that’s okay, because my real life exists outside these 4 walls.

        • Lauren from NH

          Paragraph two is where I am at. The burnout for me is realizing not only is the dream just a dream, but reality really sucks. I don’t just have a boring job, I have a hostile work environment with some of the worst communication I have ever seen. My boss quite literally treats me and my supervisor like something disgusting he was forced to step in. And this guy has a two million dollar home (I know because he makes me scan in items of his personal business) and rubs elbows with power players from all over the capitol. This is the type of person that runs the world. There is no room for improvement with someone who cannot be bothered to respect you, let alone communicate with you. And all I feel I hear from people are similar stories of incompetence and poor leadership. There is no such thing as teamwork in companies like this. It all just encourages a culture of more and more fake faces, everyone playing the game to make some money to live off of.
          I guess I just don’t get why we were advertised such a rosy picture as kids. Two months in my boss fucking smacked me over the head. And I couldn’t leave, I needed a job and it took me 8 months to get two crummy offers. And a year later I am still deeply angry, apparently. That is my burn out. Loss of faith that I even want what I am working for, other than the money to be able to pay rent and student loans.

          • Heather

            Like, actually smacked you over the head? Are you in one of those awful places that doesn’t have an HR department? I suffered through one (no physical abuse, but lots of emotional) for three years. You will get out. The opportunity will come. And it will take a long time after you leave for you to stop being angry- and that’s totally okay.

            The way they’re treating you is NOT okay. Hugs. I’m so sorry you’re dealing with that.

        • Meg Keene

          Ah, but the theme of the month is being hungry for things, not careers. Notice, it’s hardly been fired up career posts back to back around here.

          Also, I’m just sort of profoundly from a different generation (weirdly, that Generation Catalano 1980s flex point). I was (and am) hungry for a career that would give me a life I wanted. And my dream was always to give a finger to the man and opt out of the rat race (I think that was pretty much the dream of the grunge era). Which means, I’m typing this from my backyard.

          Different generational models. We spent a lot of time bored as kids (not burning out), our ideals were never to work for the man (so to speak), and we were not saddled with six figure student loan debt. So it’s just… so different.

          To me: of COURSE real life exists outside the walls of an office, it sort of didn’t occur to me that any of us would think differently. But also to me, that doesn’t preclude being hungry for it.

      • Meg Keene

        Quick thoughts: yes, people love their jobs. No, I don’t think it’s reasonable to expect to love every job all the time. But, I do think it’s reasonable to expect to find a job you can have pride in.

        • Meigh McPants

          That’s a good point about having pride in your work. Companies are starting to realize that employee investment is key to productivity and worker retention, and that seemingly simple concept of pride in one’s work is a part of that.

          • KC

            I am reaaally excited to hear that this (incredibly necessary) corporate mindset shift is happening/on its way. (now, if they could also value their employees and realize that some degree of mutual loyalty is mutually beneficial, and if they could also make corporate decisions based on things other than a single quarter’s projections, that would be *fantastic*)

      • Lena and Aggy

        This is so, so true. I hardly know anyone that “loves” their job. I don’t know if it’s just women or a general young adult mindset.

      • Trinity

        I’ve spent years working “meh” jobs and kicking myself for not being able to figure out what I “REALLY” wanted to do. And then I went to career counseling and took the Strong Interest Inventory assessment, and my counselor told me, “Well, you’re not crazy: There really isn’t a job out there for you. Either you’ll have to settle for a job you don’t love, or you’ll have to create one.”

        It’s been making me feel more free to find a job that can give me what I think I need to be happy: financial stability and flexibility. If my job can fuel and give me space for the things I know I love (my husband, our future family, cooking, traveling), then I don’t think I need a job I love.

        (Also: I really loved this article on “Five Reasons to Ignore the Advice to Do What You Love”: http://www.forbes.com/sites/robasghar/2013/04/12/five-reasons-to-ignore-the-advice-to-do-what-you-love/)

      • Laura C

        I love my job. In fact, I loved my last job and left it for this one because I knew I’d love it more. But this is where I admit that my job now used to be my procrastination then my hobby and then lightning struck and I got hired to do it full-time at a salary I can actually live on. I work with amazing people and I get to do something that I actually believe in.

        That said, once your hobby becomes your job, there are days it’s…a job. Anything you do day in day out will have its low points, be it profession or relationship, and that has to be baked in to our understanding of them. But the job that’s fulfilling and supports you can exist. It doesn’t always, but it’s not totally a myth.

        • Meg Keene

          Yeah, I think it’s important to realistically frame the fact that jobs you love are still jobs. They’re filled with a lot of shitty boring work, and bad days, and sometimes stress. They’re jobs. They’re not supposed to be our lives. Even if we love them, they’re not supposed to be our lives.

          I’ve had a job I love for maybe four of the 12 years I’ve been working full time/ 22 years I’ve been working in some capacity. But I’ve only been unhappy at life a fraction of that time. And the jobs I loved were sometimes the hardest (or made me the brokest.)

          • Hayley

            Amen to this. I hate when people say things along the lines of, “If you love what you do, it never feels like work,” or something similar. Sometimes work is just work, even if you do love it.

      • megep

        I love my job. I’m a public librarian. Does that mean that every single day is rosy and fun? No. For me, knowing my job fulfills a need in society, and having an ideological reason for going to work everyday make it, ultimately, a job I love. (I’m also luck that I have a great, supportive work environment full of amazing women. I have not always worked in libraries like that, and so at that point having really idealistic ideas about the value of libraries was the most important thing in getting me to work everyday.)

        • MisterEHolmes

          I love you, Librarian! Thank you for your good, hard work on behalf of readers!

        • Anonymous Coward

          That is nice to hear! I hope that I will be able to say the same someday soon. I’m on the candidate list for our local public system, and the ink on my MLIS has dried while I’ve been waiting. My current non-library job has been good and stable over the years while I got my shit together, met a great partner, got married, bought a house, and prepared to grow our family… but I’ve come close to burnout a couple of times from the job and once from the job/school/internship combination. I am ready to move on.

      • Violet

        “Are we asking too much if we all just want to “love” our jobs?” What a thought-provoking question Nicole! And thanks to Rachel for getting us started thinking about this topic.
        I am fortunate enough to be doing Exactly what I want to be doing, job-wise. On some days, my work fulfills me. On all days, I am proud of my work. I feel lucky. My work also stresses me out, and gives me days that are… not good. It makes me tired. Like most, I look forward to Fridays and like many I get Sunday night anxiety. Do I love it? I guess I don’t know if “love” would be the right word for me. “Love” to me implies a relationship, and I don’t have a relationship with my job.
        I also recognize that there’s a certain amount of privilege around having a job you love, which is why hearing Steve Jobs talk about it made me a little sick. He needed all those people working in factories for him to do a job he loved, so, eyh. To me, loving your job might be important, but I don’t think it’s Everything.

      • Jenny

        I think people do love their jobs, but I don’t think that means they like them all the time (much like loving people). I love what I do, I’m proud of what i do, does that mean when I’m cleaning a data set, or making the millionth edit to an IRB, or writing a grant proposal for 100 hours a week until the deadline I’m all sunshine and rainbows? No.

        On the other hand, my husband works at a job that is played by a cat or a boa constrictor in the Richard Scary books and it is one of the worst in terms of burn out. Partly because people in the field think that you should be doing it because you have a passion for it, they work 24 hour shifts, get paid terribly, deal with tons of BS, they are chronically sleep deprived, and have terrible divorce rates and health problems. This varies from company to company and state to state (though divorce and health trends are true nation wide). As a result he’s looking to leave the profession, not because he doesn’t love his job (as in profession), but because the working conditions/environment are toxic. I think it gets at the larger aspect of work in America right now, which is people need to be treated like humans and as though there work has value- regardless of what that job is (I mean if it’s not valuable, just don’t staff that position-right?). Burn out can stem from a lot of things, but I think just the work isn’t the only factor, nor maybe the most important one that contributes to burnout.

        • Violet

          (Omg, IRBbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbb…)

      • I think this is SUCH a good discussion! For the record, I love my job. But I have certainly wondered lately if it’s reasonable or realistic to expect to love your job. Maybe the goal for most (or many) people should just be that it doesn’t suck out so much of your soul that you can’t love anything else?

        • That’s really it for me. I want to feel like I’m doing something good, that I am appreciated, I want to work in a team, I’d like to do something mildly creative, but I want to go home at a reasonable hour and do other things too. I want to have a life that I love and a job that supports that life. That said, having a crappy job (unappreciated, overworked, unfulfilling), high paying or not, does not support having a life that I love.

        • Reminds me of this article, actually (I can’t remember if we put it in a roundup): https://www.jacobinmag.com/2014/01/in-the-name-of-love/

        • I think Meg’s point about at least being able to take pride in the work you’re doing is my goal. Thinking about it from this perspective, my job as a front desk girl at a nice gym was actually kind of more rewarding than my office job. I felt like I was genuinely helping people have a better day, even though I had to wear a terrible synthetic polo and it paid a pittance.

        • Jess

          I certainly don’t love what I do – it doesn’t make me feel inspired and all lit up inside. But I enjoy parts of my job, and I make enough to go out and do other things like travel or hike or eat at nice restaurants. I make enough to maybe support a family or pay for care in my old age.

          In talking to my parents when I was trying to figure out what to do with my life after college, that’s enough for most people who had a job in their generation.

          I think it’s very unrealistic to say that everybody should be out there doing what they love and are passionate about. For a lot of people, their passion wouldn’t be as fun if it became their livelihood. I love hiking and cooking. I do not want to be a professional guide or chef.

      • Meigh McPants

        I love my job, but the 2 years I’ve been doing it are the only time in my working life that I have, and I’m pretty sure it’s because I now make my own schedule and am where the buck stops for everything. HOWEVER, I definitely don’t make the bulk of the household income, and I don’t know if my following this dream would have been affordable if my wife made less money or if I were single. So really, I feel like my loving my job is a function of privilege. Do I work hard? Sure, but mostly, I’m just lucky. Is that too depressing an answer? The good news is it’s possible to love your life, even if you’re just meh about your job. I didn’t start being happy the minute I started working for myself, it just helped. I live in DC where it feels like your job=your identity, but if you refuse to buy into that, there’s a lot of non-work joy out there.

        • Meg Keene

          Though (I know I always say this but) I don’t believe that you have to be privileged to love your job. Most people I have known that modeled loving their jobs to me were blue collar, often with pretty boring work. But they had so much pride in what they did.

          And that’s a big part of it. Pride in what I do is probably one of the biggest factors for me loving running APW. I also love writing and otherwise creating, but that’s maybe 5% of my job. Pride in what I do is what keeps me going.

          So that’s the key for me, I think. Finding something you can be proud of, which can be quite the journey.

          • Meigh McPants

            I definitely agree you don’t have to be privileged to love your job. I just felt like it’s important to acknowledge my own privilege and locate where I’m coming from in the discourse. Otherwise, to me it feels disingenuous to talk about my awesome job without also talking about the realities that allow me to have it. All I can talk about is my experience, and the great thing about APW is we have a zillion voices and experiences co-existing, so you get lots of sides to an issue.

      • Alyssa

        Agree. You’re making me think of this article – http://www.slate.com/articles/technology/technology/2014/01/do_what_you_love_love_what_you_do_an_omnipresent_mantra_that_s_bad_for_work.html.

        For me, my job can be what I have to do to make money, and everything else can be my life. I don’t have the ambition career-wise that a lot of APWers seem to. More power to all of you hustlers!

      • april

        The point about expecting too much from a job is well taken, although I think you could say the same thing about putting too much emphasis on any single part of your life (i.e., being a wife or a mother or a best friend). However, I don’t think that means we can’t or shouldn’t expect to ‘love’ our jobs. At times, my job can be frustrating, at times it can be stressful, and at times it can be boring. And there are definitely days when I wish I could stay at home with a book rather than coming into work. But overall I’d say that I love my job. I love the mission of my workplace, and I love contributing to that mission. A lot of my work is really fulfilling on an intellectual and creative level as well. I would certainly be sad if my job was the only thing going on in my life, but I would be equally sad if my personal relationships (for example) were the only things going on in my life.

        • Nicole

          I agree. I would think that leads to burnout. If we put too much emphasis into one area of our lives, it ultimately won’t be able to fulfill all of our needs. Then when that fails, we feel lost and frustrated and unhappy. It can happen when we place this on a job, a person, or a relationship.

      • Outside Bride

        I DO love my job…or at least, I did. I’m in a job that many people I run into describe as a “dream job” (more on the fake smile I use to not cry every time I hear that phrase later), and I’m concerned it’s my addiction to giving too many fucks that is making this one miserable too. I actually “downgraded” from another dream job to a less stressful job in a better place, one where I was outdoors all the time. It was wonderful, an excellent balance of protecting pretty places and working with motivated people in my community to make things better, and although I took myself too seriously, it really was play. Except I allowed myself to get sucked into too many other things, and when a job with more prestige came up, I took it. Then people died. Three people in a span of 21 days, when there had been one death in the previous 20 years. And while we (I) really couldn’t have prevented it (when we talk to each other about it, we sound like that shouty Robin Williams scene in Good Will Hunting), it made the job seem less like play, and more like one of the jobs done by the boa constrictor in the Richard Scarry book. I feel angry and driven and so, so tired. And I cry a lot. If I can’t make this work, can I make anything work? The wedding feels like just one more thing to plan. I’m so ready for the day after…

        • Heather

          That sounds so hard. Many hugs for you, Outside Bride. Many, many hugs.

      • Sarah

        “Are we asking too much if we all just want to “love” our jobs?” Lately I have been starting to wonder if this is true. After graduating, I ended up in a job completely unrelated to my field (ecology). There are some great things about it (nice people, flexible hours, supportive of working parents), but most of the time I find the work fairly uninspiring. Some of my job actually makes me quite anxious and often the time goes really slowly. So last year I started doing a Masters in the hope of actually getting work as an ecologist and doing something I enjoy. And although I quite like my course, it doesn’t inspire or excite me in the way that I was hoping it would which makes me think that actually working in my field won’t be as fullfilling as I would like. Also, I know that if I do move into the field, it is unlikely that I am going to have the same conditions that I have at the moment, especially when we are looking to start a family in a few years time. So I am left wondering if maybe I am better off staying where I am. Am I asking too much to love my job?

