I burned out this past summer. Summer ‘16. I burned out hard.
As long as I’m being honest with you, I prefer to say I burned out spectacularly.
At the time, I didn’t know what was going on. Something was going on, something decidedly not awesome, but what?
I didn’t want to work, despite leaving my 9-5 to work for myself because that’s what I’d always wanted. I didn’t want to see anybody and have to “deal” with them, despite being a very social person. I was getting sick of looking at social media because everybody was always happy or successful and I couldn’t take it. I only wanted to eat junk food because that would make me feel good for a few moments. Everything just felt like a massive effort that wouldn’t be worth it.
I wrote in my journal over and over, “What is happening to me?”
I was totally burned out. I just hadn’t realized it yet because I was way too in the middle of it to realize it.
Yes, I came back from it. Yes, I came back from it better than ever. Yes, I could give you advice about that. But—for now—I just want to tell you why I burned out. If you’re going through this right now, and I know some of you will be, you don’t need to know how to get beyond it. You just need to understand why you’re there.
If you’re going through this right now, if you’re burning out, if you’re burned out, you might not even want to keep reading. You might think, “fuck this.” But, right now, you probably don’t like yourself anyway, you’re close to or at rock bottom, and you feel like nothing or nobody can help. So… what have you got to lose?
Exactly. So here’s why I burned out:
#1. I fought against doing what I knew I should be doing
I didn’t want to be a freelance writer because I was better than that. Because I was above that. Because that was beneath me.
Yeah. Well, look how that turned out for me. Mike Tyson was right: “if you’re not humble, life will visit humbleness upon you.”
All I wanted to do was “build my personal brand”. And “build my audience”. And “write every day”. I said those phrases so often that they sort of just lost all meaning. Do you know what I mean? They were just hollow words, echoes of the past, the “right” things to say.
I knew I should’ve been freelancing because my money was running out and it wouldn’t last forever – especially with how recklessly I was spending it. But I didn’t because I didn’t think I should have to stoop that low. I was working really hard on “building my personal brand” and “building my audience” and “writing every day”… but I was seeing no money, even though I was rapidly becoming desperate for it.
It was obvious what I should’ve done, but I didn’t do it, because I didn’t want to, because I pretended not to know what I should be doing.
#2. I had no clear plans or goals
In one year, I’d built my email list to about 1,500 people. So “building my audience” had worked, in a way.
But here’s the thing: I had no idea what to do with it.
And, probably the bigger issue: I couldn’t have told you why people joined my list, beyond something like “I guess they like my writing.”
I’d written about life, self-improvement, mindset, business, entrepreneurship, famous people, athletes, books, and on and on and on. I’d even written about writing, ‘cause I’m meta like that.
So, people had subscribed for all sorts of different reasons. Maybe they liked something I’d written about self-improvement, or business, or writing. Who knows.
Long story short: I offered a service (related to writing) and quite a few people wrote back saying they were interested. About 50 or so. And then I “launched” this service.
Do you know how many people took me up on my offer?
I’ll give you a clue: or as the movie title attempts to stereotype . . . it’s the same number of white men that can jump.
Yeah. Zero. Not one single person.
That’s when I realised I’d never had any clear plans or goals. Yeah, I was building my audience (that phrase!), but for what? To write another book? To sell an online course? To do some coaching? What?
All that work with no goals, no plans, no end in mind. That will burn your ass out.
#3. I didn’t realize the “life” part of work-life balance was also burning me out
I’d stopped playing basketball, something I’d loved for years. Because I thought I had to, because that’s what success took, because blah blah blah.
I’d stopped seeing my friends as much. Because, again, I thought I had to. Seeing friends was something I “should” be sacrificing, right?
I’d stopped meeting women, going on dates, and having sex. Because – you guessed it – I thought I should. Because I needed every spare second to “build my audience” and to work work work work work and women would be a distraction. Right?
I sacrificed all the things I thought I should sacrifice in order to become successful. As a result, I had no work-life balance. Because there was never any separation. Work was life, and work was work. It was everywhere, everything, the only thing.
Reading that back, it’s not exactly a shock that I burned out. Not only did I have no life, but my work wasn’t even going particularly well. I was “building my audience” (please make it stop) but I wasn’t making any money. And, extreme as it is, I felt like I was sacrificing everything for nothing.
Day. After. Day. After. Day.
#4. I didn’t talk about it
There’s a reason we don’t talk about stuff like this: it’s hard.
There’s shame, embarrassment, fear. I was ashamed that I was so “weak”. I was embarrassed because I’d failed. I was scared of being judged.
Eventually though, I did open up. I had to. I was getting so sick of life and so sick of myself. I had to do something.
I told my parents. I told them everything. And you know what? They didn’t judge me. Of course they didn’t. They understood. Of course, they did. Because that’s what people do when they love you.
After we’d finished talking, I felt relieved. Finally, I’d started to let go.
I think that’s why I burst into laughter. I couldn’t help it.
“This is fucking ridiculous,” I said, and now my parents were laughing too.
“I mean… this? This is what I sacrificed everything for? This? To be burned out and broke and at rock bottom?”
I shook my head and smiled.
“Man. I really fucked all this up, didn’t I?”
I don’t have any advice for you.
When I was burned out, advice didn’t seem to work. People telling me how to do things definitely didn’t work. But someone sharing their own story, someone being honest about how much they struggled…
… that might’ve helped.
Previously published on Rich 20 Something