Tag: Life

What’s Your Burnout Flavor?

“I never thought the system was equitable. I knew it was winnable for only a small few. I just believed I could continue to optimize myself to become one of them. And it’s taken me years to understand the true ramifications of that mindset.”
– Anne Helen Peterson 

Yes, I’m still thinking about that piece on millennial burnout from a couple of links posts ago, and the many, many think pieces I’ve read following up on it or responding to it since.

Ironic, I know, since I just wrote a post myself not too long ago about deciding that the hustle was still worth the amount of effort it takes. I still believe it is. But it took a conversation on the (fabulous) NPR podcast It’s Been a Minute to really articulate the feeling of burnout that I seem to personally experience. The author Anne Helen Peterson sat down with host Sam Sanders to talk about her own misconceptions of what burnout actually is, as opposed to how we tend to think about it. It’s not a destination, it’s a journey–or more specifically it’s a treadmill run where you don’t actually get anywhere.

“You reach the point of collapse…and then you keep going.”

I appreciate that this is not unique to my generation, but I am a firm believer that every generation has a unique combination of circumstances and variables that make them culturally distinct enough to trace broad trends. Peterson doesn’t make any points I haven’t thought of or written about before, but she articulated the mental load of some of the circumstances of millennial:

  • Graduating in a recession, with fewer entry level jobs available, and fewer jobs overall which will set us up for what have become the traditional routes to retirement
  • Lots of us are getting more stability ten years on…meaning we’re getting to traditional adulthood phases of lives and careers a decade later than most of us anticipated
  • The change of digital pace. My freshman year, Facebook was brand new and now it’s destroying Western democracy (or so it feels)
  • The way we self perpetuate burnout circumstances by not enforcing boundaries or insisting that others in our communities enforce their own boundaries either (answering emails late at night, women doing the “second shift” without thinking about it, always been online and accessible, etc.)
  • The feeling that if we aren’t being successful–making enough money, out of debt, in a fulfilling job, generally living our bliss–that the fault is someone ours and ours alone. Don’t get me wrong, I believe in hard work, but I also know that there are things such as systemic realities that can significantly affect how much pay off you see, no matter how hard the work.

“Burnout is of a substantively different category than “exhaustion,” although it’s related. Exhaustion means going to the point where you can’t go any further; burnout means reaching that point and pushing yourself to keep going, whether for days or weeks or years.”

This, I realized reading the piece, is how I experience burnout. I have lived in the space for a long time–not in all aspects of my life, but enough to make an impact. Whether it was struggling in a toxic job, working the hours necessary to make it as a full-time freelancer, or just the slog of budgeting aggressively to pay down debt, there have been points where I have felt like all I wanted to do was sleep for a year. But of course, that is not an option. For any of us! Life goes on, whether or not you have the energy to deal with it.

In my case, it’s a privilege problem in some ways, to be sure. My struggles are not the same as a woman in poverty, a single provider, in an abusive household, or any of the thousands of other circumstances much tougher women survive every single day. There are class elements of this, gender elements of this, privilege elements and racial elements. There is no such thing as a universal experience. But the sheer amount of statistical evidence that this feeling of burnout is a genuine phenomenon and a widespread thing are frankly too much to ignore.

“Errand paralysis.”

The description of errand paralysis really struck me because it was the individual symptom I fall prey to most easily.

You know that feeling you get when you look at your list of To Dos and honestly are unable to make yourself do even small tasks that should not overwhelm you, but do? I feel like I live in this mental space.

Peterson herself exclaims, “That term sounds ridiculous; that’s such a bourgeois problem…but I think that everyone has a to do list in their head, right, in their head, written out–whatever. And there’s a bottom half of that to do list–and everyone’s is different–but what happens is that that bottom half keeps not getting done and it weighs on you in a way that you internalize.”

I have found myself putting off incredibly basic chores that do not, on the surface, phase me in the slightest but that in the moment feel insurmountably hard. I have also been incredibly harsh on myself for this inability to get small tasks done. It’s a hamster wheel of anxiety and it has absolutely contributed to the darker periods of my overall mental state.

When the treadmill keeps going but the dopamine runs out.”

I also shared this previously, but the description above from Hank Green on burnout also resonated. As I said, the beautiful and difficult trouble with life is that it goes on. It doesn’t stop. And while I believe firmly that hard work is a component of success, I and others in my generation sometimes struggle to explain this general, pervasive feeling of demoralization. I believe this is why irony is our generational language in comedy, trolling is an unfortunate generational pastime, and we invented the shrug emoji. As the Peterson article delves into, we’re working hard: there is an abundance of evidence to back this up. But it feels (or is) for diminishing returns when compared to our parents or grandparents. The treadmill keeps going.

