Lessons Learned From The Other Side Of My First Major Burnout

Weekly Letter sent 29/11/2015

You may have noticed things have been a little quiet around here these past few months.

Less content, less social media activity, no podcast, no collaborations.

That’s because, behind the scenes, I’ve been dealing with my first ever major burnout. I thought I knew what busy meant until these past 6 months showed me I had no idea what it really means, until now, to be functioning at full capacity. I thought being burnt out meant just being a little tired for a few days; oh how I was wrong.

For me, burnout looked like 15 hour work days, a whole month without taking a day off, tears, constant headaches, stress, exhaustion, and being in that place where I’m no longer being the best version of myself to the people around me, in my work, and in my own self care and growth. 

So enough was enough. My first major burnout wasn’t something that could be fixed overnight, I had to commit to taking the time to get back on track and never let this happen again, all while still working and getting things done. 

And here I am, fresh on the other side and feeling so grateful for the tough lessons I’ve learned these past few months. I want to share some of those tough lessons that I've learned with you today:

1. I can take control of my schedule if I choose to

This has been one of my biggest issues; feeling like my schedule is in control of me, instead of the other way around. Once I realised that taking control of my schedule is a choice, and that it’s my responsibility to put boundaries in place to protect myself, my wellbeing, my time, and my creativity, that’s when I was able to start moving forward and make some practical and positive change to my daily routines.

Sometimes being busy is just part of this journey. Sarah Von Bargen said it best:
 
"And while I’d like very much to tell you (and myself) to “say ‘no’ more” and “take on less,” that’s not always an option – particularly at work"

If you’re struggling with this too, definitely check out her post on How To Enjoy Work (Even When You’re Busy + Kind Of Overwhelmed).

I can’t help right now that I’m busy. Hell, I don’t even mind that I’m busy. I bloody love being booked up with so many awesome and game changing clients, and the fact that I’ve built a business that keeps me so busy is something I am crazy grateful for. What I don’t love though is feeling like my schedule isn’t giving me the space to take care of myself, to create, and to fully enjoy this journey. 

So I took control.

I have the ability to take control of my schedule if I choose to, and that’s exactly what I did. I put more boundaries around my time so I’m no longer functioning at 100% (I need at least 15% wiggle room to feel like I can breathe), and I made time in my schedule for all of my priorities right now. It may be a tight squeeze sometimes, and sacrifices always have to be made here and there, but now when I look at my schedule I see something that I have built with intention, instead of something that is wildly out of my control.
 
2. Discipline and structure will not take away my freedom

Discipline and structure have never come easy to me. I don’t like to be told what to do, even if it’s by myself. I used to really fight against any routine or structure in my work and my life, in the fear that it would take away my control and my freedom.

What I’ve learned this year is that if I want to run a business, make a living on my own terms, and show up and do awesome work for my clients, structure and discipline are a necessity if I want to make it work.

And you know what? They are making a seriously huge difference to my wellbeing, productivity, and happiness right now. 

Structure is helping me to no longer feel like I’m running around like a headless chicken trying to run a business that is out of my control. Structure is helping me to use my time to the best of my ability, have a routine that allows me to get things done, and feel focused and confident in the fact that I’ve got this and that I will not let myself down. 

Discipline is how I’m holding myself accountable. I’ve built structure and systems around my routine and my schedule that will allow me to get things done, move forward, and take care of myself and my relationships too, but only if I have the discipline to follow through on it. Discipline means actually following through on the routine that I’ve built for myself, instead of procrastinating and choosing to watch Netflix all afternoon instead, and discipline means that when I don’t get things done I now only have myself to blame, instead of just blaming it on my hectic and out of control workload like I once did. 

Structure and discipline are my two new best friends, and I’m so crazy grateful to have them in my life right now. 

3. Hard work is never wasted

While I was knee deep in my burnout, I started to resent the hard work it was taking behind the scenes to keep my business running and moving forward. Really what I was frustrated about was lack of control and structure around my routine, but in my mind I was blaming it all on the hard work instead.

Here’s what I remembered about the biggest lesson I’ve learned this year: hard work is never, ever, wasted. 

Hard work has moved me forward in so many ways I didn’t know was possible. Getting the work done, pushing my boundaries, making smart decisions, and taking risks has been the difference between just dreaming about something and actually making it happen.

After a week or two of feeling completely sorry for myself, I looked around at my life and saw everything that hard work had helped me build. When I was lost in my pity party, I started to resent the long days, late nights, and social occasions missed that hard work had taken away from me, and then I realised that none of it was in vain.

Hard work hasn’t taken anything away from me. It’s something I have given to my life and my work freely, and I’m so damn glad I did. Sometimes, when you’re lost in the hustle and those long days and late nights, you can start to resent the work and lose sight of why you’re doing it. But if you’re intentional about where you’re putting your energy, and if you’re focused and making smart and purposeful decisions along the way (with a little creative risk and intuition in the mix too), your hard work is never, ever, wasted. Sometimes we just need to remember that.