        The position that I have finally landed on (I think!) is that if I can get work that is ecology-related, I don’t have to be totally passionate about it. It doesn’t have to be perfect – I just have to find it enjoyable/interesting/meaningful enough that I am able to get through most days without watching the clock or feeling anxious.

    • Diane Day

      I felt totally burnt out after finishing law school too! I’ve managed to find a non-lawyer legal job that is fine but I don’t love it. Its a good job by most people’s standards- very regular hours and a pretty fair salary. I find myself vacillating between feeling like a bit of failure for not busting my butt to find a more challenging/high powered position and being happy that I get to leave work at the office and go to yoga.

    • Tara

      my bar is no longer “must be a job I love,” but rather “must be a job that I enjoy but has decent hours and gives me enough time to go home and take my dog on a long walk.”

      YES. I completely understand.

      • Winny the Elephant

        ^ YES

      • Lizzie C.

        Amen. That’s my new bar too. Except I don’t have a dog yet, so I need time to hang out with my husband, watch Doctor Who and browse Pinterest.

    • Hayley

      The few months after law school were the most burnt out I have ever felt. Law school provides you with this list of A to Z things you “must” do to be successful, and I really killed myself trying to do it all…only to realize later that a lot of it just wasn’t that important. Luckily I do have a job that I love now, but. Those were a rough few months.

  • Kestrel

    Oh god. Can we say mirror?

    This is exactly what I’ve been struggling with – and is actually why I dropped/failed out of grad school.

    I’ve been trying for so freaking long, so freaking long, to be the best. I wanted to do well, I wanted to be amazing, I wanted to be the best freaking engineer anyone had ever seen.

    Realistically, my body and my mind just couldn’t take it anymore, particularly with the added stress of grad school. I got sick, weekly. I was depressed and tired and my previously lofty views of myself were not sustainable – I’m not going to win the nobel prize, I’m not the genius I allowed myself to believe I was.

    I think it’s particularly hard when you work in a male-dominated industry because you’ve been told time and time again that you’re a role model – you’re the person that girls will be looking at to see if they could be engineers as well. I’ve often felt ashamed because I don’t feel like I’m role-model material. I know, realistically, that people want real role models – with faults and challenges, and all those issues, but it’s hard when you’re not living up to your personal expectations because the drive to get there is just gone.

    Right now I’m in the phase of trying to see realistic expectations. What can I do to achieve goals, and what are the goals I actually want. I’m allowing myself right now to just take some time off the rat race (my job doesn’t start until May) to see what I truly want, and to try and be ok if that doesn’t amount to being the best ever.

    I hope that I’ll someday overcome this burnout and be able to return to a life that I really want – not the one I think I should want.

    • Audrey

      I so hear you on the role model thing. I almost didn’t change my major in college (from Astronomy to Biology) because I didn’t want to be another girl moving to a softer science.

    • genevathene

      From one engineering PhD dropout to another…I hear you! *hug*

    • malkavian

      Ugh, I’m in a PhD program right now and feel like this all the time. I want to graduate and work as a teacher/med writer/science journalist, but my boss is a total workaholic and expects the same of me, and hello, I have fucking hobbies. Not to mention my anxiety has been through the roof, but I have a hard time using coping mechanisms at work because the second I’m caught looking like I’m doing something besides work someone is down my throat.

      • Kestrel

        I also want to be a teacher! (would have gone into education, but frankly, I don’t know if I could deal with high schooler’s appropriately, which is why I was trying for a PhD mostly).

        I think that’s also problematic in another way – that whole “those who can’t do teach” kind of issue that really just needs to die.

      • xorosxaris

        As a current PhD student, I’ll say that situation is not right, malkavian. Be empowered to talk to your department head or dean of graduate students about your relationship with your advisor.

        • malkavian

          I’ve been talking! No one’s any help, really. I’m planning on bugging one of the Deans again once I get a spare hour or so, but to be honest I’m really not expecting much.

      • carolynprobably

        I know this behavior is tolerated (and worse, expected?) Find the career/counseling services at your university at the very least. I never thought I was someone who “needed help” but, fuck, that got me through the worst of it.

        Also, fun fact, the counselor I saw said something like 90% of their regular clients/patients were in graduate or professional school. So here’s to de-stigmatizing the notion that we have to 1. acquiesce to shitty mentor relationships and working conditions 2. handle All The Feelings on our own 3. be strong enough, smart enough, ‘whatever’ enough to not need to ask for help.

        • malkavian

          Already seeing both a therapist and a psychiatrist. Dealing with my mentor is still very difficult, though, and a lot of my peers have the mindset of ‘well that’s just how it is/get over it.’

          It just frustrates me so much that academia ‘allows’ this kind of behavior.

          • carolynprobably

            I agree. And I particularly hate when the crappy academic culture is written off as a form of hazing. Like, the old dogs survived being treated like shit and spending the night at lab, so you can/must, too. And if you resist (read: you are a woman who whines and complains) then you are pegged as being a troubled or unqualified student.

            Anyway, glad you’re building a support network. Honestly, I wish you good luck in this.

    • Ellen

      From another Engineer who burnt out. I am now working for a not for proffit. Making half the money and 100 times happier!
      I thaught I was the only one to to through this. Thank you for your honest post.

    • Glen

      So with you on the role-model issue. I did survive engineering grad school, despite some major stress-related illnesses. I’m now 10 years into my career, burnt out, and trying to figure out if this is really what I want to do for another 10 years. And one of the con’s in my pro/con list on leaving this career was that I do find it very important that girls and young women have the opportunities and role models in STEM.

      As I think about it further, though, I’m realizing that I never thought my mother wasn’t a role model because she bailed on her computer programming career to have kids, or that she chose to become a nurse rather than go back.

    • carolynprobably

      Hugs to you. I finished my PhD almost two years ago now, and frankly I’m starting to feel the burnout in my postdoc. (and if it wasn’t now, it’d probably happen while gunning for an assistant professorship, and if not, then while gunning for tenure…) That’s not said to sound defeatist, but because there’s so many seemingly-impossible goals to achieve in academics.

      But I think the real disservice is the internal (and sometimes external) suggestion that you haven’t just failed but you are a *woman who failed*. You couldn’t cut it because you are a woman and you are somehow letting all of womankind down. Which, ick! Utterly ridiculous and untrue, but shit, why are we allowing these feelings to be added to this pile of misery? My husband is also a postdoc, and I’m willing to guess (and now keenly interested in asking him) that on his lowest days, he’s never made to feel like he’s letting mankind down by wanting to quit.

  • Meaghan

    This is why the Medium Chill (http://grist.org/living/2011-06-28-the-medium-chill/) is my life goal. I don’t want an executive position, I just want to continue enjoying my job and feeling challenged and learn new things.

    Which is maddening because I’m only 8 months into a 2-year assignment that, when I applied for it, seemed like it would be a nice medium pace, but now includes an ambitious new component to it that is literally giving me stress-induced IBS and turning all my hair grey. I’m just trying to get through it by reminding myself that it’s a great learning experience and I don’t have enough power to fuck it up in any hugely important way.

    • Class of 1980

      So … I recently read that Dutch women by and large work part-time, and don’t want that to change. The United Nations was so worried that Dutch women were getting shortchanged, that they launched an inquiry.


      But no, Dutch women stuck to their guns. And it had nothing to do with motherhood either, as many of the women are not mothers.

      What do we think about this?

      • This is FASCINATING. I didn’t get into it in this post but I think that it’s a really good to be asking if women are just seeing that the current ladders we have the option to climb are, in many ways, undesirable. Because you always hear it from the negative POV (women make less, women are opting out, etc) but there is a positive, and that’s…quality of life? I think this generation of women could certainly be the beginning of a shift in American culture toward a new definition of success.

        • Class of 1980

          “I think this generation of women could certainly be the beginning of a
          shift in American culture toward a new definition of success.”

          From your lips to God’s ears, Rachel. ;)

          • How do we shift it faster???

          • Class of 1980

            It won’t shift until the majority of people see the current situation as undesirable and unhealthy.

            Mass enlightenment hasn’t happened … yet. But it will.

        • Genevieve

          Oh, I think so. I’m in my mid-30s and have quite a few friends who decided to stay home with their kids (if they had the means) not because they were passionate about staying home, per se, but because they were so burnt out at work that the option was really appealing.

        • Liz

          That’s true – but if the trend of women opting out at a greater rate than men continues, we end up with the same old problem: a workforce that looks mostly male. That’s troubling to me.

      • Kestrel

        Frankly, with that I’d be worried that the men would be shortchanged. I think most everyone would want to work part time if they could, but my guess is there’s a cultural norm that men can’t be part time and be a ‘good man’ while women who work part time would be perfectly ok.

        • Class of 1980

          Unless the women are picking up more of the slack at home.

          • I don’t think most men would feel short-changed by not cleaning the bathroom (or whatever the equivalent thing is that they don’t volunteer to do that we just do anyway regardless of our work schedules). I think it’s about both sexes seeing what needs to be done and respecting who gets what done (does that make any sense?)

        • Hannah B

          I think a valid question is if men feel the same burnout, but just don’t say anything since it’s not acceptable?

      • La_Venus

        I love it! That’s where I am at internally (including fighting for my part-time job), but I still have to perpetually wade through the cultural feedback that comes in all forms.

      • Winny the Elephant

        Again, this works great if you can afford to. If there is a partner who can pick up the financial slack. But I agree with the other commenters that this leaves men in the position of breadwinner and that puts stress on them as well. It’s incredibly stressful to feel like your family relies on you utterly and completely. I’d rather both of us work full time or 3/4 time (does that exist?) than have me work part time.

        Plus in the event of a divorce, women who’ve chosen to work part time and then have to return to the workforce are at a huge disadvantage.

        • Class of 1980

          Evidently it’s working for the Dutch for some reason, or else they wouldn’t be so committed to it. Anyway, it’s interesting.

          • Class of 1980

            Also, I didn’t get the sense that all these part-time Dutch women are all married.

      • Jacqui

        I live in Australia, so we are lucky to have more work/life balance protection and work expectations seem to be a bit more realistic, at least in most sectors. For a start we have 4 weeks of annual leave for all full time workers that is protected by law plus more public holidays than most countries. Plus government subsidized child care, health care and a more sustainable model for higher education loans (we borrow from the government and then pay it back out of income tax, but only once you reach a certain level of income – so if you aren’t working for some reason you don’t have to pay for that period making things like long travel, time off for kids or to start a project more realistic. The debt is still there, and it is indexed by CPI but isn’t charged interest as such).

        As for expectation to work longer hours, I think that is often limited to very competitive career ladder type areas like law and maybe finance and sometimes smaller businesses that rely on staff to do what it takes when there is a big job on or whatever. I have friends/family working in fields including health, government, education, non-profit, retail and hospitality and there really isn’t that expectation to put in extra hours all the time – sure if there is an important project, after hours meeting or just a phone call that takes a while you might spend an extra hour or two at work sometimes, but not day in day out like you seem to in the US!

        There is also a much more accepted place for part time work, both for parents and other people – for example my sister is 32 with two kids and is a physiotherapist – she works part time for now but no one would think she is failing/slacking/not taking her career seriously because of that – she has done all that work already to establish herself and then she will have another 30+ years of career once she is back full time – surely a few years to prioritize family in the middle don’t make her career any less important!

        Basically what I am trying to say is that by having a more socialized system of support (and maybe a generally more laid back lifestyle..) means there is less of this burn out problem across the board – sure is happens but I don’t think it is quite the epidemic here that I am seeing in these comments, but I live in a smaller city and work in local government – maybe it is more prevalent in bigger cities with higher cost of living etc

        • Hannah B

          What’s the rate on income tax where you are? Americans are fairly anti-tax, which spills over into the way we look at debt and paying it back. Just curious.

        • Class of 1980

          “There is also a much more accepted place for part time work, both for
          parents and other people – for example my sister is 32 with two kids and
          is a physiotherapist – she works part time for now but no one would
          think she is failing/slacking/not taking her career seriously because of
          that – she has done all that work already to establish herself and then
          she will have another 30+ years of career once she is back full time –
          surely a few years to prioritize family in the middle don’t make her
          career any less important!”

          Yet in America, many would look down on her. It’s an “all or nothing” mindset that has people fearing to step off the treadmill for a minute.

          I have no idea how or why Americans got sucked into thinking this way, because even men weren’t under such pressure when I was growing up.

          I even see a huge difference between how we do business here versus how my business contacts in the U.K. think. We are very “Get it done NOW” and they think Americans are crazy and want everything yesterday.

      • D

        I am a Dutch woman and it’s true that many women (I think the vast majority) work parttime here. I agree with some of you that it party has to do with the fact it’s still not really acceptable for men to work parttime. So actually I am struggeling to see it as a good thing. There is a lot of discussion going on in Holland about how to get women in more executive positions in the workforce, something that is particularly hard to achieve when working parttime (if even possible at all).
        Having a fulltime job when you work for the government of Holland means working 36 hours per week. In business, it’s usually 38-40 hours. Not including overtime of course.

  • LydiaB

    Nothing to say but agreement. I have never spoke to anyone about this or even been able to put it into words! I didn’t even know it was thing… but here I am.

    I am coasting at work wishing I wasn’t there instead of pushing myself anymore, it makes me sad but I just can’t seem to care.

    I’ll be looking to these comments for any ideas people have on how to kick start the fire again!

    • p.

      When my job wasn’t
      challenging and I was considering changing jobs or industries, I took some continuing education classes. I know this might be exactly what burnt out people shouldn’t do since it means taking on more work and giving up more time, but for me, it was really helpful. It helped me realize that I am working in the field I want to be in,
      and the course work reminded me what it was like to feel challenged and productive again.

      I can’t say that it’s a permanent solution (truthfully, I’m back to coasting a bit at work these days but this actually fits a bit better with where I’m at in my life right now), but it’s one thing to consider.

      • Agreed, going back to basics and learning some new things helped me a ton. It’s hard to get the motivation to start, but I definitely found that it helped me!!