I don’t have any solutions to this, and obviously I’m still working out the reality of stress, money, ambition, career, and opportunity in my own life. But having this expanded framework of burnout has helped put a lot of past experience into perspective for me in a new way. I can now see when I was operating with nothing but fumes in the tank and what the long term toll of that was on my body and brain. I can see how choosing different habits, lifestyle options, or priorities has helped actually put some gas back into that depleted tank. I’m no longer burned out as I once was, but I know that the possibility is much closer than I would wish and one or two bad turns could put me back there again.

Have you burned out? How did it look and feel to you personally? What, if anything, has helped or are you still on the treadmill? 

The Upside of a Ceiling Collapse

“Any fool can write a book and most of them are doing it; but it takes brains to build a house.”
– Charles Fletcher Lummis

As some of you may recall, we dealt with a series of leaks in our building over the summer which, since we are on the ground floor, our apartment took the brunt of. A steady stream of water flowed through our walls and ceilings until finally about a quarter of our bedroom ceiling came down on us (literally) and our master bathroom was damaged so badly that we had to turn the majority of the electricity off in the room to safely access the area. It’s been really frustrating to deal with several months of insurance people, repair work plans which couldn’t start until the new year, and just generally feeling like our living space was compromised and could get worse at any minute.

Thankfully the repairs have started, though it’s not all rosy. We’re sleeping in our living room (again), while our master bedroom is effectively gutted and rebuilt. We’re using our second bathroom (and thanking our lucky stars that we have one), but the showerhead in it just broke for the second time. There is some kind of water damage in every single room of the house so we are having to do repairs in a rotation so that we retain some kind of functional living space. I’m eyeing some of the repairs in the ceiling already because I’m worried the drip has started up again and my paranoia is in full swing. Basically everything is just harder than it needs to be right now.

But a few good things are coming out of this process!

We’ve built a relationship with our landlord instead of relying on the management firm to handle issues. We’ve also tried to demonstrate that we are conscientious tenants who are able to help manage a less than ideal scenario. We will have to decide whether to renew our lease this year or move again, and having a good relationship with our landlord is a definite reason to consider staying put–which would also be a much less stressful proposition!

We negotiated. Because we have lost the ability to live in whole rooms of our apartment for weeks at a time over the past few months, we were able to negotiate on temporary rent reduction, which has enabled us to make larger payments towards debt.

It’s compelled a few good habits and shake ups. There is nothing like the reality of impending building works which will compress your living space to make you seriously evaluate your wants and needs! Jeff went through his closet and got rid of damaged and stained items that he had already replaced with better pieces. We both also identified a bag of items to donate to a trusted charity, and prioritized a few items that needed dry cleaning or a tailor. The journey towards less but better continues!

We also became a lot better at forgoing big weekend cleaning sessions (impossible due to the amount of dust in the air and closed of rooms) in favor of smaller and more regular tidy ups.

We’re styling. Our apartment was painted three mismatched colors in different rooms, none of which correspond with one another, before we moved in. We’re talking lavender, gray, and seafoam green walls. While the height of privilege problems, because we didn’t have exact paint reference to repaint damaged walls in the same hues, I got the landlord’s permission to do a nice neutral gray throughout the whole apartment. Well, except the second bedroom/storage closet. That’s staying seafoam green. Alas.

We evaluated. Going back the issue of whether or not we will have to move, we’ve had a chance to review our budgets and consider what our life would really be like if we chose to live in a smaller space or in a different location. Could we find the same square footage and amenities for a better price? What is our physical set up really worth to us? We love our neighborhood, but do we want to live here another three years? We don’t have all the answers to these questions, but it’s valuable to be thinking of this now rather than when we’re up against the wire. The last time we moved it was with very little warning and it’s an experience I’d strongly prefer not to repeat!

We’re still in the middle of this work and there is still plenty of time for stuff to go wrong. Meanwhile, we’re stressed and cramped and trying to recapture the romance of childhood when camping in the living room was a treat and not a project. But if we get some of these upsides in exchange, that will make it worthwhile.

Four Burners

“It is really wonderful how much resilience there is in human nature. Let any obstructing cause, no matter what, be removed in any way, even by death, and we fly back to first principles of hope and enjoyment.” 
― Bram Stoker, Dracula

Pull up a chair, kittens, and let’s chat about how you prioritize your time and emotional resources. This has been on my mind lately as I’ve taken on new work, observed friends go through highs and low, cheered triumphs, and commiserated during setbacks.

