One of my teachers taught me 2 very important lessons about burnout. The first, when you are stressed and no longer able to keep up with your commitments. Take a walk, try not to cry over it, find a companion and refocus. The second, it’s much easier to give that advice than it is to take it yourself.
The thing is, once you’ve reached burn out, it’s really hard to pull back. You’re torn by the passion you once had for the project, and your current dismay with all that’s gone horribly wrong. It could be something as simple as over committing yourself, or more complex such as you’re passion for a project not being compatible with those you’re working with.
Personally, I suffered from overcommitment. Between working WAY too many hours (anywhere between 50-80 hours a week), going to school full-time, and commuting over 3 hours each day, I didn’t have much time to myself and I didn’t know where to reenergize. The teacher I mentioned before got the brunt of it when I went to her office hours after receiving a bad grade on an assignment.
I was nervous and scared that I wouldn’t pass her class. And since I was paying for my classes, I couldn’t afford another bad grade. I really needed to continue forward, not get pushed by one more semester for this class. As I began to explain to her my life situation, the tears were unstoppable. I was exhausted, scared, and didn’t know how to keep moving. It’s like the years of abuse I was putting on my body and mind were all coming to a head in this one small 8’x10′ space.
What my professor said to me next stuck with me for the next 2 and a half years of school. She waited patiently for me to finish, looked at me with her cold blue eyes, and in her stern Russian accent said, “You have a lot on your plate. We can’t all do everything. I want you to not worry about this, you’ll have the rest of the semester to make it up. Now, go take a walk, it’s a beautiful day outside.”
Those were not the words I wanted, but they were the words I needed. I needed to put everything into perspective, and I needed to reevaluate my commitments. Honestly, those were the words that pushed me to push back on my “part-time” job and finally finish school.
Sadly, my professor suffered from the more complex of my given examples. She loved to teach, and she loved whipping students into shape. The downside to that is the generation I was going to school with didn’t care. There were two segments of kids in my classes, those who cared and worked hard, and those who were completely disrespectful and assumed that they’d just get an A anyway.
I had her for 4 classes throughout my degree plan, and as the semesters went by I saw her ability to handle situations calmly slip. The very last semester I took her, she would spend 20 minutes of a 45 minute class explaining to us how we were all idiots. I’m sure there were outside factors, but I truly felt that she’d lost herself along the way. She was in the throes of a mental breakdown (one of the many side effects of burnout), and no one was there to help her out.
I wish I could say I was strong enough to say something to her. To go back into her office and provide the same advice to her as she’d given me. But I didn’t. I was self-centered and worried more about my own grades than her mental health. Plus, as a student, I didn’t feel it was my right to say anything. She was a passionate teacher, who cared very much about students who didn’t give a damn about her.
If you think you’re experiencing early signs of burnout, take some time to yourself. If you can’t change your current obligations, find time to do something that energizes you. If things are bad now, whether by your own doing or not, you have time to make up for it. Now, go take a walk, it’s a beautiful day outside.
====== EDIT ======
A good friend of my requested some resources if you are experiencing burnout. I’m going to place them down below as I find ones I like: