I am pretty sure before 2019, I never heard anyone around me use the word burnout. And I hear this all the time now. Before 2019 I was not working on the Internet (had never posted on Twitter, etc.). I was living a mostly offline life.
Now I am surrounded by entrepreneurs and creators and otherwise independent people who make their own rules and earn a living on their own terms. I don't know if that has something to do with it.
Either way I really want to understand what people actually mean when they say "I'm dealing with burnout". I really do. Because I don't think I've experienced "burnout" in recent memory.
First I'll share what I understand burnout to be based on hearing people's burnout stories around the Internet. Some of my understanding was confirmed by this podcast episode. But I also realized some brand new things.
Initially, I thought it was just something people say. It almost seemed like a fashionable trendy thing to say (that's not very nice, I know, sorry!). And I imagine there are people who use burnout as a catch-all and confound it with other more (or less) serious mental states. But I've come to understand that burnout is a real and serious thing (It's just not something I have the propensity to experience).
Here's what I think burnout means:
You're doing work that you actually like and enjoy. But at some point, you end up over doing it which ultimately leads to you no longer being able to enjoy it. And also you feel like you can't stop or do less. It's kind of like overdosing on cake/cookies/candy (for people who like sugar, I don't really have a sweet tooth). If you eat as much as you possibly can, at some point you are going not enjoy it and feel unwell. I can imagine this happens when you're super ambitious or when you just can't draw boundaries and work fills up all of your time.
It seems people experience burnout after they have pushed themselves on a demanding and challenging project. For example after writing and launching a book or after running a time-intensive cohort based course.
This is what I gather burnout look like. I don't know though. Because I don't think I've ever experienced burnout. But I do find myself struggling with almost the opposite of that. I am going to call this state "holdout"
No Burnout but I struggle with 'holdout'
Part of what I mean by 'holdout' is that I hold myself back from starting certain projects or pull back quickly if I foresee the project interfering with my current life balance (specifically relationships with spouse/parents/sister or with my daily attention/patience reserve needed for parenting. My overall mental health or even physical health in terms of sleep and time to cook/enjoy food, etc.). I have no problem drawing boundaries and keeping things in perspective.
That sounds great right. To someone experiencing burnout I imagine it does. But there is a downside, a cost.
I feel like I don't have anything to show for my time over the last year. I've shipped small projects and attempted or explored many of my ideas. But nothing impressive (to me). I believe this is partly because I haven't gone far enough or long enough on any one thing yet. And I wonder now if pushing myself to a state close to burnout is necessary to have some meaningful success. At least that's what I see around me.
The more immediate thing I want to figure out is this:
Currently I don't feel like I would enjoy my time if I were to take an actual vacation. Because I haven't done enough yet. My brain is like time away from what!? There are times when I am not physically working, but my brain is always doing meta work - this constant analyzing, evaluating, trying to figure out a path to travel. I don't feel fully present. And that is a problem. I fully recognize this. And my current priority is to figure what I need to do feel like I've done enough in a day or a week. To feel like I deserve some break or time off.
Here's what I'm thinking so far. The feeling I'm looking for is this. It's the feeling of enjoying a big lunch after a long strenuous morning hike or a challenging workout. It's enjoying something and thinking "I deserve this, I've worked hard for it". I want be heads down on a project, to launch or ship something (ideally something that resonates with others, that's useful and valuable to others). Instead of holding myself back, push myself to get to some meaningful milestone and then plan a break. A well-deserved break. And enjoy it.