How to overcome burnout
Burnout can be experienced in different ways. For me, it came in this order: Loss of motivation, decreased satisfaction, no sense of accomplishment, and finally, the cherry on the cake, a sense of failure and self-doubt. Ain’t a lovely combo?
I did not realize it was burnout at that moment. I mainly felt like I was constantly failing. It sucked—big time— but I got out of there. This is my story and the lessons I learned to prevent this to happen again.
Wednesday morning. Another day, another struggle. I’m trying to remember the last time I enjoyed going to work, the last time I felt motivated. A few years back, I didn’t mind going through one hour or more of traffic to get to work. I was more than happy to go and focus on that problem or find a new one. But now… something has changed.
Eight ante meridiem, 8am, and I’m still in bed fighting the need to stay in bed. A message from Samoa arrives “Breakfast at the new Cafe?”. Lore immediately replies “I’m in”. I jump out of bed and go as fast as I can. That’s what kept me motivated for a while, my friends at work. Who would have thought that six months later, I was going to resign with no certainty about the future?
Quitting our jobs was something that was mentioned a lot with my other friends at work. To me, it was half-joke, half-truth. I definitely wanted to quit but I was scared. Let’s say I quit. Then what? I didn’t see myself working in any other company. Even if I did, would that change my current situation? There was no guarantee because I was not only feeling unmotivated, I was feeling like I was not good enough for this job anymore.
Noon and I’m out of a lengthy meeting. The bureaucracy and old systems are slowing us down. I don’t feel like I’m moving forward in my career. I’m just doing some routine paperwork.
Lunchtime! I’m mentally exhausted. I don’t feel like I can change the situation. The only thing that I do is complain and hear complaints from other coworkers. The environment is not healthy.
7pm and I’m still in the office. The traffic is heavy. I will rather stay a few more hours in the office than drive for two long hours. Sometimes I stayed working or hanging with friends playing Exploding Kittens or having dinner.
That was my routine for the past months. In an attempt to escape this situation—and have an excuse to travel abroad—I looked for tech conferences. I found great ones but I was particularly interested in GoTo Berlin —Thanks Eddu for helping with the tickets!
Fast forward to November. It’s time to go to the conference. Berlin here I go! Now I’m feeling particularly excited, like on the first day of school after the summer break and you can’t wait to see your friends again—and take new subjects. Berlin is, after all, the city where I left my heart a while ago, where I promised myself I’ll live one day.
All right! The conference.
I had the chance to listen to amazing talks and meet new people and interesting companies. I truly got inspired. I felt refreshed and got new ideas for improvements to be implemented at work. Also, I got the opportunity to give a lighting talk about women in tech. Couldn’t wait to go back! There was a spark in me again—yay.
I learned new things. I’m ready to work on those changes I want to make, and the improvements I have in mind.
No, can do.
I crushed against the wall, that same old wall from the past months. I’m starting to suspect that maybe—maybe— I’m not the problem here.
I didn’t see it then, but now I know. What did I expect of myself when I didn’t get the stimulation, challenge, and support I needed? It’s like judging a fish for its climbing abilities. No, just… don’t.
It’s decided. I’ll quit. I’ve tried to overcome the difficulties at work and my state of mind. It was not only the company I was working for, it was all the circumstances at that precise moment for me. I accepted that I needed to try something different to get a different result, I needed a break to put things in perspective and move on.
July 31st will be my last day of work—La Grati, for the Peruvian readers. After that… not so sure what is going to happen after that. Roughly, the plan is to move to a city in Europe–ideally Berlin. Is about time to give me that opportunity.
I can’t stress this enough: resigning was a good idea! The first month of what it would become a sabatical of six months was great. I feel good. I feel relaxed. It didn’t happen automagically. I had slow mornings that included pilates and beat saber. I went to Cusco, a charming and laid back city, for a few weeks to stay with my grandma to be spoiled and eat yummy food.
Now I’m ready to look for a new job and prepare for the interviews. I decided to study 6 hours a day 🤣. “No! That’s going to take you to another burnout!” Pamela, my therapist, says while shaking her head. The next thing I know, she is helping me to build a more realistic schedule.
A week after I was better prepared. I followed her tips. I have a study plan with all the topics I wanted to cover and how many days per topic I needed. Then I distributed those over two to three days per week. The rest of the time was filled with pilates, arts & crafts, friends, and—this one is particularly important—time to do NOTHING!
It made a difference. The new schedule made me feel relieved and calmed. This time I’m making some progress and I’m feeling well physically, mentally, and emotionally. Why? Because I was taking care of myself by doing things I truly enjoy mixed with the things I have to do. The important thing here is that
the things I have to do were align with my values and what motivates me.
I started October by applying to different companies and having a few interviews. My old friend, the little Saqra —the name of my Impostor Syndrome monster.— is whispering to my ears “What if we don’t find a job? What if we run out of our savings?” I was scared, I’m not gonna lie, but I did it anyway. Worst case scenario, I have to keep applying for a few more months. I have some savings that allow me to do it so I YOLOed.
I had good interviews and bad interviews —really bad ones. At times I felt insecure and at times enthusiastic. After talking with different companies, I was particularly interested on N26. Finally, on November 5th I signed the contract with them. After that I had to apply for the Visa and move to Berlin. Yay!
That’s it. I’ve made it! It has been three years after my very first—and hopefully last!— burnout and I learned a couple of things:
Be gentle with yourself
If there’s a lot of negativity in your environment, you need to release it in one way or another. Could be doing some sport or meditation, could be talking to a therapist and/or friends who bring positive and valuable feedback.
Don’t blame it on you. Most likely the circumstances around you are not ideal for you and that’s something you can change. My therapist helped me to identify what was creating noise in my head and helped me to put it in perspective so I could work on it.
It’s all about balance. If your mind is set on only one topic it will explode. I used to spend almost all day at work and in traffic. The frustration was accumulating every day. Make sure you reserve some time for the activities that bring you joy. For me those activities are sports, music, painting, skateboarding, traveling and doing nothing at all to recharge energy. Identify what works for you.
Time management is crucial to meet realistic expectations. Create a detailed plan with the topics you want to cover and give the time needed. In my case, I decided to study three days a week, and no more than that, to achieve results in two months. That will be different from person to person and that’s ok.
Take a break
In the world we live in, it’s hard to find some time to rest. You will never find the right time to rest, but you still need to rest. Look at me! It took me a year to make up my mind and quit. It can be scary, but it’s necessary to pause and analise where things are in our life and reassess priorities. Changes are good, breaks are good.
Actions and values must be aligned
Ultimately, my biggest lesson was that misalignment leads to burnout. Misalignment with your own values and the ones of your employer, your colleagues and friends but also misalignment with the activities you do outside work. From time to time ask yourself if you are spending your time doing the things you really want to do, if your actions are aligned with your values.