I took some time off last week. I was starting to recognize signs of fatigue that happen during the slog that is the time between the winter holidays and the next day off: Memorial Day. That’s 20 weeks! I had time to take, so I took some (and you can bet that I will do it again before May 24th).
I chose to take Wednesday and Friday off because I didn’t have any meetings scheduled (this was before the TX power outages that canceled all other meetings last week anyway). The days I took were expressly for fun and rest. Unfortunately, I spent Wednesday taking care of a broken HVAC system and a leaking car tire. Thankfully, there was still Friday, which gave me a glorious three-day weekend.
Getting some much-needed leisure time (beyond a regular weekend) got me thinking about the last time I experienced burnout. I ended up leaving my job as the Executive Director of a national nonprofit and starting my own consulting firm. I planned to take one month off in between but ended up taking two due to a delay with my first contract. It was lovely.
But then, two months into self-employment, I was having trouble getting motivated. I worked about 20 hours a week and just couldn’t bring myself to clock more. I needed to network, reach out to contacts, practice my pitch—but I just didn’t have the energy or even the interest.
One afternoon, while Christmas shopping with my husband, the reason for my inertia hit me: burnout is a chronic condition, not an acute one.
You’re probably thinking, “Duh, Nina,” but lemme ‘splain.
Imagine you banged your head against a wall (literally) one time. When that happened, as long as it wasn’t too serious, the pain was probably sudden and sharp, but it stopped pretty much right after it happened.
Now imagine you repeatedly banged your head against a wall. When you finally stopped hitting your head, you had a headache that stuck around for days. The treatment of the headache was probably less straightforward and relief was probably less immediate than simply stopping what you were doing.
Taking yourself out of a situation that causes burnout will probably alleviate some of the pain, but there will be lingering effects.
Sure, I left the nonprofit job and then took some time off, but I still had that headache from banging my head against a wall (figuratively) for so long.
I want to be clear that I don’t think the answer to burnout is quitting your job (but it might be!). And I’m not going to share a surefire way to prevent burnout because I don’t have one, and I also bet it’s different for different people. But I do know that waiting for the next national holiday to take some time off definitely isn’t enough.