Burnout. I’m the guy who’s known for burning the candle at both ends. People expect me to always be on. I’m the guy you go to when no one else can handle the pressure. I thrive under under pressure, I welcome it, I want more! Except not anymore. I’ve been burned out and it shows. I was told yesterday that I seem like I’m “burned, toasted, and microwaved” by a friend who’s also on the board of HERO. People are worried and they’re giving work to others instead of me (which makes me feel worse since I’m supposed to be the handle-it-all guy). How did this happen? Burnout is nothing new to people in my line of work but for me, as the guy who’s basically looked upon as the Superman of hard work, it’s terrifying. Does this mean that it turns out I’m only human after all? Not exactly. I’m still supremely more talented than a lot of others but the cause of this particular burnout can be traced to one root cause having nothing to do with workload.
Needs not met
There it is. The root cause of (at lease this guy’s) burnout. I have a particular set of needs that must come out of my work and I’m not getting them. The relationship between me and those who I’m producing work for is increasingly becoming one-sided. This is especially scary when you work for yourself because then you really know you’ve done this to yourself. So what is it that I need from my work?
To be respected as a professional
For clients to respect the terms of a deal
To be paid fairly
To have enough time at the end of the day for at least one leisure activity
That’s all. Just four things. Right now I’m not getting a single one of them. I have a client who is telling me “well my husband said you should do it this way” to which I’d like to respond “then you should have hired your husband”. The same client has broken just about every single part of our deal from extending the duration of the project from 2 months to almost 8 now, going far beyond reasonable revisions, and still expecting to pay the same amount outlined in the original proposal. Because of all this I have absolutely no free time because now I have an extra client I didn’t expect would be hanging on this long. You see, I onboard one client, get part way into a project, onboard another, then offboard the original and onboard another. I kind of stagger them out so I always have work with a maximum of 3 at a time. Right now I’ve got 4 plus my nine to five in Chicago plus my duties as a member of the board of directors of HERO which include running two support groups, public relations (interviews, showing up for photo ops, etc), and other random things. Normally all this work would be something I’d be more than happy to take on but because so much of it is unfulfilling.
I can’t deny that much of this is my own fault. I’ve allowed this to happen but that doesn’t mean that I’m powerless to stop it. That’s the thing I think many of us forget when we get into these situations. You may not be able to simply up and leave a well paying job out of nowhere but there are always at least some things you can control and for me what I can control is what I will accept from my clients, which clients I choose, the terms of deals, what projects I take on as part of HERO, and even at my 9 -5 I can control how much work I leave at the office each day. So wherever there are things I can control, I will control them.
Because of all this stress there have been a ton of symmtoms and signs I’ve shown. Really I haven’t been myself for almost two months now. Here are some highlights of what burnout has done to me personally:
Chest pains, rapid heart beat, anxiety that seemingly comes from nowhere
Snapping on people, having a short fuse (I normally never get angry at anyone)
Losing interest in things I normally enjoy (this means design and development mostly)
A chronic case of anger
I haven’t been able to produce anywhere near my normal level of work, I have chest pains and anxiety, and I’m constantly on edge and snapping at people.
I can’t offer any solutions for anyone but myself. I read a plethora of articles and books on burnout and it wasn’t until I talked with a good friend (a psychologist by profession) that I discovered the root cause and solution to my burnout. This is what I’ve decided will work for me, your mileage may vary. Tomorrow I have a meeting with one client where they’ll have a choice to either abide by the terms of the original deal or be fired as clients. For the first time I do have the luxury of leaving money on the table. I don’t want to and I’m going to try to salvage the situation but in the end I’ve decided that my health is more valuable than anything else.
Why they call it recharging
After all of this, I now know why they call it recharching after you’ve been burned out. I have very little (maybe nothing) left in me to give. My current work is subpar and I have no energy and a mild case of depression bordering on becoming more severe. I need to recharge.