4. There’s a reason why I’m doing this

Here’s a question I asked myself while I started to come out from the other side of my burnout:

Would I rather have no stress, no busy schedule, and no responsibilities, but also no independence, no ability to provide for myself and the people I love, and no freedom and fulfilment when it comes to the work that I do?

Or would I rather have the responsibility, the busy workload, and be on this never-ending rollercoaster ride that is running a business, but also have the financial and creative freedom, the independence, and the excitement and fulfilment that doing this work brings?

I definitely choose the second option.

And that’s pretty much all I needed at the end to remember why I’m doing this. I’m doing this so I can provide for myself and the people I love, so I can do the work I feel called to do, and so I can build something that is sustainable and that will bring me freedom, fulfilment, and stability right now and in the years to come. 

When hard work and a busy schedule is starting to take its toll, sometimes we just have to remember our why. Nothing good comes easy, and looking back over everything hard work has helped you to achieve and build so far is usually just the clarity you need to keep on moving forward.

5. Self care is part of the job

Here’s the thing; I don’t believe in working 24/7, burning ourselves out, working ourselves into the ground, and losing sight of our own needs and our own wellbeing along the way.

I’m just also very realistic when it comes to what it takes to provide for ourselves and take care of everything in our lives that needs our attention. Whether you’re running your own business, you’re working hard at your day job, or you’re a side hustler doing them both, it takes a lot of energy and time to do what we need to do to pay the bills, invest in our future, and take care of our homes, our families, and the many different responsibilities we all have on a day to day basis.

But what I’ve also learned is that self care is part of the job. We can’t be of any use or value to our clients, our families, and our loved ones if we’re not taking care of ourselves first. 

We have to give ourselves permission to take care of ourselves. And not just when we’re lost in burnout, but every single week so we are constantly topping up our tanks and refuelling as we go.

None of us have unlimited time to just sit around and take care of ourselves all day. But we can take an hour here or there to do what we need to do to top up our tanks, relax, and recharge. What I’ve found is that it has to be built into my routine if I’m going to take it seriously. For me that means a longer lunch break so I have the time to cook a healthy meal from scratch, a cut off point every evening so I’m no longer working 15 hour days unless I really need to, putting aside time for the things I need to recharge and relax (reading a book, guilty pleasure TV shows, and adventures with Alex), and most of all - never again allowing myself to function at 100% capacity. Without some wiggle room and space to breathe, I know now that it will just lead to overwhelm, frustration, and stress.  

To Finish...
 
More than anything, I've accepted that I chose this. 

And once I did that, all I felt was so much gratitude that I did chose this because I am so damn grateful about where I am in my life right now and what I’ve been able to make happen, even if there are some long days, late nights, and social occasions missed along the way. 

But here’s what I’m taking with me moving forward: those long days, late nights, and social occasions missed? They’re okay from time to time, but it’s my job to put boundaries in place so I can show up for myself and the people in my life more. I’m not here on some quest for the perfect work/life balance; I don’t believe that it exists. To give to one thing in our lives will always mean to take away from another. But what I am doing is choosing to move forward and be more intentional with where I give my energy and my time. And more than anything, I’m on a quest right now to live a life where I can lose the guilt that comes with choosing one or the other, because in reality they go hand in hand. I need them both, my work and my life, to be happy, healthy, and fulfilled. 

This burnout really, really, sucked. But I am so grateful for the lessons it has taught me, and I’m so excited to move forward and take them with me as I go.

Thank you so much for letting me into your inbox to share this with you today. My hope is that if this is finding you right now in a place of burnout, exhaustion, and overwhelm it can offer some insight and encouragement to help you move forward in a way that works for you. And if you haven’t hit a major burnout yet, my hope is that you can keep this in a corner of your inbox somewhere so if that the day comes that you do it can be of some help to you then.
 
And thank you for bearing with me while I've been figuring all of this out. I'm excited to work on some new content, projects, and collaborations behind the scenes again, but also give more of myself to my life again and the people who make it so wonderful. 

This journey can be so messy, complicated, and overwhelming sometimes, but I couldn't imagine not choosing this path and walking this road. Whatever season you're in right now, whether it's one of hustle, struggle, or rest, I hope this email finds you well and I hope we can connect more soon.
 
With love,
Jen


WEEKLY LETTERS

Every Sunday I connect with my community through Weekly Letters. These are where I share personal insights, words of motivation, and lessons I'm learning along the way in my creative journey so far. Weekly Letters are where we can hang out together and is my space to be a little more vulnerable, a little more open, and a little more in-depth with the insights and advice that I share. 

I'D LOVE TO CONNECT WITH YOU THERE TOO