  • Kirstin

    Thank you so much for this post, Rachel. I love everything you write, but this has me in tears at my desk right now.

    I’ve been feeling stuck, burned out, lacking direction and/or ambition, etc. for the least year and a half. And I’ve had supervisors, colleagues, friends and family asking me what’s next, where am I heading, etc. I have no answer. A huge part of me just wants to snuggle with my pets, drink coffee in bed, and live life without a To Do list and without feeling like I’m flying by the seat of my pants all the time. But who gives us permission that it’s okay? Because you are totally right – others aren’t okay with a sudden lack of ambition. They assume it’s depression or some other issue, versus just needing to give yourself a break.

    It always comes back to: How will I pay the bills? How will I face my mountain of student loan debt?

    Thinking. Lots of thinking right now.

    • Lena and Aggy

      I also defined this predicament as “Type A-” a long time ago. Like “Sure, I want to be in control, but I definitely not projecting that image of Reese Witherspoon in Election.” So, Type A- it is.

      • ItsyBit

        Hah! “Type A-,” I love it. Also the Election reference. A+ for that.

  • This is exactly how I felt!! I was always told to strive to be successful but all I knew was that success was never enough, you had to keep going and be more successful, keep on pushing for more. And because I hadn’t found that role yet, I felt lost because I also didn’t want to be one of those people who lived for the weekend and always seemed to have regrets. There didn’t seem to be any middle ground, nothing felt satisfactory and I couldn’t work out why. And then, a few years ago, I started my own business, left my other job and suddenly every day became exciting. There’s sometimes a little thought niggling at the back of my mind saying I should have a shop front, I should hire staff, I should build the business bigger than just myself, THAT would be success. But actually, what does any of that really mean? I work far harder than I did before but I also choose days to spend with my husband, days that I sit and read a book. I can manage my own time and I’ve never been happier. That’s all that matters.

    • ItsyBit

      Good for you for finding something that makes you happy!

    • Meg Keene

      That’s an example of the real opt out revolution.

    • JenClaireM

      What you did is pretty much my goal/dream/plan. How did you get to the point of starting your own business? I would love to read about a thousand posts on that topic!

      • I’m a wedding photographer. I always wanted to be a photographer but I was just too scared to do anything about it, it felt such a big risk. But a friend told me to stop thinking of reason why it wouldn’t work, and think of ways to make it work. So I did two jobs for two years, built up my reputation, equipment and then finally when I felt confident I could leave and still pay the bills I left and went full time and I’ve never looked back.

        • JenClaireM

          That’s so impressive and cool. And really inspiring. I love your friend’s advice and intend to use it myself. Thank you for sharing! And congrats on being bad-ass!

        • Caitlin_DD

          This! I want to do this!

    • that’s so completely awesome!

  • Nicole

    “I always worked hard with the goal in mind of getting a good job so, what? I could work even harder at said job? The point of all my hard work was just to earn… more work? Great.”


    • Class of 1980

      My business partner went through this in the 1980s with his ex-wife. She was one of the first wave of women executives. She climbed the ladder in regional positions and landed in NYC. Sounds great, right? But she became so burnt out that she stopped even having sex.

      They went to a marriage therapist and she said she just wanted to go weave baskets somewhere. Eventually, their marriage broke up because of the toll it took. She is now a very successful Realtor and seems to have found the life balance she needed for sanity.

      Anway, it’s interesting to see the same feelings popping up in this generation.

  • My burnout occurred when I graduated college (with a great GPA in a not-so-great (read: employable) major)) and had to contend with mediocre job after mediocre job. Now I sort of find things outside of work to excel in, because the 9-5s I’ve worked for the most part have not been fun. Last year I trained to run a 5k. This year, on top of starting running again (it got cold… I’m a wimp), I’m working on reading more books. These things are what keep me going, push me to be better. Eventually, I’m going back to school, hopefully for a career that will actually push me to want to excel in my work.. until then, though, I’ve just got to be “hungry” for the chance to start over in that respect, and the opportunity to grow outside of my day job.

    • But you weren’t necessarily burnt out on school, right? You are burnt out on working in unfulfilling places. I believe there is a place for you and me both!

      • Oh, no. I loved what I studied. :) The job thing is really weighing me down, though. But there’s hope yet!

        • Two months, three weeks? Counting down the days for you…

          • Two months and a week at this point! Still waiting on that pesky offer; they think it’ll come in tomorrow. Thanks :) hoping your situation improves as well!!

  • ItsyBit

    I always worked hard with the goal in mind of getting a good job so, what? I could work even harder at said job? The point of all my hard work was just to earn… more work? Great.

    UGH YES THANK YOU. I was starting to think there was something wrong with me because I just feel more… apathetic… about things, and I’m only 26. I mean, I’m excited about some life things, but I remember when even menial jobs got me going because it was A Chance at Something! And now I go into my (temporary but not bad) restaurant job and even on my first week, I think, “Meh. Do I have to talk to people?” And I look at grad school and I think, “I know that I want to do this… but do I want to do this? Do I have to?”

    I go crazy just staying home without definite things to do (see: 6 months of unemployment) but I’m having trouble getting excited about any work or career right now. I hope that I will be again once I’m back in my own field and at least making a small dent in the massive amounts of debt I’ve accrued. At the very least, though, it’s so nice to know that I’m not alone.

  • Ella

    Oh man. “We are the daughters of the feminists who said, “You can be anything,” and we heard, “You have to be everything.”

    YES YES YES. My mom and I talk about that sentiment all the time.

    • Laura C

      To be fair to those of us who heard “you have to be everything,” it’s because our feminist mothers weren’t the only people or forces talking to us, and other messages we got included “you can have a career, but you’re still responsible for the home and kids.” “You can have a career, but you’ll always be working extra hard to prove that you’re dedicated.” And so on. So there’s a reason we heard that we had to be everything.

      • Winny the Elephant

        I think it’s because our feminists mothers told us “you can do anything” but what they modeled for us was “you need to do everything”.

        • Laura C

          Many of them surely did. But we also saw that they did so because their bosses demanded it if they were to be taken seriously as professionals, or because their husbands thought their own jobs ended when they got home instead of embracing responsibilities there. Or we paid attention to popular culture and what we learned there was that the modern woman is supposed to do it all. The price of women’s professional success has been the view that women are supposed to never stop moving and fighting and trying to be better and to do it all, and that’s not something that comes only from women themselves.

          • Lizzie C.

            In addition, if our feminist moms felt like they weren’t doing everything, they may have lamented what they didn’t do to the point that we internalized it. For example, my mom lived too far from her own parents to take care of them in their old age, and hearing her talk about that made me promise myself I would take care of her when she needs it. While holding down a job. And keeping a house from looking scuzzy. And hopefully raising kids. I’m not burned out yet, but ask me again in 5 years.

          • Laura C

            It’s so interesting the kind of swings back and forth in response to one generation’s experiences. My (non-feminist) grandmother always regretted the amount of time she spent taking care of aging parents during my mother’s early childhood and how as a result she hadn’t enjoyed her time with my mom as much, so she swore she would never be a burden to my mother. Never mind that I was a teenager by the time my grandmother’s health started failing, and never mind that my mother really wanted to know what was going on, my grandmother would do things like, on their weekly Saturday call, tell my mother she’d been in the hospital for most of the week with bleeding ulcers. Or give less than a week’s notice she was going in for major surgery.

  • Lena and Aggy

    This post came at a perfect time. I have so many projects that are due and instead spent an hour watching “Paycheck to Paycheck.” And while I love working at home, I don’t really love what I’m doing. Certainly not enough to make a career out of it (should have thought of that before I quit the ol’ job).

    The other hilarious part of this lack of motivation towards my current career (and it’s always about work isn’t it?) is that I’m still wildly competitive. Except now I’m competitively reassigning my lack of motivation and putting a positive spin on it. Like, I’m competitively NOT GIVING A FUCK. LOOK HOW LAID BACK AND RELAXED I AM! LOOK HOW AWESOME IT IS TO BE A FREELANCER! I ONLY WORK A FEW HOURS A DAY! I GO SKIING ALL THE TIME! MY LIFE IS LESS WORK, MORE PLAY! IT’S REALLY GREAT! NO, I”M NOT CRYING INTO MY PILLOW THREE NIGHTS A WEEK! Nevermind that I’m constantly money conscious and feeling grotesquely uninspired. It’s like this fake competition with other people to mask my lack of motivation with extreme and utter joy about…not feeling motivated.

    • Not the point of your comment, but “Paycheck to Paycheck” is really good! We watched it on Monday night and I know I’ll be thinking about it for a while!

      Anyway, I love that you are competitively not giving a fuck. So much. Because it totally and hilariously encompasses the problem here.

      • Lena and Aggy

        I am always hesitant to watch documentaries like that when I’m in a shitty mood because depending on how it’s filmed they can get a little “You think you’ve got problems? Get a load of this lady’s problems. Then we’ll see how bad you feel.” But they did an awesome job of invoking empathy. Like, this woman is a single mom and working hard but has a lot of love and support in her life. And (at least what the film shows) has a relatively positive and hopeful attitude. It was such an encouraging departure from the normal gloom and doom of a lot of social justice documentaries, while still highlighting the point.

        Also, not the point of your post or my post.

  • Lori

    This!! I’ve always been a goal oriented, driven person. My personal and professional goals form such a large part of my identity, and when I’m not working toward something I feel a little empty. When I graduated from graduate school, I landed my dream job, what I felt I’d been working for for at least the past 6 years. Now I’ve been at that job four years, and I just want out. Even though I’d say I’m “successful” within my company, I’m completely unmotivated and just don’t see the point in trying. I feel disillusioned about my drive and my choices, and it’s caused me to second guess a lot of big, identity defining decisions I’ve made (including, unfortunately, my upcoming marriage).

    I’ve reapplied to school as I think that could be the kick in the butt I need to find something I’m passionate about again, but I feel like it’s a desperate move. It’s comforting to know that I’m not alone with this feeling!

  • bsc

    This is exactly how I have been feeling!! For the last two years I have been working in a job that has almost completely sucked my soul dry. I feel like a shell of the person I know I can be and have no idea where to go or what to do next. I took this job thinking it would be a great opportunity into a world of bigger and better things, and I was so completely wrong. I am surrounded by other people who are seemingly “Burnt out” except they are at retiring age. The mood of the office is “meh, ambition is overrated” and I was actually TOLD by my SUPERVISOR that I need to work less and “socialize” more. WTF?
    Now I am to the point where I have no idea what job I should be looking for or pursuing and I am afraid of landing in a place that is similar to or worse than where I am now. I have talked with my FH about redifining my idea of success – because I’m not sure what “success” means to me anymore. I have always been a high-achiever and I’ve always loved the satisfaction I receivd from getting shit done. Now? I just want to sit at home and watch Game of Thrones and buy things on Etsy. A few weeks ago, I burst into tears while drying my hair before work. I’m so over this! But, what am I supposed to do and who else understands?
    Thanks for capturing my thoughts so perfectly!

  • lady brett

    i sent my boss an email this morning asking to schedule a meeting to talk about options for me moving to part-time!

    because i relate in exactly zero ways to the parts of this about drive, but i’ve lived my whole life on the edge of burnt out (despite always being something of an under-achiever, just living up to expectations is almost more than i can handle), and it’s become unbearable.

    • Meg Keene


    • Nice! Good luck with your conversation! I’m right with you.

  • Samantha

    Just. Yes. Oh, yes.

  • I used to work for a big government consulting firm. It paid well (especially for someone with an English degree), the work itself was easy, and people had heard of the firm before (“oh, you work THERE?”). But I was stressed out and angry all the time, not to mention bored. The client I was assigned to was irrational and not even qualified for the job they held, and the work I did wasn’t mentally stimulating in the least. The firm itself always told you that you could “say no” to an extra project outside of your client assignment, but if you wanted to advance, good luck. After the numerous networking happy hours, meetings, and dinners, I was just done. I was so unhappy that I took more than a 20 percent pay cut for another job where I’d have actual work that I was interested in.

    When I finally left the firm, I couldn’t believe how different I felt every day–no longer taking out my stress and anger on my friends, family, and boyfriend. I’ve never regretted that decision for a minute, even though I could be making a lot more money right now. It wasn’t enough.

    So when I just stop caring, I make a change, even though it may take some time. I find that when I’m doing something I really love, or that I at least like a lot better, I have more energy to do my job and do it well. Burning out isn’t something I even consider anymore, to be honest.

  • Bee

    “We are the daughters of the feminists who said, “You can be anything,” and we heard, “You have to be everything.” – spot on. I’ve been driven my entire life by a desire to “save the planet” / “make the world a better place.” Unfortunately, that turns out to be pretty damn difficult. And with the recession, there is so much competition for do-gooder nonprofit type jobs that they are nearly impossible to get, even with stellar credentials. Heck, even the competition for unpaid internships is bloodthirsty. This has me questioning whether having such jobs actually makes a difference. . . since workers are essentially interchangeable and replaceable. I would not actually be adding anything to the world by taking such a job; clearly there are dozens of equally well-educated and bright-eyed young women who’d be happy to replace me. So where does that leave me? Totally lost.

  • NicoleT

    I believe that a lot of my lack of motivation comes from fear. I partly burned myself out through college and decided in one day to just switch my career. I started taking some pre-reqs as soon as I could. Now I’m looking at the career I’ve chosen and I’m creating scenarios in my head over how much of my time it’s going to take up and how miserable I’m going to be. There are some facts to back up the amount of time, but nothing at all to support me being miserable. I’m in a transition period of my life, scared out of my mind (I’m making a bucket list of things I have to do before I enter school again), and completely unmotivated. I know that what I lack is “not time, but heart”.

  • This is exactly what has been happening to me the last few months. I was raised in a family that believed hard work was a virtue that determined whether you were a good person or not. I was in every extracurricular in high school, became valedictorian. I spent 4 years getting my masters while working full time, then got laid off 6 months ago and had to take a lower paying job. Now I feel completely disillusioned with the workplace and the now-apparent brutal schedule. I no longer care if I make a career in my chosen field because all I want is rest, less stress, and happiness. I was just fantasizing about what it would be like to work only part time and have time to take care of my health and get more sleep when this post appeared.
    I wish I knew what the solution was. One that would still allow me and my SO to achieve our life goals affordably. I feel like I need to start over again and discover what my identity is apart from work and career ambitions.
    Thanks for this post. I needed to hear from other people that can relate.

