Stop Running Away from Burnout

Wanderlust is one of those words that got so popular so fast that every time I hear it now, I kind of roll my eyes. Some form of the word “wander” was suddenly in every person’s Twitter bio, and everyone wanted to drop their life and go live on a beach in Thailand, Bali, Brazil or any Instagram-able beach — probably with a hammock.

I would love all that: give me a beach, a margarita, a whole lot of sunscreen, and I am one happy camper. But only for about a week, and then I get antsy again. If money wasn’t any issue, I would still want to work. I like contributing, creating and impacting the world. That’s’ me.

According to my estimates, from 2013 to present day, 9,604* articles and blog posts (and let’s not even start on the Instagram accounts) have been written about high-achieving, high-paid workers feeling like office automatons churning out results without feeling, interacting without emotion. I think we can all agree that’s a horrible way to live, so I get why these power-suit wearing professionals said, “Fuck it,” and got a job at a surf shop in Bora Bora.

I’m going to say that we can all acknowledge the privilege necessary to just quit your job, pick up your life and move to a beautiful locale and choose a low-stress, low-paying job that feels better, but that’s not my point here either.

I don’t think these people are wrong or lazy. I do think that they are using the wrong word to justify their big move. It’s not wanderlust; it’s burnout.

It’s not that I am so worried about not being cool enough (that ship has sailed), but it’s more that burnout — a lump term for that feeling that you’ve turned into a robot and your life has gone to crap because of work — is so unavoidable and unmanageable, the best solution is to uproot your whole life. If that’s really your prerogative, more power to you. But I think for most people, it’s not, and more importantly, for most people, that’s not an option. For those experiencing burnout, they are often just too inundated by the stress and the snowball of work that they can’t see any other options.

But maybe there is another option. It could be that what these people who feel the need to escape actually need is to find what they really want to be doing. And that could be scooping artisanal ice cream on a lesser known Hawaiian island, but high achievers that burn out are still high achievers, they were just in the wrong field or at the wrong company or living and working at the wrong pace.

There are other, arguably less dramatic, options. Working from home and flextime are becoming more popular by the day, and as young people enter the work force they are negotiating to have more of an impact earlier in their career. So, if you are thinking of dropping off the grid, consider if you felt like you made more of an impact in your company or in your community, you would still feel the need to see the smiling face after every ice cream scoop? Maybe or maybe not, but it’s worth a thought.

Also, there are more ways to take care of yourself, especially if you can’t change your job right away or move to a beach town or a hut in the mountains. Take one night a week just for yourself: watch a movie, have a glass of wine, read that book you’ve been lying about reading, exercise, breathe. Do something that will make you feel good about yourself, because if you can’t get that at work, you need to find it somewhere else.

To debate the solution, don’t we have to understand the actual problem? Why do you hate your job so much? Why do you feel like a robot? Why are you apathetic and cruising on autopilot? It’s the work that needs to change, and your relationship to it.

If you can find what you really want to do — be it scooping ice cream in Hawaii, investment banking, computer programming or improv comedy— it won’t matter what’s trendy or cool or where you are. You will have peace of mind, and isn’t that what we’re all looking for anyway?


*That number was made up in my head

Nora Philbin

Nora is a co-founder of Happy Spectacular, which she still can't really believe, and she's on a lifelong quest for the world's best cheeseburger (applicants accepted).

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