3 Ways to Keep Burnout at Bay

Friday, August 2, 2019 San Francisco, CA, USA

1. Always have something extracurricular to look forward to on your calendar
It's probably so on-brand that my most effective way to navigate stress is to add something else to my calendar. Buuuuut,  note that it has to be extracurricular!
I never understood how spa days/manicures/massages could be part of a regular self-care routine because I am stingy, but I see the appeal now: dedicated, regimented time for forced stillness. Make this an activity that categorically has not contributed to your burnout: if the intensity of a really disciplined workout is getting to you, for example (but also, good for you), scheduling another yoga class probably misses the point. Or if you're a creative, even a casual paint day might not be as effective. Really, truly deviate from your everyday life. Eat out if you rarely do so (doesn't have to be somewhere nice! And if you go alone, like I love doing, you can bring an easy-read book so you aren't tempted to check your emails/be productive). See a movie or live show. Catch up with a college roommate.
The key for me is to have this on my calendar to remind myself that I have to commit to "pleasurable" activities as much as I do personal and professional ones. I'm not someone who just fits in "me time" in spare pockets of my planner; while spontaneity is great, having something extracurricular to look forward to reminds me that I have a life and identity beyond what I "need" to do.

2. Take mental and emotional inventory
Yes, ladies, this is indeed an exciting list-making opportunity!
1. Make a list of everything that's stressing you out. Get as granular as you'd like, then categorize them into "themes" that seem to make sense: this could be centered around their source (work, romantic relationships, health/fitness), or their trigger (a lack of time, feeling unfulfilled, etc.).
2. Circle what you feel is absolutely, holistically the most important. Not the item most immediately due, but the one with the most "spiritual urgency." Please don't let this be, like, a top-line company initiative. What matters to you the most? What would make you feel fulfilled? What would help you feel more like yourself?
3. Circle what you feel is the most important in each of your themes: if one of your themes is "career," for example, apply the Pareto principle: what is one project that will have maximum impact at work? If you're being an A+ list-maker and have included emotional triggers, is there an interaction or environment that you encounter most frequently?
4. Everything you've circled is all that matters for now. Everything else is just noise. It's cool that you want to start rock climbing and take that online CS certification course and develop a better relationship with your sister-in-law, but it can wait. You've now whittled your life down from overachievement to smart achievement: first, you're going to find a purpose again. Then, you're going to move the needle in a few, strategic moves. Then, you're going to take a break. That is all you get to do. I mean it.

3. Check up on your strong, powerful friends - especially the ones who always seem to have their shit together
I've always had friends who are astoundingly clever, ambitious, and well-rounded. Like, not just your typical "did well in school, holds down a nice corporate job in finance/consulting/etc." high achiever, but literal startup founders, Fulbright scholars, side hustlers, teachers, and grassroots activists. Honestly, the average of my circle is 10x the person I aspire to be (related: Combating Jealousy in Friendships). And while that can be intimidating, I've also seen this deeply human, suffering part of genius that I've come to respect and, consequently, make room for. The "social media only shows the highlights of our imperfect, chaotic lives" bit feels so superficial when it's made to be about stretch marks, messy hair, and cellulite. The real shit is the social policy trailblazer who can't reconcile with her conservative, racist parents; the MD/PhD candidate who obsessively substitutes sex for companionship; the community organizer battling anxiety and chronic depression. I've had the most productive, rewarding conversations reaching out to the friends who seem to be doing amazing in life.
The work here is twofold: one, you come to realize how much people sacrifice for their success - and beyond that, the toll of constant sacrifice. Seeing what excellence costs helps you put its pursuit into perspective. Repeat after me: hustle porn is a lie. 
Second, you learn to be more generous with yourself. I tend to be so forgiving and pragmatic with the people I love. I want them to rest far more than I allow myself to; I honor their needs and fears more than my own. Most people do. Very good friends will allow you to take care of them, all the while reflecting the ways you need to be taken care of.

Take care of yourself.
With love always,

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