  • I’m not sure how you did it, Rachel, but it’s like you got into my mind and soul and put into logical thoughts and words everything I have been feeling for the past two years, but haven’t been able to make sense of. Was I depressed? I didn’t think so…but I definitely felt apathetic about everything. It turns out, I’ve been burned out on my entire life. Every aspect of it. Never before has that happened to me. Reading along, I felt like I could burst from the clarity this piece gave me. I think I’ve finally found an activity that’s helping me renew my day-to-day enthusaism and drive, which is helping that energy trickle back into other areas of my life as well, so hopefully this means that life is on the up-swing again.

    • Georgina

      YESSS! It’s like she crawled into my brain (and the brain of my sister, and my best friend… and probably every other 30-something woman I know!) I’m visiting a new therapist this morning and I’m printing this out. Thank you for putting into words what I have been unable to for so many years.

  • ebass

    Wow, I can unbelievably relate to this… especially at the current moment. I’ve noticed a significant decrease in my desire to astound and then subsequently turned around and felt guilty about it. I currently hold a great job at a top notch university, but it’s admin instead of teaching. What I do is important to the department and my work helps some pretty awesome climate change policy move along. But after my last rejection from a PhD program (thought that third time would have been the charm… but no), I wonder if I should just “settle” into my current job or to teach high school instead. (Nothing against teachers at all, I’m super intimidated by current teenagers, so mad props to you all.) But I’ve been striving for so many years to get to my “next step” that having to give that up makes me feel like I don’t know what to do from here on out.

    But yeah, the hurt of rejection and the guilt of feeling like “settling” makes me feel like I’m not living up to all these grand notions of what our generation of women should be doing.

    Ironically, while I think this is very generational (I noticed someone below my comment saying they feel “betrayed” which I super relate too), I don’t think it really is as gendered as we might think. It still probably DOES hold true more to women than men since we have an additional onus to the feminist work done previous to us, I know that my husband struggles with this as well. He has a well supported job in engineering, but it doesn’t change how difficult our generation has it after the financial crash. We’re struggling to qualify to buy a house because of a combination of student loans, other financial obligations, and the market. We NEVER would have expected this because we grew up being told that if you went to college and got a job you would have the world at your fingertips. So it’s probably a good thing we don’t want kids, because I’d probably be the most pessimistic mother ever.

    So… yes. Burnt out and trying to figure out what the future should hold. Sorry if this is a ramble.

    • “But yeah, the hurt of rejection and the guilt of feeling like ‘settling’ makes me feel like I’m not living up to all these grand notions of what our generation of women should be doing.” THIS. I think when people keep telling you your whole life that you’re going to do awesome things, reaching a point when you don’t feel you’re doing awesome things or not keeping the pace you did in high school or whatever is scary. I think there’s a lot of pressure to live up to that potential you were told you had.

      • Zoo

        Amen. And I don’t know about you, but I’m fine with all sorts of choices for OTHER people. I completely understand why OTHER women can’t be everything to everyone, and why THEIR choices are feminist no matter how conventional they might sound. But for me? Oh no, *I* have to be fucking Superwoman because otherwise I’m a disappointment. I’m working on trying to have the same standards for myself as I do for other people, but it’s a slog.

        • Jess

          I talk to my friend about this like once a year. Choices are totally ok for other people, but I had potential. I was smart. I was interested, excited, dedicated. I had dreams! And now I’m a disappointment because… why exactly? Because I’m still managing working at my engineering job, even though I’m tired and motivation is hard to come by? Because I enjoy baking cookies and making dinner?

          I’m not a failure, but when I get burned out, I sure feel like one.

          • Audrey

            Jess – this is exactly how I feel!

          • Jess

            I’m working on extending the grace I give others to myself. You can totally join me in the struggle! It sounds like these other bad-ass women are just like us, too.

  • megep

    Yes yes yes yes yes. I identify so strongly with this.
    I just referenced the Richard Scarry line from “The Busy Trap” at a party this weekend. People laughed, and I was like, no, please, this is my guiding light.
    On a serious note, burn out is so common and so frightening. I am lucky to be in a female dominated industry with great role models in my workplace, so even as I fall into destructive thinking patterns and stress spirals, I see every single day that these women–ordinary yet extraordinary women–manage to do good work, have family lives, and maintain a good attitude. That’s all I’m hoping for, and they make me believe it is possible. I can’t imagine how hard it would be to not have these types of role models in the workplace.

  • I think that this is my favorite thing you’ve ever written, which is really saying something! Thank you for taking the words right out of my brain, especially since I’m way too exhausted from all night packing to come up with anything coherent, even a comment.

  • Zoo

    This hit WAY close to home for me. I’ve been having the following discussion with myself for about a year and a half now, after pulling out of several projects I was involved in for various reasons (usually “this isn’t worth the stress, and also I like eating real food.”):

    Self A: “So, what do you care about? What are your goals? Besides keeping your not-amazing-but-totally-adequate-and-not-soul-sucking job, I mean?”

    Self B: “I want to write and produce environmental documentaries. You know that – I’ve said it like every day for the past 4 years.”

    A: “No, I think that’s what you cared about when you graduated college. Things are different now. What do you care about NOW?”

    B: “Um, well there might be some opportunities for advancement at my current company… but I’m kind of really in to cooking elaborate meals and petting the cat right now.”

    A: “Ok, that’s fine for now. But that won’t sustain you for long. WHAT DO YOU CARE ABOUT?!”

    B: “Well, my biggest passion is probably historical martial arts… but that’s just a hobby. Oh, and writing. I love writing! So I guess *ideally* I’d like to write about historical martial arts – but that’s stupid. I can’t make a living doing that.”

    A: “Why not? Other people do. Look at Guy Leoni.”

    B: “But he’s an old dude. I’m a young chick.”

    A: “So? Maybe the community needs a fresh perspective.”

    B: “Shut up, you make way too much sense right now.”

    And then I watch House of Cards.

    • JenClaireM

      Yes, this exactly! I mean, different details… but I keep having that conversation with myself that has to keep asking and then asking again, what do I actually WANT TO DO? Not what should I do, or what would look good, or what people expect, or what’s on TV right now, but what really moves me. And I think coming up with something super specific is actually great. In fact, I think writing about historical martial arts is a brilliant idea for you – go do it! If you need permission to do it, I, an internet stranger, give you that permission. :)

      • Zoo

        Thanks Jen! Permission definitely helps :)

        And yeah, it’s a strange sensation when you reach out for ambition and it’s just not there. Certainly unsettling, for me. I’m sure it’s out there, waiting (and the fact that I’m getting married in 10 days probably has something to do with its absence right now), but I do worry that it’s gone for good and my grade school teachers are just clucking their tongues and moaning about wasted talent.

        I think a lot of this, for me, is about letting go of expectations from my childhood. My parents were always great, and I know they’re supportive of whatever I decide to do, but teachers and strangers were always putting weird expectations on me because I did well in school. So thanks for the mind-screw, lady who told me to my face when I was 10 that I was GOING TO CURE CANCER.

        • NicoleT

          I remember going to band camp when I was younger and some guy up there was telling us we would be the ones to cure cancer. That’s a heck of a lot of pressure to put on kids. Maybe let’s stick with “hey, here are some life tools you will probably need regardless of what you do with your life. Feel free to muck around and find your own path”

          • Zoo

            Yeah, that would have been a welcome message. I guess people think that kids will just shrug and eat bonbons unless they’re instructed to save the world.

            It’s funny, because I love stories about people who did one thing and then switched to doing something they liked more. Doctor becomes priest, teacher becomes astronaut, overworked lobbyist becomes stay-at-home dad, etc. Heck, I even have a friend who quit practicing law to be a truck driver. But no one really talks about the emotional turmoil of going through that process yourself.

          • NicoleT

            Yeah, the world would be a lot better served if people talked about that process. It is really scary and, at least from my point of view, not really widely accepted. I feel like a lot of people would look at the lawyer-turned-truck-driver and think “psh! wow, that’s ridiculous!” I think very few people realize how much clarity and self-knowledge/acceptance it takes to do that (not to mention how few of us possess that clarity and knowledge).

        • Oh goodness yes. I remember really struggling as I went off to college, because I had a physics teacher flat-out tell me that she was disappointed that I wasn’t going into engineering because I was at the top of my class in math and science and “the world needs more female engineers.” Yes, we do, but that doesn’t mean going around finding all the female high school seniors and telling them they’re wasting their talent by pursuing a non-STEM field. [Disclosure: I now do stats, GIS, and data visualization for community program evaluation, which puts me on the fringes of STEM anyways.]

  • Liz

    I love this post, as I do all your stuff, Rachel. Last year I started a program of Saying No that has changed everything for me. I work in fast-paced tech and love my job and don’t mind answering those emails at midnight because it’s interesting and I like it – but I’ve learned to deep-six OTHER stuff because I am only going to live so long, and there are only so many hours, and it doesn’t make sense to spend them doing something that is non-meaningful/profitable/helpful. So: still on the board of the synagogue, because spiritually fulfilling. Still volunteering weekly at a mobile soup kitchen, because I’ve been doing it since I was a kid and wouldn’t feel like me without it. But those (unpaid) writing contests I keep being asked to judge? Nope. Those monthly networking events they want me to run? Bi-monthly will do just as well, homies.

    My new favorite line is “I’m sorry, I just don’t have the bandwidth right now and this project deserves someone who can give it her full attention.” A few people have gotten crabby and it just ain’t my problem. We all own our own time, and it’s ours to spend.

    My father died very young (28) and I often think about how he would have spent his time if he’d known that was going to be it. I have the strong feeling that “overtime at a job I hate” or “resentment-fueled work on a project I don’t care about ” wouldn’t have made the cut.

    • Kirstin

      I need to try this! Sounds like you have an awesome approach.

    • Helen

      I do this but also with a programme of saying yes when it comes to social events, even if I’m dog tired and just want to watch back to back episodes of the West Wing. I often let myself get into a hole where I’m in bed at 9pm, up at 5am and working all the hours in between. Forcing myself out of my pyjamas and into the real world ensures I keep things in perspective and never get back to what I call my “working my way up in advertising, and destroying my relationships” period.

      • Liz

        That sounds very wise, Helen. I think a lot of the takeaway from this whole thread is that it boils down to being mindful of how you’re spending your time – and thinking hard about how you want that time to look.

    • Lizzie C.

      I love the line about bandwidth–that’s what I’ll tell the board I’m on when I step down. I’ve also started being honest with myself that “I don’t have time for that” really means “I’m not willing to make time for that because it’s not important enough to me.” That helps me feel less guilty about saying no to things. Some things just have to fall off the docket.

  • Liz

    After graduating with my BA early I finished my Masters in three years, while working 3/4 time at my dream job that was supposed to be full-time come graduation. Then the economy tanked and I lost my dream job. Who has their dream job at 25 anyway? I spent a year working my ass off (unemployed) to try to get my dream job back. It didn’t work. Now I have a decent (read: flexible schedule) job that isn’t in my field of study and pays half what I would have been earning. I’m not so much burnt out as disenchanted. Everything we were told to do to be responsible “good” adults has failed me. I have $40,000 in debt from doing the “smart thing” and I’m working at job that doesn’t acknowledge the degree. I’m disenchanted and so done. Why is this our story? I really feel like our generation just got screwed!

    Or, I honor the fact that by losing my job I had time to start a non-profit (that I hope really will make the world a better place for LGBT folks) and the flexible schedule job allows me to travel and work with my non-profit, something the dream job never would have. Maybe the “smart thing” wasn’t the “right thing” and now it’s just an experience (albeit an expensive experience) that will fit into my life someday. Maybe we were taught to focus on the wrong things? Maybe what our feminist mothers really taught us was how to use our bad-ass-do-everything-skills to create our own success. Maybe our meters for measuring success are wrong. Maybe success is working part-time so we can be writers/mom/magazine-reading-adults and just as our mothers fought to be respected in the workplace we are fighting to have our non-traditional professions respected (and compensated).

    • Sarah E

      Seconding the disenchantment. I’m definitely not burned out, but I have a hard time believing that hard work would actually mean something anyway. Either I’ll work really hard and get to a point like Rachel describes of not giving a fuck anymore. Or the results I worked for will be taken away be forces beyond my control (hello, Great Recession), or I’ll otherwise find the idealistic dreams not all they’re cracked up to be.

      I agree, it’s a shitty story, and it’s one I’m making a commitment to re-write. “I got screwed by the economy,” “Nobody prepared me for this,” and “Why bother anyway?” are not part of the story I want to tell about myself. So I’m re-writing it.

      • Lauren from NH

        Thanks so much for saying this. We need to be able to take control of our story, accept our circumstances and change our outlook. Some days I am better at it than others, like yesterday. Yesterday sucked. I struggle with the disenchantment a lot because I bought in hard. I worked super hard in high school and did all the extra activities to get into a good college. Got into a good college and again worked really hard with lots of extra leadership activities and travel and research. And…..now I am basically a secretary. It’s just hard to think about working that hard, taking my education and professional career seriously, when other people partied their asses off and weren’t focused and I have very little to show for it. But I am trying to wrap my mind around this being a stepping stone. Trying. Just keep swimming…and keep trying.

        • Liz

          Yes. Ditto. Just keep swimming…

    • Michelle

      “Maybe what our feminist mothers really taught us was how to use our bad-ass-do-everything-skills to create our own success. Maybe our meters for measuring success are wrong. Maybe success is working part-time so we can be writers/mom/magazine-reading-adults and just as our mothers fought to be respected in the workplace we are fighting to have our non-traditional professions respected (and compensated).”

      I love you for writing this, I needed to read this!

  • MerlyBird

    So you know how lots of people cry at their desk because of romantic/lovely/sad/emotionally touching things? *THIS* made me cry at my desk. Actually, I had to skip down here to comment because I think I should probably pause now, before things get messy here at work. I’m sure I’ll come back to comment once I’ve read everything thrice over from the safety of my living room couch. For now – thanks for hitting this one home, Rachel.

