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The difficult thing about my personality is that I always feel compelled to be productive. If I don’t feel like I’m being productive, I feel guilty. A couple examples: in college, if I wasn’t studying constantly, I would feel guilty. When I was between semesters, if I wasn’t teaching myself programming or reading a book, I would feel guilty. Even on Christmas, if I didn’t get up at some point from spending time with my family and do some work, I would feel guilty. I’ve felt a lot of guilt over the past several years, and all of it yielded me no benefit.
When I started working an engineering job after college, I felt pretty insecure. I felt like this company was taking a chance on me, a fresh grad. I worked my ass off to prove to myself, my boss, and everyone else who might care just how valuable I was. It definitely worked. Good work was rewarded with more work and responsibility, and after a year or so I quickly found myself fighting burnout.
I was used to burning out in college. The typical semester was 16 weeks and after about 8-10 weeks, I would hit a wall. Faced with this mental block, I would typically blow off days of studying by killing time on facebook, youtube, or playing chess (and yes, I’d feel guilty the whole time). At some point, I’d have an exam that I absolutely needed to study for and I’d kick it into gear and power through the burnout until the end of the semester. This type of cyclical burnout and recovery happened nearly every semester of college.
I’ve heard burnout sometimes compared to apathy towards work, or compared to depression. Burnout isn’t like either of those for me, I feel it’s more like chronic mental exhaustion.
I’m burned out at work right now, and have been on and off for some time. So why did I burn out? Is this related to my compulsive need to be productive?
Being able to reflect and ask these questions feels relieving.
My constant need to feel productive points to workaholism. Or literally, an addiction to work. While workaholism is a bit glorified by our careerist culture, it’s still nonetheless an addiction that carries with it destructive behavior. At it’s essence, workaholism is just a specific case of obsessive-compulsive disorder. In my case, I have intrusive thoughts/feelings of guilt (obsession), so I start working to reduce the negative thoughts (compulsion).
I don’t want to give all the credit to OCD though. I would like to think my goals had something to do with overworking myself.
My workaholism led me to burn myself out. I’ve worked myself too hard and now I feel mentally exhausted.
Recovering from burn-out requires recovery time; treating OCD requires introspection and behavioral therapy. The healthiest option for me is to slow down, to downshift into something less stressful so I can fully recover. I’ve decided I’m going to take time off work, I’ve resigned from my engineering job to travel the US and rock-climb.
This sabbatical may seem like a mere escape from my current life; it’s not.
It’s the beginning of the travel journey that I’ve dreamed of.
It’s an opportunity to meditate, reflect, and enjoy nature.
It’s taking advantage of my peak physical years and pushing myself to new limits.
It’s the discovery of my real life.