I knew I was in trouble when I was lying on my yoga matt thinking about… well that’s just the problem. I can’t actually remember exactly what I was thinking about, but it was to do with work and its magnitude felt like life-or-death in that moment. So important that I couldn’t focus on what Adriene was saying and my breathing was all wrong. And now I’m at my desk and I can’t for the life of me remember what that thought was.
I’m totally and utterly burned out. Not just the throwaway “oh I’m burned out”. No, I’m experiencing the three classic hallmarks of official burnout: I’m exhausted; I’m cynical about my work, and my productivity levels are at an all-time low. A particularly cruel symptom is not being able to shut my brain off from thinking about work. But when I sit down to work, I can’t summon the energy to do any work. I’m hounded by thoughts of work in my downtime and overcome with a lethargy I’ve never known before when I try to work.
I made a commitment early on in writing this newsletter to be transparent and candid about the downs as well as the ups of working for yourself. It got harder to talk about the downs as the readership grew. It got even harder to talk about the downs when I wrote a book about freelancing. I’m supposed to help other freelancers build successful careers, but I’m not feeling particularly successful right now. But that’s just it, that’s my truth right now: I’m finding it hard to be a freelancer right now.
Some of what I’m struggling with is pandemic-related. I’ve never had a problem motivating myself, but thanks to a dense brain fog exacerbated by living in groundhog day, that’s a big problem for me at the moment. I can’t blame the pandemic for everything, though. I’m nearly four years into self-employment and I’m still not used to not receiving a monthly paycheque. Even though I’ve been doing this for long enough to have the evidence that it works, I still panic every month about whether this is the moment when it’s all going to fall apart.
A couple of weeks ago, I was recording the audio version of my book. I got to the chapter on looking after yourself, which I’d written back when I was feeling myself. In it, I talk about the importance of resilience and how it’s not a fixed personality trait, but rather something that anyone can build by practising it. As I narrated my own words, I realised that somewhere along the way I stopped following my own advice.
I think I speak for a lot of people when I say that most of us know what to do, but it’s so easy to forget to actually do it. Take exercise – it’s hard to get started and establish a routine, yet so easy to miss a couple of days. Before you know it, it’s been a month and you’ve not moved your body further than the trot between the couch and the bed. I do know what’s best for me, but I woke up one morning and realised I couldn’t remember when the last time was that I actually did those things for myself.
So, now, I’ve switched things up. Prioritising something isn’t worth the paper it’s written on unless you actually do that thing first. For me, that means starting my day by taking care of myself first. I go for a long walk with the dog, do some yoga with Adriene, eat a delicious breakfast (Nutella on homemade rye, in case you’re curious) and then get showered and dressed for my day. I’m now sitting down to work at 10 or 11 AM, when I used to jump straight to it at 8 AM. It’s helping.
It hasn’t “cured” me, though. And as much as I would like to end this post with a neat bow, I can’t. Things just aren’t very neat right now. What I can do, though, is be honest in the hopes that this helps someone else out there, too. This much I know to be true – this will pass; there is hope and I’m so grateful for that. ♥️
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