    • I am in the same boat with this thread and am eager to get home to comment and discuss.

  • As one of the single APW readers, I often feel like the “only thing I have going for me is my career.” Now obviously, this is total BS, but it feels real. I’m single, no kids, living in a new city (because of work) with very little social life and it stinks. It’s both terrifying and exciting to think about slowing down, to take more time for myself. I am “climbing the ladder” at work and the expectations are huge, it sometimes feels like it will never end. What I realized is that people will keep taking until I set the boundaries. Saying no is hard for me, but if I don’t do it, it actually makes my work worse in the long run.

    • KC

      (just wanting to second the yes, “the only thing going for you is your career” is total BS, and also seconding that strategically saying no helps what you do get done be done better, because you’re not splitting your attention and scrambling so much. You are right on.)

  • Anna

    Rachel, sometimes I feel like you live in my head. I struggle with these kinds of feelings so hard. I’m definitely another one of those Type A to C transitions as well. Also, “Stay At Home Adult” sounds like my dream!
    Can we talk about how emotionally exhausting it is to work at something you don’t like? I have to give myself the same half-hearted pep talk every morning and sometimes it barely lasts through the first coffee.
    I struggle with the balance of ‘must find something I love to do and hustle for it’ and ‘my life isn’t defined by work’. Theoretically I would find something I loved that also paid all my bills, but at what point do I abandon the hope that I will find that and just focus on getting to a place where I can earn enough money to live the outside of work life I want?
    No real solutions here, but it’s comforting to realize how many others are wrestling with these same thoughts!

  • Jessica

    I experienced burnout at 23, in a job that purposefully hires idealistic fresh-out-of-college kids to be their main workforce. They train them and let them know they are replaceable by firing a lot of the new hires at the training. They don’t have an HR to go to when managers (who live several states away) are being unreasonable or verbally abusive. They make the young workers think that they will be able to get any job they want once their done with their two year commitment, which is not true at all. Then they work them 70 hours a week at the expense of any personal life, send them on random trips last-minute, and generally make their young workers live to work instead of work to live.

    Now I’m 26 and have two part time jobs, which isn’t ideal, but it means I get paid hourly and won’t be taken advantage of like that if I don’t expressly allow it. I’m lucky enough to be married to someone who has good health insurance, and while other perks of being employed full-time are absent, I do have a certain freedom to just take days off and work my schedule around in order to do whatever I want to do. I don’t want to be here forever, but right now it’s pretty great.

  • NicoleT

    This is why my dad always tells me to have “mad money” (money put aside so you can get out of a bad job situation when you’ve absolutely had it) and make sure that I know when to say no. Whenever something about work comes up, he always tells us about how he would leave meetings when it was time to pick us up from school because he knew that it was more important to spend time with us than listen to some guy blathering about synergy. I know that not everyone is in the position to do that (I know I’m not right now), but when I am in that position, I hope I have enough clarity and strength to make the same choice.

    • Jessica

      That’s awesome, and really good advice (as you said, if you’re in a position to take it).

    • Alison O

      I haven’t worked since June because I was done with that job, not sure what to do next, and am a super saver (on top of other privileges) and so could afford it. SO thankful for it.

      • Yeah, just got my first PAID position (a part time contract deal through June) since my last position ended in August. I’ve been interning and volunteering, but I have no idea what to do next. I’m really thankful to have been able to afford this break so I can “find” myself, plan the wedding, and try to figure out what my next step is.

  • Allie

    THIS! All of it! I don’t have anything productive to say except I can relate and I feel like so many of my peers do too.

  • beelitenotfab

    I really loved this. I don’t think it is privileged at all. I grew up poor and I very much have this, so much so that its actually damaging my health. I have a friend who gave herself tumors and there was a teacher who died in San Diego from stress related seizures. If you are high performing and you grow up poor the pressure is immense because you live with the incredibly guilt and needing to be the bright spot for your family and with feeling horrible because you got out and they didn’t. And this isn’t just in our heads, most of my bosses and mentors, especially in teaching, have encouraged me to run my body in the ground to do more and when I set limits they call me lazy. Its part of what frustrates me about the whole “Lean In” thing as if women are just choosing not to have high status positions when we are working just as hard if not harder to martyr ourselves for nothing. My male friends don’t have the same level of pressure, no one challenges them when they set limits and when they leave teaching, because of the hours they are applauded while I get called an asshole for applying to PhD. This pressure is real and we never talk about it.

    • malkavian

      “most of my bosses and mentors, especially in teaching, have encouraged
      me to run my body in the ground to do more and when I set limits they
      call me lazy.”

      This 1000 times. I am so sick of this. I’m in academic sciences as a graduate student and my boss seems to think any time not spent doing science-related things makes me lazy or unmotivated. This is especially problematic for me because I have several chronic medical conditions, and for me self-care NEEDS to come first to avoid getting sicker/sick again. Part of that includes having hobbies that relax me. Fuck leaning in. For some people its flat out not possible, and even if it is, not everyone wants to spend all of their time dedicated to their job.

  • Jessica B.

    I sort of feel burned out A LOT. I work full-time in a job that I like, mostly, but my real passion is my part-time job. I often feel like I race from thing to thing, this job to that one — to pay the bills and to pursue my dreams. I feel whiny just typing that because I know I should be grateful for not one, but TWO jobs — but I am tired. Rachel, I totally identify with feeling like you just want to freaking stay home and fold some laundry and relax. That happens to me a lot… then I give myself a little pep talk, and out the door I go. And when I AM actually home, I constantly feel like I should be doing something — cleaning, prepping food, laundry, etc — so I feel guilty when trying to relax. I realize that’s completely ridiculous, but I feel like we’ve been programmed to GO GO GO, lest we be accused of being lazy and unmotivated.

  • Jacki

    Rachel, this is just what I needed to read today. It’s almost a relief how many comments say something along the lines of “me too” because I’m sitting here slumped over in my office chair nodding bleakly in agreement, desperately wishing for a break – any break. Even a sick day.

    My life for the past year has been an exercise in feeling burned out, depressed, and unfulfilled, which is really discouraging. But I also feel trapped, because I’m the primary income in my household, and have just begun to see the rewards of 7 long years of slogging along doing thankless work at my job, and I’m mid-project so I can’t just leave, and I do not want children, so I don’t have an upcoming opportunity to maybe justify staying home … argh. Nothing helpful to add right this moment. But it’s good to see that many of us have “been there” – it made me feel less alone today!

    • <3

    • Lily

      Jacki I am right there with you! Rachel thank you for writing this. The other day I caught myself spending 15 minutes contemplating what sort of surgery I might need so that I could take some time off work. I’m dying to quit, but I earn such a good salary that I feel trapped. I was so gung-ho for so long and I was a rising star, on partner track, and now I’ve been stuck at the level just below partner because I’ve just run out of f*cks to give. I’m sort of hoping against hope to get fired so at least I can get a severance package and then maybe look for a job I can put less effort into.

      I was so career oriented it was like a part of my identity, and I’m near-crisis over finding myself a person who really just wants to be a “stay at home adult”! My friends tell me the right job is out there, and I hope they’re right.

    • Chiara M

      Jacki, I’ve been thinking about the idea of staying home ALOT lately. I’ve just started my first adult job, and I hate it. The first three months were ridiculous and consisted of me getting about 5 hours sleep a night because of anxiety. And that just makes me really want to have babies so that I don’t have to work. Which is NOT the solution (although I do really want to have babies). I think the solution is taking a break.

      I’m feeling less ridiculous right now, because I just took two weeks off to get married. And it wasn’t enough time, but it was enough in some ways, because I’m feeling a little bit more secure in myself now as I go back. Would that be an option for you? To take time off. Two or three weeks? Or even a little bit longer. Teachers (oh to be a teacher in Ontario), used to have the option of teaching four years on and taking a year off and their salary would be spread out so they would get paid on their year off. That idea really appeals to me, and would be like a mat leave (but without the baby).

      Part of my plan with the job is to schedule vacations and budget for them, so that even if I don’t get paid, I can afford them. Even if I’m not going anywhere (because that might cost too much), I want to be able to take time to lie in bed like Rachel’s talking about. Because I love my bed too, and watching all my TV shows.

  • “…I wonder if my need to do everything comes from being raised by a single mother. Of course I thought I had to do everything; that’s what my mom and my grandma both did—because who the hell else was going to do it?” This. So much this. And in a society where men have been taken care of for years by women who notice the things that need to get done, we feel obligated to do ALL the things in our relationships too. And suddenly, I’m not slacking on dinner for one, but for both of us. When did it become my responsibility to do dinner for everyone?

    I just met with a friend last night who is one month into a standard 9-5 job after 9 years of working for herself. She’s desperately trying to stay afloat still doing ALL of the things. I told her that it’s time for her husband to pick up the slack.
    I am on day 12 of working 14 days straight and, I don’t have the energy to do half the things. And my husband, awesome as he is, doesn’t expect me to do all the things. Am I burnt out? No, just overworked and underutilized. Despite always feeling like I’ve worked hard, I’ve rarely worked towards something. I’m more like Lucy in the second banana category. But burn-out is still a reality, because when you are trying to take care of all the things for all the people, and your reward is, as you said, more work, and worse, not only is the work unfulfilling, it was never fulfilling, the burn out will kill you.

  • Liz

    Has anybody seen this yet? Arianna Huffington (Huffington Post) talks on Ellen about redefining success and getting enough sleep. http://www.ellentv.com/videos/0_f0uwqh2y

  • Lindsay Rae

    What a relief to hear that I’m not the only one that wants to be home, catching up on laundry, buying pretty things on Etsy and binge-watching Netflix (Scandal and Game of Thrones are next on my wish list.)

    I. Am. Tired.

    I am in a freelance assistant position and my dream job is on the horizon, with an “unofficial” start date of early May. I’m really hoping that once I get into a better working position my drive will return. My FH doesn’t really understand how I could be tired, I had 6 or 8 weeks off between my last job and where I am now (during which I did laundry, wedding planning, yoga and FINALLY watched Breaking Bad – and it was wonderful) and I don’t work crazy hours here, but I am just… exhausted!

  • Alison O

    I thought the title of this post, “Avoiding Burnout”, was interesting given that the questions spurring on the conversation are “what causes it, and how to get through it.” I think in talking about burnout people are talking about a few different things. There is doing work that you might even like, but to such an extent or in a particular environment or manner that causes so much stress that it is unsustainable. Maybe just be improving self-care or taking a pause you can reconnect with your fire and rebuild your energy. But the kind of burnout I hear in a lot of the threads of conversation is not so much burning out of something as awakening to changing priorities–you might even say, your true adult independent self, separate from the expectations of family, society, etc. That is a kind of burnout I wouldn’t want to avoid. But it still has to be ‘gotten through’, and calling it an “awakening”, positive and romantic as it may sound, doesn’t necessarily make it easier. But really I think this is what self-actualization is all about. You recognizing you, and owning it, and using that as your foundation to muddle through the competing narratives and demands. A compass itself does not physically get you to your destination, but it is one key part of the trip.

    • Meg Keene


      Realizing your priorities are changing, and maybe don’t line up with mainstream American priorities is huge, and important.

  • Anon

    Woah. Rachel. You are speaking straight to my heart.
    Something similar happened to me a few years ago, and I wasn’t even in that stressful of a job- I just stopped giving a shit. I spent my days at the office on the internet. I did next to nothing; I could barely get up to get myself to work on time. My now fiance, who usually sleeps later than I do, had to shake me awake and push me out of bed. What I wanted was to check out, completely. To have no responsibilities. To have no one expect a damn thing from me, including my friends. It was a deep, deep need. I was depressed.
    My therapist pushed me to leave my job, or at least to find something challenging and rewarding outside of my job. Seeing as how getting myself to work on time was a challenge, I did not pursue a new job or anything outside of work. All I could do was just exist in this state of apathy.
    I have since come out of it, and I’m not even sure how. I’m at the exact same job, and I give more of a shit (altho- I certainly don’t give more of a shit than I need to). Having shaken whatever haze I was in, I actually did take my therapist’s advice of finding fulfillment outside of work and I’m taking piano lessons, which is something I did as a child and it’s been so fun to revisit. I will admit that wedding planning has also helped re-invigorate me; a lot of it really does play to my strengths. I’m good at it and I think it’s fun.
    Looking back though, I’m not sure what happened but I think you could be on to something here, Rachel. I’ve always just chalked it up to my mental health issues, but something else is at play here when so many other women are experiencing the same thing. I never thought of it as burnout because my job was (is) easy. But what are you are talking about happened to me.
    Big hugs you guys. XOXO

  • Anon

    As a graduate student, I end up talking about these issues a lot with my labmates and advisors. Academia can be totally draining, but I’ve found figuring out a daily schedule that works for me (work hard and stay focused during the day, with scheduled breaks every couple hours, and then head home at dinnertime with no expectation of doing/thinking about any more work) and occasionally going home early when I’m having one those days when I just can’t do it helps so much in the long run.

    • carolynprobably

      You’re lucky to have advisors that support your boundaries! I’m happy you found a healthy balance.

  • BD

    This feeling is so strong in me nowadays that I’m making serious plans towards early retirement. If working for a living is this draining at 32, I can only imagine how awful it will be at 42, 52, or 62.

  • JenClaireM

    I have definitely experienced this kind of burnout – so much! I have a pretty reasonable job at a huge corporation, but I’ve watched as people who work their asses off and give so much to their jobs get laid off or shuffled around without any regard to how hard they worked or how invested they are, and it just makes me feel like, “Why bother investing myself in this?” because I know at any point it could happen to me too. I can honestly say it’s been more fortunate placement than anything I could do or say that’s kept me where I am. And that could change on a (corporate executive’s) whim. So I find myself – someone who always had so many goals and ambitions – really not giving much of a fuck, and it hasn’t felt particularly good.

    It’s led me to question what kind of work would feel truly meaningful and worth investing my full self in, and I have to say that APW has been a huge source of inspiration. I am so impressed by everyone involved in it – and so many of the sponsoring vendors too – people who have worked their asses off to create something themselves. Here are many amazing, creative, pro-women, significant businesses. This is what motivates me to get out of my burnout phase. Because whenever I come here, and read the smart thoughts of so many smart people I think, yes, this. I see meaning here. I see something that matters. This is how I want to work too.

