When burnout is not an option
Updated: Dec 13, 2021
They say success comes at a cost, but what is the cost of burnout?
In my research about starting up your own business, the same idea appears, again and again. That is, the idea that people, ‘kill themselves’ to get their businesses off the ground in the first few years. There is a lot of talk of burnout, but then rising again, phoenix-like, from the flames. Despite the obvious violent connotations used here, it makes sense that when we make big changes, we die a sort of death. The old self makes way for the new.
I'm on board with the rebirth, and I’ll never negate the fact that becoming your own boss is hard. You are probably harder on yourself than any boss you’ve ever had. The cheerleading and validation of your work must come from within - at least in the beginning.
But I find the whole conversation less than inspiring, because even if I wanted to work myself to burnout, I simply couldn’t afford to. I’ve already done the burnout thing anyway - less for business and success, and more for the whacky idea that I could earn a living as an artist and activist in London without a trust fund.
Like other people with health problems, caring duties, or even those just dealing with traumatic life circumstances, the repercussions of another burnout would be long-lasting and severe, even irreparable.
The word burnout is bandied around as if it were a badge of honour to put on your lapel, or as if it were some inevitable horror looming in the distance. The concept has become like Santa Claus – a shadowy figure we expect to arrive at any moment, wondering if we’ve been put on the good or naughty list. And it seems that to be on the 'good list' you must gamble with your health and personal relationships for the sake of progress.
If I don’t have to go through the hell of burnout again, I’ll happily accept my lump of coal, instead of the light-up skates I’ll soon grow out of. If that metaphor was a little far-fetched, what I mean is that I am happy to be under-the-radar in exchange for sanity and well-being. To go out and stare into the wonder of a sunset over mountains and seas, touch the face of a dear friend, run my hand along the trees lining the streets.
I don't live on another planet, so I am not unaffected by the message that we must be constantly productive. It is a momentous job to continually remind myself that this is not why I am here. The world is infinite, full of glorious information, to be discovered and conveyed.
What a gift we writers have, to be able to communicate! Do I really want to write articles regurgitating well-known facts with a clickbait title? Or whatever it is that supposedly gets us noticed?
Every time someone mentions ‘success’, I want to ask them: ‘What IS success?’ How do we measure it? Is it not ludicrous to think that we all measure success in the same way? But I hold my tongue in case I’m accused of being bitter.
I’ve been advised by various people in my life recently, to just, ‘do what I can’. It’s small, but it helps. I remember it when I’m staring at the screen and overwhelmed by the To Do list. Best to do what you can and not meltdown in the absence of doing any of it.
On the morning of writing this I cycled to a nice park and spoke to myself in Spanish. I like to practice little stories I can later regale my friends with and then think of which vocabulary I am missing. I sat on a bench and stared at a tree. When I came back the laptop was beckoning. My hands were itching. Literally. I’m coming out in hives. If that’s not a sign.
Instead, I went to the supermarket and bought beer and snacks for the evening. A nice reward. Then as my brain began to shout, NOW YOU’RE TAKING THE PISS MATE, I sat down and did half an hour of Yoga with Adrienne. I was propelled to keep going by the faint threat of an anxiety attack in my chest. Not today, Satan. Whatever it takes. The silly little mantras you say to yourself in your head.
I’ve given to remonstrating the voice in my head that tells me I’m worthless. Like when I was a primary school teaching assistant: “Rebecca, that’s not very nice. Say sorry to Rebecca”. Whatever it takes. Sure, it’s nice to appear successful, based on a confusing set of metrics, but as the comedian Limmy once pontificated, “at what cost?”
I keep going with the idea that I will arrive where I’m supposed to arrive, at the time I’m supposed to.