  • MisterEHolmes

    I had trouble relating to the article but I am all about the comments. Because, the truth, right now? I’m more like Editor Meg: I’m working a 9-to-5 job, plus I have my own part-time small business, plus I’m planning a wedding, plus taking dance classes with my dad, plus trying to do a tiny bit of writing/work on the side to get a book published. And that’s a lot. I SHOULD be burnt out. (Ok, sometimes I just want a nap) But creatively? Emotionally? I’m on full-burn and so much happier now.

    I did go through what you could call a burnout, though: I worked my dream job and looked around and realized every position I could aspire to in the office meant working insane hours–my boss literally never saw his kids when they were awake–for little money and a lot of emotional investment. After a year, I quit. Was it the best job I ever had and did I kick ass at it? Hell yes. But I could see down the path and the path was nothing but stress, exhaustion and medical bills. I decided that wasn’t what I valued, and I haven’t even tried to get that same job.

    I didn’t exactly “opt out,” but I “opted in”–in to myself and what mattered. And that is what has made me happier (though my jammies and soft bed could use some more love).

    • Meg Keene


      Opting out/ opting in/ realizing the model is broken and you have to work around it. So important. Growing up in the counterculture (long story) gave me a lot of models for that, thankfully.

  • Julia

    This clearly resonates with so many readers — I too have experienced some of the feelings you described. There was certainly a period where I literally viewed the world as my oyster, and was STOKED about it. But after a few years of Doing All The Things, I felt miserable. And oh so tired.

    I moved cities, changed jobs, ended a few toxic relationships and mostly just cut myself a fucking break. I could just be Julia, and not the The Amazing Julia, you know? Now my pace is entirely different. I like my job, but I’m not going to skip lunch, come in early and stay late every day, because I’m not interested in climbing the corporate ladder… here, or anywhere, really. Am I working for the weekends? Sometimes, but not all the time. Am I working for the money? Yeah, because I have student loans. Outside of that, I’m involved with a couple of key things that bring joy and energy to my days, but I say no a LOT, to myself… like when that voice in my head is pushing me to stay up another hour to write. Or attend that happy hour with those new girls I could be friends with. Or join that volunteer board. Or attend that festival. The moment the “should” voice comes out, I’m like… Nah. I shush it and back off and choose the lazier option (which I realize is a privilege). Going on a walk, taking a nap, watching a movie, reading a book, ignoring social media and my iPhone in general. (And when I don’t shush it, I end up feeling resentful and agitated and stressed and even angry that I’m doing something I didn’t want to do.)

    Sometimes I do feel as though I’m failing women in general or myself by living this regular life of mine, particularly when I’m watching the Voice and all the singers are 16 and amazing, or I read about a new author who is 25 and a smash hit. But this is my little slice of life, whether it’s frenetic or calm, and right now, I can choose. So I make choices that bring me peace. I guess part of it is that I trust that my desire to “go hard” will rear its head when needed, like when I notice something I want to devote time and energy to, even if it’s challenging.

    An aside: when I first moved in with my now-fiance, I always felt super annoyed with him on the weekends/weeknights because he did nothing… while I raced around doing a million chores, running errands, exercising, spending hours on the phone catching up with friends, traveling to visit people, etc. I would fill up my free time immediately while he used it to recharge. He loves his job and is very ambitious, but when it comes to realms outside of that, he is out of fucks to give. And doesn’t feel guilty for a second. Now, some of that has rubbed off on me, and I’m starting to have more of a sense of… dare I say balance? (Eek, haha) Letting go of the desire to schedule every waking moment? Being more present instead of running in the hamster wheel? I don’t know, but something like that.

    As far as what that means in a larger sense, for women as a whole and in business… I hadn’t really thought about that, so I’m grateful for this thread.

    • “When I first moved in with my now-fiance, I always felt super annoyed with him on the weekends/weeknights because he did nothing…” GIRL. I feel you. It took me a while to be comfortable with the way he just…did (does) nothing on weekends. Sometimes it still baffles me, to be honest. I can’t decide if he has it right (I gotta admit, it feels good sometimes) or if because based on his career path and sex, he just has different expectations. I’m still working that out.

      • Julia

        Same here. I still have to work pretty hard to dial back the “So you’re not going to go for a run? But it’s nice outside. You’re really going to watch tv and sit on the couch? You don’t want to go to the store with me? You’re just reading online today?” Then it’s like… Oh, hello, so this is nagging! Ha. I definitely had a strong set of expectations around how free time should be spent…which wasn’t okay to slam down his throat. Now I try to not feel guilty when I truly want to just binge-watch Friday Night Lights all weekend… but I don’t think I’m the type to want that EVERY weekend, whereas he totally could. It’s interesting for sure!

  • um yes, i’ve wanted to be a stay-at-home adult basically since i started working. isn’t it strange that it’s socially acceptable to stay at home when you have kids, but not when you don’t? i just keep working so that i can save money so that i will be able to stay at home when i hopefully have kids. and have more time to write. today, i spent my work-at-home day mostly not working because i just needed a break. i needed to just do yoga and write a blog post in the middle of the day. also, i’ve basically been doing the same job for eight years now and i think i’m finally getting to change what i’m doing, so hopefully that will help the burnout.

    • Jess

      Can we please have a discussion about being stay-at-home adults? I would love to stay at home but I don’t want kids. But I do want to bake my own bread, and have a garden, and take care of a homestead that consists of me, my husband, and perhaps a menagerie of animals (cats are demanding, yo). But I don’t think this is generally acceptable (unless you’re over 65). Can this be an APW topic someday?

      Also, more and more I feel like part-time work is what I aspire to. It’s enough “work” that I feel like a productive member of society (conforming to expectations, anyway), and yet with enough free time to actually do something enjoyable.

      • This is kind of my dream. I’ve realized it fully since I’m working part time right now. I love gardening, planning our meals and filling our apartment with home cooked food, doing the laundry, cleaning, and spending time volunteering for causes that are dear to my heart and important- but can’t afford to pay me for what I do. I honestly don’t want to go back to work full time. And it’s hard for me to articulate that. I feel like there will be so much push back from everyone.

  • Jen

    I’m near burnout stage right now and as I go into my LST quarter of college. Luckily, my husband and I are going on a yearlong trip to Europe before pursuing “real” occupations. Every time we tell someone we are doing this their fear is evident on their faces. “What about jobs?” They say. Or, “Did you go to college for nothing?” Or the ever-popular, “aren’t you concerned about your future?” Even if they don’t ask these questions they assume that we are too young and too inexperienced and write us off. But, I think sometimes you need to take a break. American culture has taught me to never stop pushing till I reach the top but this is tiring (even for men). I think we need more breaks, more chances to just stop and reevaluate where we are at. So yes I have thought about my future, and a break is part of the plan.

    • Jessica

      That sounds great! My husband’s cousin got married and they did this (traveling for a year–South Africa, Australia, and backpacked around Europe). The only thing they regret is not visiting all the continents they could. Enjoy the trip!

  • meeliebee

    It’s funny, because I just had a conversation about this with my boss. She asked me where I saw myself in 5 years and I told her I see myself with a child, ideally not working but if I am I’m doing something that allows me to spend time with my family. I finally admitted to myself that I don’t want to work my way up the ladder of non-profit management, because as far as I can see that path is full of long hours and little money. I’m starting to let go of the shame I feel for my lack of ambition, especially as those around me continue to move up. As much as I care about having meaningful work, I’m at a point where the work doesn’t motivate me enough to stick with it. I live in one of the most expensive (and beautiful) cities in the country, and I don’t have the money or time to enjoy it like I want to. I have so much privilege and opportunity, and I feel guilty for squandering it, but I just can’t keep up.

    • I feel like this resonates with me very strongly. The nonprofit life is one that is super hard. I’ve seen 5 people cycle through the position above mine, and honestly, I don’t think I’d want to do it either! Which is a problem because now I need to figure out what I want to do. Honestly, I’m looking for something that could allow me to stay at home with kids in 4 years or so. Something that could transfer to part time/work at home, and I’m coming to the realization that non-profits probably aren’t the best fit. But then what is?

      • Kathleen

        I think we might have jobs/ experiences that mirror each other! I’ve been plugging away in a high-stress, high-demand nonprofit for the last 5 ish years, and would NEVER want my boss’s job, nor do I want to stay in my current position because the long hours, oppressive workload, low salary and general disorganization would not be conducive to a family at all. I am currently looking for a new job, but have your same question- what can I look for, outside of my nonprofit niche, that will allow me to be with my family, have a life outside of work, and hopefully go part time when I have children? Right now, I’m just sort of frozen and without any clear action plan (for the first time in my life), so I hope others may have suggestions of where to look :-). I wish you the best of luck, it’s surprisingly distressing to be in this position!

        • “Right now, I’m just sort of frozen and without any clear action plan (for the first time in my life)” Exactly. I’ve always had a plan- since I was 4 and decided I wanted to be a teacher. It’s changed throughout life- (teacher became government official became foreign service became non profit) but I’ve always had a goal to keep me moving. For the very first time in my life I have let myself look at the options- and perhaps I am overwhelmed or perhaps I just don’t know what I want, but I am paralyzed.

          Suggestions are welcome. Currently I’m looking at admin assistant positions or reception positions because I’m good at working with people, and experienced with most office tasks (data entry, filing, paperwork, scheduling, etc). But I can’t help but feel guilty that I don’t have a passion to follow anymore.

    • Meg

      “that path is full of long hours and little money.” there is no shame in not wanting that!!

  • Auryn

    Even though my comment will probably sink to the bottom, I just wanted to chime in — in the off chance that it helps someone. I had this exact same thing happen to me when I was 26. (I don’t know what it is about that age…) I had powered my way through college, entered the engineering workforce as the sole female engineer at two consecutive companies, completed a lot of amazing projects, and lost lots of sleep. Then, after awhile, I just lost it. I totally stopped caring about my job and just wanted to lay all day. I finally had an “eff it” moment and decided to go on an impromptu 2 week vacation (by myself and later with friends) to get my mojo back. That vacation seriously changed my life. I really needed that time to catch up on sleep, do nothing, and talk to myself and other people about how I didn’t want to work and didn’t know what “succeeding” even meant anymore. That time and those conversations really helped me redirect my thinking — I didn’t need to keep running the rat race, I could be happy anywhere if I just stood still for a few moments and LET myself be happy. Happiness isn’t something for the future, or something that needs to be chased down — it can be here and now. I also started listening to Tara Brach’s podcast on mindfulness and meditation, which really helped give me the tools to be in the moment. Anyways, after my vacation, I still couldn’t bring myself to care about work, but I had gained a more calm, self-assuredness (rather than panic about “am I broken?!”). I realized that I needed a new job and some changes in my personal life, but I just felt like everything would be okay. And they were. By slowing down, I was able to reassess what was important to *me* and come up with a game plan for what *I* wanted to do. It took 2 years, lots of bravery, hard work, and good deal of luck, but I was finally able to make the necessary changes in my life and re-grow my enthusiasm for life. It can be done, and sometimes you need to do something totally out of the ordinary to reset yourself. Most of all, be patient with and kind to yourself.

  • Claire

    So much of my twenties has been about learning to accept my own mediocrity. I am not the best. I have fewer publications than anyone in my grad school cohort. I am less attractive than the women my boyfriend checks out. I only have a few friends.

    There’s this cultural message that I should fight tooth and nail to fix these things. Career and love and friends are all important; I should sacrifice everything for them! But trying so hard is exhausting. I can only be me as I am right now given the circumstances of my life, you know?

    So much of my desperation and burn-out stems from the belief that mediocrity = future misery. I am mediocre so it’s only a matter of time until I can’t get a job and my boyfriend leaves and no one cares about me. But I’ve probably been mediocre my whole life, and it hasn’t ruined me yet. I mean, yeah, I’ve been rejected and it’s sucked. But life has kept happening, and I’ve kept doing things, and some of those things have worked out.

    I want to do more learning and growing because I enjoy learning and growing, less killing myself to be the best.

    • Man, I want to read a post about that.

    • Liz

      I have also been struggling with my own mediocrity lately. I mentioned it to a friend who said “yeah, I’m pretty good at most of the things I do, and not really good at anything. I consider myself a generalist!” and he seemed very positive about it. It was a helpful perspective to hear, although putting that acceptance into practice has been much more difficult.

      • Lizzie C.

        I feel that way too, especially after being a high-performing teenager. Even when I was in college my mom would reminisce about when I was 18, “that year when everything you touched turned to gold.” As if high-school achievements like getting into good colleges, going to all-state orchestra and owning the SATs are at all relevant for real life.

  • Crayfish Kate

    I seriously thought it was just me, the whole feeling lazy and unmotivated bit. It’s not a fun feeling, but I’m glad to know this is resonating with so many of us.

    • Winny the Elephant

      The amount of guilt I feel for just fucking around on Pinterest is astonishing when I think about what I accomplish in a day.

  • anon

    I am in the middle of a huge life transition after leaving a job that had me so stressed out that it landed me in the hospital, suffering from an emotional breakdown. Fortunately I have a wonderfully supportive family, so my husband and I moved in with my parents so that I wouldn’t have to work for a while. I’ve just been focusing on taking care of myself for 8 months now, and it has allowed me to really take stock of my values and priorities. What I’ve come to realize more than anything else is that I want to measure my life in happiness, not by the size of my bank account or by the prestige of my resume. There is no way that my job was ever worth sacrificing my health the way that I did, but when I was caught up in the every day hustle of it, it was so easy to loose sight of myself. What I want now is a job that elevates my quality of life, rather than sucking me dry. So, armed with a lot of life skills learned in therapy, I’m in the planning stages of starting my own business in a field that is related to my previous career, but different from what I did before. It’s funny, even though I totally burnt out at my last job, I’m now taking on something that is even more ambitious. Maybe I’m still a slave to the “do it all” mentality? Maybe I just see how it could be better, and know that I can create a better workplace if I’m the one calling the shots? I like to tell myself that it’s the latter, but I’m not sure. I know that being a business owner (or a CEO, as I’m trying to think of myself now) comes with it’s own stress and challenges, but I want to have more control over my day-to-day experience in my workplace. I’m hoping that this will lead to a happier, more stable life; but I’m also aware that it could easily go the other way. Check back with me in 5 years and I’ll let you know how it’s going. Either way I really appreciated reading this post and all of the comments, it’s so nice to know that I’m not in it alone!

  • Winny the Elephant

    So I’m at burnout point and I haven’t even entered the job force full time yet. Final year of an incredibly demanding, incredibly competitive program. And my life doesn’t even look like it’s my life anymore. I haven’t exercised since September. I haven’t had sex since december (yes, december). I haven’t seen my friends since January and some days I don’t even have the energy to cry. I spend all day basically being told that I suck at something and if it wasn’t for the moments where I go out into the real world that I remember that I’m actually at the top of my field and the reason I feel like I’m failing is because the pool of comparison is very small.

    My chronic migraines have gotten so bad due to the stress that my neurologist is really concerned. I have horrible insomnia.

    My only moments of respite are the small chunks of time I carve out for wedding planning.

    I just don’t know what to do at this point. I feel like I’m sacrificing myself at the altar of my program. I wish that I didn’t want it so bad. I wish that I was satisfied with taking the easier route. But I’ve been told all my life how smart and capable I am. How I will do such great things. How I have a natural talent for my field. How do you turn your back on that? I can’t let everyone down…

    • I’m so sorry to hear how stressed you are. Trust me, I completely understand what it means to be pushed beyond your limits. I know that it’s hard, but the best prescription for times like that in my life has been to reach out to my support system. Talk to your friends, your fiance(e), your family and tell them you need help. Asking for help is not the same as “letting everyone down” (even though it makes you feel incredibly vulnerable). Anyway, you won’t let everyone down, people that truly love you only want your health and happiness.

      I like to point out the things that are going well to those around me, but mostly for myself. My friends and I call it a ‘brag-a’thon and we talk about the things that are going on that we’re proud of. It’s actually really hard, and no one wants to start. But, once I’ve talked about my accomplishments, I feel like Sasha Fierce, perhaps with slightly less dance ability.

  • wow

    This is incredible. I feel like this was written just for me, just at this moment.

    At 25 and a half, after powering through a highly competitive university, a master’s degree and 4 years of ladder-climbing (resulting in a job as the director of my division at a very young age relative to my colleagues), I had the opportunity to leave my job and move to a new city with my fiance when he got a great, high-paying new job. We did it.

    It’s been nearly six months since I left and I’m struggling with this crippling inertia. We have the financial means for me to stay home and still live comfortably, and I’m shocked at how easy it’s been to do nothing all day. But there’s still a very persistent voice inside, in addition to the voices of my family and friends, asking what’s next – and finding “Nothing?” to be an unacceptable answer. In fact, a part of me is looking at this 6-month employment gap with growing horror, knowing the damage it’s going to do when I start seriously job hunting again (not just half-heartedly browsing Idealist at 11pm).

    Last night my husband very gently, very kindly tried to push me toward doing something/anything. He told me it doesn’t matter what “it” is, but the world is worse off with people like me on the sidelines – which was so sweet it made me want to cry. We’ve talked about how I don’t want to go back to the industry I got my master’s and my directorship in, after realizing that I don’t want anything to do with my boss’s boss’s boss’s job. But if not that, then what? How do I figure out what would fulfill me, and make me want to set goals that get me out of bed in the morning? How do I start over?

    Realistically, I know I need to pick a lane, do the research on what it takes to get there, figure out my steps, and just make a move toward that first step. It might not be the right lane, but nothing says I can’t change later. But it seems monumentally hard. And I’m feeling like a truly horrible person who has the means and privilege to be able to do so many things, but is squandering her opportunities instead.

    So – no answers or words of wisdom here, just a thank you for showing me I’m not the only one.

    • Audrey

      After I dropped out of grad school at 26, it was a full year before I had a true full time job again and almost 4 years before I found a “career” sort of job.

      This might seem crazy, but have you thought about doing part time temp work to prevent the “job gap” problem? After 3 months of not really doing anything I felt AWFUL, wanted to pay a few of my own bills, etcetera. (I was living with my boyfriend.) So I took a typing test and did some basic temping through a temp company. Since my background was biology they geared the temping towards the healthcare field, but honestly my background wasn’t at all necessary.

      Some of it I HATED (answering phones at reception) and some of it I just didn’t like (I ended up temping almost full time in HR for 2-3 months and was SO GRATEFUL that I had the ability to turn down the job.)

      Strangely, working part time helped me get motivated to start a real job hunt (even though I had less time for it). It also helped me see different industries, feel like I was at least a little useful, and articulate some of the things I really did NOT want to do. I got the courage to do some other little jobs later that year (specialized customer service for a friend of a friend, wrote a grant for a company) which never amounted to a career but let me see different and interesting things.

    • Audrey

      Oh, and feeling awful about having the means to do things but is squandering them? I totally had that.

    • Audrey’s recommendation for temp work is spot on, but in the area I live even the temp positions are getting pretty competitive. If you’re looking for your passion, sometimes volunteering is a good start. It’s an easy way to get to know a position or organization, and the best way (in my opinion) to figure out if you would enjoy it.

  • Dawn J

    Ouch. Insightful and spot-on as always, Rachel. Thank god someone is saying these things out loud!

    I have been feeling the burnout as well. For me it has manifested itself as extreme procrastination coupled with high anxiety. Even the smallest tasks seem to require monumental effort to start, let alone to complete. It’s difficult even to relax when I come home from work, because I can’t let go of the list of All the Other Things that I should be doing instead of watching TV and eating chocolate chip cookies.

    I have worked incredibly hard to get the career that I have, and it gives me an enormous sense of pride and identity. I don’t want to give up; yet I dream of quitting, so that I can abandon the expectations (mostly self-imposed) that now seem too heavy to bear.

    Did I mention I’m getting married in 10 days, to a man with similar professional anxieties? Call wedding planning the cherry on top of this stress sundae.

    Anyone have tips on how to relax and unplug before the wedding day? I’m in desperate need of some wedding zen. I want to be mindful and appreciative of these special moments while they are happening!

    • mere…

      If you can spare the time and money, I highly recommend seeing an acupuncturist for a little zen. My former employer was a very well connected business who brought in different health specialists for lunch-and-learns to promote employee well-being. I watched the acupuncture seminar with mild skepticism, but when the doctor offered a 1/2 discount at the end I decided to give it a try. I actually went in for my severe allergies, but I left the 20 minute appointment feeling more relaxed that I had at previous hour long massages (plus, no sneezing, so yay!). I looked forward to my acupuncture appointments all week long because of how relaxed I felt during and after them.

  • Jade

    This articulates how I feel about work as well. I’m not a Type A, too mellow for such behaviour, but nevertheless I wake up wishing I didn’t have to get dressed and sit in my cubicle for 8 hours pretending to care. Rather than feeling tired, I feel empty.

    Back in 2010 I was unexpectedly fired and my first emotion was relief, because I could spend more time alone writing. I’ve basically checked out since then and I’m at the point where I know what I’d like to do (quit completely and write instead) but I don’t think I could handle the pushback I’d get. I’ve never been the ambitious type, I just played along because it was expected of me.

    I don’t want to do it all, I never have. I just want to meander along and smell the roses and enjoy the sunshine, but I’m too afraid to take that leap!

    • I think if you know what you want to do -write, once you took the leap you’d be more driven to do what you want. I’m not sure what kind of push back you would get that you think you can’t handle but I think we are all surprisingly strong when we are set on doing what we want.

  • Fiona

    Great post! I feel like I’m in the middle of a recovery from major burnout. Which means I’m fairly lazy and less driven than I’ve been since I was a kid. I love just curling up for hours with a book…and that’s it.
    So I’m wondering, how do you recover from the recovery?? How do you get back to being driven?

    • For me, it’s been twofold. First, I think you do have to ride it out a little bit, and read your books and do it GUILT FREE. I think if I had just let myself be burnt out for 3 months I could have gotten through it…but fighting it dragged it out for much longer, you know?

      Second, I know it’s cheesy, but finding a new motivation and things to be excited about again was so helpful for me. As I said, I couldn’t figure out what my next step should be…so until then, I kinda just had to hang out. But once I spotted it (the APW internship! a new job!) I just put my head down and got to work and that got me over my hump. So I guess maybe you can’t seek it out but just kind of have to enjoy your book (or whatever) and trust that you’ll find your way back eventually?

      • Fiona

        Thanks, Rachel! That all makes perfect sense. I guess I just feel guilty for wanting to sit on my bum all the time. Anyway, it’s great to see that you’ve gone through something similiar and that you got/are getting over it!
        I’m trying to come to terms with the fact that it may not be bad to enjoy sitting on my bum for a while and not worrying about it, you know?

        • carolynprobably

          Clearly our only two choices are “work ourselves miserable” or “feel guilty about not working ourselves miserable”. ;)

  • Hannah B

    After reading through these comments, I can’t help but think of a line from a Ralph Vaughan Williams song cycle “songs of travel,” particularly the first song,”The Vagabond.”

    “Give to me the life I love,
    Let the lave go by me,
    Give the jolly heaven above,
    And the byway nigh me.
    Bed in the bush with stars to see,
    Bread I dip in the river –
    There’s the life for a man like me,
    There’s the life for ever.”

    Maybe we just all need some time to be wandering Romantic geniuses/poets. 19th century Europeans got it.
    Live the life you love, even if it’s not socially acceptable; make yourself happy. I wonder where the genesis of the whole career= source of happiness rather than career=source of money/status thing came from. And if it is a class distinction we’re after…why?

  • Anon for this

    This is really interesting. At 25, it’s only been over the last year or so that I’ve increasingly felt the need to just disconnect. And it’s not work-related (I’m only just completing my post-graduate degree now), it seems to be… world-related. Like I see the way the world works and how people interact and how the job market is competitive and I get tired just thinking about it, and I can. Not. Be. Bothered. I don’t want to waste my time on things that *other* people think are important – and that even includes social conventions like small talk, where I just see no need and have to use increasing amounts of effort just to produce the bare minimum of socially acceptable behaviour. It’s bizarre! And tiring.
    This is an aside to the topic at hand, but I’ve recently self-diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome – it presents in females (and especially adult females) very differently to the way it does in males as women tend to be a lot better at managing the social challenges associated with being on the spectrum. I only mention it because I think this explains a lot of the fatigue I’ve felt recently (among many other things). I’ve never been hugely ambitious, but the burn-out seems to be there, always there and waiting.

  • Liz

    I’ve literally been having this conversation in my head and to anyone that will listen for the last few weeks. I’m 26 going on 27, and I’m totally feeling lost/directionless. I think it’s sort of the opposite of burnout, but the feelings end up being strikingly similar.

    I HAVEN’T been going super hard for the last 25 years. Some months have been busier than others, but oh the whole, I feel like I’ve held myself back more than I’ve pushed myself. Especially being in San Francisco, where I feel like everyone has a 9 – 5 plus a side project plus a volunteer project plus they find time to hit the bars and look put together and participate in social media, I struggle with this feeling of inertia. I think I’m putting up my own wall, but I can’t seem to figure out how to knock it down or climb over it. I can’t seem to figure out my own priorities (which is clearly a personal problem, but it’s a real one!) It’s almost like the FEAR of burnout is holding me back.

    In some ways, I feel like having jobs right out of college that weren’t ultra challenging was as big a stressor as having to go balls to the wall. And instead of creating my own challenges, I’ve sort of just been staring and thinking, “is this it?”

    In the fall, I’m going into a science based graduate school program after being an English major undergrad in a new city outside of California where I’ve lived my whole life, so maybe that’ll do the trick to get me out of my comfort zone.

  • Curmudgeon

    I really enjoy Rachel’s posts as a rule, but was anyone else bothered by the poor proofreading job here? Not what I typically expect on APW. Ironic in a post about burnout.

  • smash

    I am a 30 year old engineer. I got married 3 weeks ago and had to cancel my honeymoon at the last minute due to delays on a construction project. Then my project got further delayed and my canned honeymoon served no purpose. Insta-burnout. I’ve spent my work days since staring blankly and formulating theories about where that 777 might be.

    • carolynprobably

      I’m super sorry to hear that.

  • MC

    I’m late to the party (and loving reading everyone’s thoughts!) but I wanted to say that I just read an AMAZING book called Trauma Stewardship that addressed a lot of the burnout people feel when they are working in fields like social work, advocacy, nonprofit community work, etc. (Anything where people aspire to “save the world” with their job, really.) As someone who works in that field and will for a while, it was SUPER refreshing and validating to have someone write a whole book about why self-care is important, why you shouldn’t feel like a martyr, why you should have a life outside your job even if you really love your job – and it had great, practical advice about how to make the work you do more sustainable and avoid burnout. I personally think everyone could learn something from it, but I know that lots of ladies work in the nonprofit sector and lots of them get burned out easily. Reading this book was a huge breath of fresh air.

  • sadie1618

    This made me cry. I’m 26, working on a masters degree (thankfully in something I love) I have job that hundreds
    of other people in my town would kill to have but I…lack purpose. I took AP classes in high school, graduated in the top 10%, didn’t sleep around and get pregnant, graduated with my degree in four years…did everything by the book and when I graduated (2009) the economy was crashing down. So I took my job because, well hey student loans.

    My Mom just told me last week that she didn’t expect for me to keep this job for this long (5 years) that I was supposed to doing something else. Other people have told me if you hate your job so much just quit find a new one, but seriously? Where am I supposed to get a job? It hasn’t been because I haven’t looked. It’s impossible for me to find a job that pays as much as I need and that I might actually love

    If I would have known everything was going to turn out this way I would have taken 6 years to get my degree, I would have studied abroad, I would have had a few more drinks. I feel like I was sold this idea that hard work will pay off and yes I have a job and yes I have a paycheck but why does that matter if it just goes to pay my bills. Why do I have to wake up and get out of bed?

    • Lizzie C.

      Do you do things outside of work that are fulfilling? Would that help you feel better about your job, maybe as a way to finance your fun and extracurricular purpose-making?

  • lizperk23

    Thank you for this post & the ensuing conversation!

    At 32 here’s where I’m at: I have a meaningful full-time non-profit arts job I love, but it’s still a job and can be super stressful, depending on the season (right now for sure). everyone is overworked and underpaid – I’m on year 8, am as far “up the ladder” as I could be (and care to be), and yet I can’t imagine leaving- right now. I also have part-time art (12-15 hrs/week). and now I’m getting married in 6 months, and wonder how kids (which we hope to have) fit into all this, too. mom and I talk about this a lot – how her generation fought and broke ground for our sake, and how they assumed that by the time their daughters grew up, society would have “figured it out” by this point.

    I think it comes down to figuring out how to define what you want and being ok with that. So I try not to worry about “having it all” and try to focus on “having what I want/need for where I am today”. much easier said than done. especially when society/people have expectations and opinions on what they think I should want or need, today/at this age.

    • Right there with you. I had a mini-breakdown when I was about 26, panicked because I had no ‘career’ to speak of, and scrambled to create one. Then I found myself right back where I was after college graduation, unable to pick just ONE thing that I wanted to focus on, and remembered why I went traveling in the first place. And that has really worked out for me, but it’s a matter of compromising what you think you should be able to achieve, both now and into the future, and how that fits into what you say about having what you want/need for where you are today. It’s been a challenge at times to realize that I NEVER have to know what I want to “do”, and even though that might translate into a lack of long-term security, it pays off dramatically in terms of ongoing life satisfaction.

  • Julia Boolia

    So..much…truth. If my brain weren’t fried from having just completed a soul-destroying day, I would come up with a more meaty comment- but all I can say is hell yeah.

  • notquitecece

    Oh my god thank you for this post. I’ve found myself saying some variation of “my give-a-damn’s busted” so many times lately.

  • Sara

    Rachel, I love your writing. You put words to things and I immediately recognize them.
    I hit my burnout at the ripe old age of EIGHTEEN, yes ma’am. In high school I was basically a cross between Paris Geller and Tracy Flick, with every inch of my being focused on achievement. And it was FUN! I would stay up all night perfecting a meaningless piece of homework just to see how good I could make it. Finally I got to my dream college, hit that (at the time) ultimate goal and…. basically didn’t get out of bed my Freshman year. I was EXHAUSTED. I went down a gear into Type C and haven’t left since.
    But here’s the thing — my Type C looks a hell of a lot like other people’s Type A. I still got straight As in college and ran the student theatre and worked 3 jobs. But the real difference was that everything suddenly felt like WORK. Work that I did begrudgingly. I’d test my professors to see how little effort I could give them and still walk away with an A. I didn’t feel any need to show myself how well I could do.
    Now in the real world I still float through my days. I’m considered one of the best employees in my department but I always know that I could be doing 100 times more work, better work, if I had any self-motivation. I get so many comments about my “Type-A personality” and it just makes me laugh, wondering what they’d say if I suddenly started caring and showed them what I can really do.
    Every day I dream about becoming financially independent so I can just walk out of here and raise kids and make crazy recipes and watch TV.

    • mere…

      Another 18 year old burnout here! I worked incredibly hard in high school and never minded much, most of the time I actually enjoyed it. In the end, I was lucky enough to earn a (nearly) full scholarship to my college of choice. As soon as I got there though, I just. stopped. caring.
      Without a clearly defined goal of (e.g., get into a good school) I had no idea what I wanted to pursue and I was just too tired to try and find out what that may be. I managed to make my way through my degree program with minimal effort, a good deal of charm, and quite a few lucky guesses on multiple choice tests.
      I entered the work force in admin (I couldn’t even find the energy to pursue something using the degree I “earned”) and have been there since for the most part. I am always shocked during my evaluations when employers talk about my dedicated work-ethic and wonderful attitude… because I know that I am so unhappy and not putting in genuine effort a majority of the time.
      I have started to wonder more and more: if I am this good at something I am completely indifferent toward, how amazing could I be at something I actually cared about? If only I knew what that something was.

  • Shannon C.

    This is why I’m here. Outstanding.

  • Meg

    I love the concept of a “stay at home adult”. This was such a great piece.

  • Lizzie C.

    When I was working at my first Real Grownup Job after grad school, I met with my boss one day to talk about downsizing some projects so I could focus on more important ones. I’d been spinning my wheels on these projects for months. But my request was heresy in a small office where everyone embraced the martyr lifestyle, and my boss didn’t seem to believe I was as burned out as I said. Later he looked up my time sheets and told me that since I’d only been working normal 40-hour weeks, he didn’t see how I could be burned out. I was speechless. If you’ve spent 40 hours banging your head against a wall, doing it for another 10 hours is just going to break your head, not the wall.

    • carolynprobably

      Yes yes yes. The martyr culture + guilt for not wanting to be a martyr = everyone loses.

  • Rachelle

    Just so much yes. I am working through reading all the comments – obviously this struck a chord with many of us. I am in agreement with ALL OF THIS. I have been feeling extremely burnt out, and every time anyone asks me how I am I always just want to say “tired.” I am doing a PsyD program, working part-time to pay the bills, and doing an unpaid internship. People look at me like “Oh! You’re a student! How nice.” like I’m sitting in bed reading textbooks all day. I love the field I’m trying to get into, but after 10 years of college, $150,000 worth of debt, and the knowledge that even AFTER the program is done, you have to do post-docs and blah blah….it’s enough to make me want to stay in bed forever.

    I hear so much the whole “You have to work hard and slog through the trenches so that later in life you can relax and take it easy!” but isn’t life short? What if I work this hard for all these years and then die? What the fuck was the point then??? That thought scares the shit out of me. I have been trying to say no to extra things for years, but as a result I am doing NONE of the things my classmates are doing – no committees, no publishing, no volunteering, etc. I have to draw the line somewhere but it feels so wrong sometimes. Thank you for writing this, you are OVERWHELMINGLY NOT ALONE. <3

    P.s. I'm sending this to my cohort.

  • picardie.girl

    Has anyone here read Brene Brown’s work on shame and being enough? I feel like that would be relevant here. I know it is absolutely key when it comes to procrastination, which is a big issue for me, and I suspect it features heavily in the ‘do it all’ equation.

    • KH_Tas

      We had a post on it years ago, it would be wonderful to do a follow up/flashback

  • Michelle

    Reading this post & these comments has me near tears because this is… just everything that’s been on my mind lately.

    Work has been crazier than usual lately. My boss even acknowledged recently that I have a bigger workload than my colleagues, but there’s nothing that can be done (or will be done) to change this. My family has so much craziness happening between my sister applying for colleges, my mom who never gets sick having several (minor, but still scary) illnesses this year, and grandparents on either side of the family who are declining in health. Oh, and let’s not forget the pressure of “So, you’re seeing your long-distance boyfriend this weekend… think you’ll get your ring?”

    I was really hoping that after my sister graduates high school this June, I would have a job down south where my boyfriend lives & would just start working in this same field. Now? I’d really love to move down there, get a job someplace that doesn’t require me to feel like I’m on call 24/7 (a.k.a not my current field), and actually get to enjoy my day instead of feeling rushed from one part to the next. I have no idea what my next step is going to be because I have no idea what comes next, even if I weren’t planning a move. I’ve always been an overachiever & a planner, so this is really scary and big for me. But also, kind of exciting. I just need to remind myself that this doesn’t mean I’ve failed anything. Because willingly “giving up” on this career that I was so passionate about and so determined to have definitely can feel that way sometimes.

  • Sarah

    Wow, this has put a voice to a lot of thoughts spinning around in my head for the past few years; its amazing to me how many other people are sharing these same exact feelings. My best friend and I talk about how import it is to us to work part time and actually enjoy our lives in-and-outside of our careers, but this is not something I generally feel comfortable sharing with most people, as it could come across as lazy, unmotivated, etc.

    I experienced an actual burn-out 3 years ago when I was 27 and I developed Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. I was a first year teacher, living in a new city, was constantly stressed, exhausted and depressed; I remember feeling the need for some sort of “change,” but not sure what that was. Then I came home from work one day, and collapsed on the couch with what I thought was a bad flu. However, after 1-2-3 weeks, I wasn’t getting any better, and started realizing something wasn’t right. I ended up being off of work for 4 months, was diagnosed with Post Viral Fatigue, and then had to make the difficult decision to give up my new career as a teacher. Focusing on my health and recovering needed to be my top priority, and I couldn’t do that while looking after a class of 3 year olds.

    I’d say that was the most difficult year of my life – not only dealing with a constant fatigue that severely limited any physical activity, but also watching my friends’ careers take off while I felt like I had somehow failed at mine. However much I wish I somehow could have avoided this whole situation, I have learned so much about my self and my health in the past few years, and have also come to the realization that career is not on the top of my priority list anymore.

    After quitting my teaching job, I started working afternoons as a receptionist at a complementary healthcare center – hardly the dream job I worked so hard all my life to achieve – and yet, in some ways, it was. I could walk to work in 10 minutes. I could spend a leisurely morning in bed snuggling my cats. I puttered in the kitchen and read in the park. I enjoyed my job, but could leave my work at work, and switch off when I went home at night. Having a life that I enjoyed outside of work, and actually feeling happy, seemed like an fair trade off for a job that was interesting but definitely not the most inspiring or challenging. It felt good to switch off.

    Over the years my health has improved a great deal, to the point where I can work part time and still have enough energy to get through the rest of the day without crashing. However, there is a part of me that still really struggles with the notion that, purely for health-related reasons, I cannot have an amazing career and earn a decent salary; that part of me wants to climb the career ladder and have a 401K and paid holidays, and feel like I can financially support myself without needing my husband’s help. Yet, there is another part of me, which is becoming increasingly louder, that wants to be a stay at home adult, take long walks with my new puppy, cook, read, garden, sew, knit, work afternoons or start my own etsy business…. not be constantly stressed and enjoy my life. I have a relevant reason to only work part time and live that kind of lifestyle, and yet I am terrified to make the jump and fully commit to it. However, it is very validating to hear so many other people have similar thoughts and fears and that all of society won’t peg me as a slacker because I choose lifestyle over career.

  • Natalie

    I think I have been quietly struggling with some form of burnout for about the last 3 months. I worked my ass off for 3 years to get my current job, which is great, but now I’m settled in it. And, I’m like, this is it? Fuck.

    I am also staring into the barrel of the possibility of having a child. Ummm…well, unlike my career, I don’t suppose I can take a break from parenting, or being an active member of my…uh…marriage…family…you know. THOSE ARE KIND OF A BIG DEAL. Like, getting a tattoo on my face. Like, a bigger commitment than taking a certain job or line of work. I kinda feel like I can change that shit around if I want. But a baby? I’M SCARED.

    Burnout. My parents tried to fight it in middle-age. Both of them. The advice they gave me? LIVE SIMPLY AND AS CHEAPLY AS POSSIBLE. You don’t need a lot of stuff to be happy. If you can settle for a smaller home, a smaller mortgage, older (BUT SAFE!) cars, etc., you might be able to work less, thereby avoiding some of the burnout risk. What do you think of this idea of living simply with children? I’m reading lots of books about it. Of course, with the cost of everything rising every day, it seems unreasonable to cut work out by a lot. But, like, are we working our asses off to enjoy the shit that sits at home while we’re out working to afford it? This has been on my mind.

  • Laura

    I have to say Rachel, I think that part of it is American culture. I’m Canadian, but I worked for an American organization for three years and I have never. worked. that. hard. in. my. freaking. life. Fifteen hour days, working on weekends – they didn’t seem to have any qualms about asking more, more, more of you. And if you tried to dial down, you felt like everyone would think you were lazy and undeserving. So I can completely relate to what you’re saying!
    By no means am I saying that Canada is some paradise in comparison. Canadians are busy, stressed, and burned out too. It can be really difficult to find that balance when you feel like you have to grasp at everything just to get a leg up. But I do think that in general, the Canadian workplace is a notch below the intensity of the American workplace culture.
    I consider myself really fortunate now. I have a job that, while it doesn’t pay especially well, pays me enough. It also asks very little overtime of me, so now I’m able to devote myself to some of those things you described always wanting to do. I feel that I have balance now. But I know that this is just a little blip on the radar of my life and I may not always have this, so I am trying to enjoy it while I can.

  • Lea C.

    Thank you, Rachel, for taking the time to address this. It’s just plain sad that so many of us have entered this never-ending arms race trying to achieve or accomplish arbitrary things based on arbitrary expectations set by god-knows-who. Is it because we were raised to “be anything” so we try to be ALL THE THINGS? Is it an inherently American thing to try to kill ourselves with work? Who knows. Either way, this can’t be healthy right??

    I was hired into the nuclear industry with a B.A.- and surprise!- I hate my job. I get anxious in the morning checking my emails. I can’t sleep well. I can’t bear the thought of being assigned another project. I can’t quit at the moment, though, because my fiancee and I are planning our wedding for later this year. Her’es the irony– we met at work and I encouraged him to quit to pursue his dreams of finishing his Masters and pursuing his dreams. I feel so trapped. It takes everything I have to tear myself away from wedding planning to actually focus on my job.

    I have found a couple of meager solutions that help me make it through every day. First, I came up with a list of the reasons why I like my job (ie– I met my fiancee, I get paid well, this is only temporary, I’m gaining experience, I don’t have to wear heels, I can discreetly read blogs etc etc) and I repeat this mantra to myself every time that I just don’t give a flying f*ck about my job. My second motivator is fear and rage. Even when I’ve run out of f*cks, I remember that I have to be good enough to NOT get fired. Which means I have to actually DO something. Instead of staying in bed, I have to go to the gym to release some stress. Instead of looking at wedding blogs, I have to actually work. The third is my fiancee himself. I’m doing this for the both of us. I realize that I need to be his support system and boost him up so that he can have the freedom of choice down the line.

    I think ultimately, the goal is to find what inherently motivates you. I know that I dislike my job, but burnout can occur in a job you love. It seems first we need to identify what makes us happy, but sadly, humans are not the best at this. And then, once we know that we have the love of our life and dream job and happy/healthy babies, how can we balance it all and still maintain sanity, sleep and our own health? I’d love to meet the person that has figured it out. I’ll buy her a drink.