Pandora Sykes and Dolly Alderton had a discussion on their podcast, The High Low, which touched on the notion of “having it all,” as being antiquated or inadequate to the various tradeoffs women (and indeed everyone) make in navigating modern life. A part of the conversation stuck with me in which they referenced a piece by author David Sedaris which, paraphrased, goes along the lines of: “A person has four hobs: work, family, friends, and health, and you can only have two or three of them going at any one point before things start boiling over.” It’s called the Four Burners theory and I have not been able to stop thinking about it for days now.

I think it’s made such an impression on me because it strikes me as generally accurate, but it also was a handy way to summarize a lot of my own thinking and struggles. In fact, looking back over recent years, I can see exactly which hobs I’ve had cooking and at what heat levels. I can tell when I’ve tried to have too many going at once and I can also tell which ones I’ve switched off.

I’ve called 2018 my Year of Health because I’ve made dedicated time and space in it to improve my wellbeing. It’s been a roaring success in many ways, which I’m sure I’ll get to writing about as 2019 looms, but I have switched off other areas of my life to provide the time and attention that I needed to get healthier. Some aspects of my friends and family relationships have changed as a result–I am less social than I used to be and treasure a smaller number of close friendships more rather than trying to constantly make new ones.

My work burner has been on full throttle for a couple of years now…because it’s had to be. London is not a place in which you have the luxury of getting complacent and as I’ve made certain choices around freelancing and contracting, I have had to stay hustling. Other passion projects have taken a back seat as I’ve needed to establish and reestablish myself over and over again, other priorities have had to give way in order for my work (and bill-paying) ambitions to be realized. I’ve had some amazing jobs and opportunities as a result…but might I have done something different? Or would I have needed to focus on my health the way I have if a few toxic scenarios hadn’t bled from my work life into my personal and wreaked havoc with my wellbeing?

The trouble with this metaphor is that I think it’s fundamentally correct–at least for me–in that it honestly deals with humans beings as somewhat limited creatures. I want to turn other burners on, but know I might have to switch others off first. Which do you pick?

I don’t have the answers, but I am thinking about this a lot at the moment.

Which burners do you have “on” at the moment? Which have you switched off, recently or in the past, and why?

Weekend Adulting

“Cleanliness is not next to godliness. It isn’t even in the same neighborhood. No one has ever gotten a religious experience out of removing burned-on cheese from the grill of the toaster oven.” 
― Erma Bombeck

A question for you kittens, inspired by a workplace conversation this week where most of my colleagues were swapping previews of exciting weekend plans and the most exciting thing I could say I was doing was cleaning more plaster out of my carpet. Are weekends deliberately fun for you, or more purposefully productive?

I ask because here is a  by no means comprehensive list of all the terribly grown up matters I saw to this weekend:

Cleaned makeup brushes, because those things get disgusting really quickly.

Handwashed jumpers and knits.

Dry cleaned Jeff’s suits and some clothing that was smothered in plaster when part of our bedroom ceiling came down on them…wince.

Did several loads of laundry.

Changed bedding.

Watered the plants.

Cleaned the kitchen. Four times, because it’s a thankless, joyless, Sisysphean task…

Caught up on reading and podcasts.

Put away some warm weather clothing, unpacked some cooler weather clothing, reorganized and color-coded my knitwear and designated a bunch of stuff for the To Be Donated pile. Possibly the most on-brand activity I could have done, to be honest.

Replaced athletic shoes and underwear (both within the limits of my No Buy spending freeze).

Cooked.

Went to the gym.

Most of my life admin takes place on the weekends, whether that’s arranging holiday travel plans, cleaning our apartment after a week of neglect, or grocery shopping. Absolutely I do fun stuff as well, but as I’ve gotten older most of my fun activities have actually shifted to weekday evenings–drinks with friends, dinner dates with Jeff, and long calls with my girls in the States–while the weekends have slowly morphed into a mix of much valued quiet time and unexciting but necessary chores to keep me steady and stable.

I have friends who are amazing at keeping their life admin constantly updated in the background so that their weekends can be devoted to fun (if not outright hedonism). Others are more like me and prefer to do chores in dedicated batches.

So which are you, and why?

Bank Holiday Thoughts: Long Term Goals

“Without leaps of imagination or dreaming, we lose the excitement of possibilities. Dreaming, after all is a form of planning.” 
― Gloria Steinem

Gather round, ducklings, for a rambling post of a topic that’s been on my mind lately and that I did some thinking about as I sat in the (rare!) British sun for hours this past weekend.

Scene of the crime.

For someone who is a Grade A organizer and planner, I’ve come to the realization that thinking in terms of long term goals is not something I have ever been very good at. I can project about 3 years out at a max but beyond that is difficult for me to conceptualize.

I’m pretty sure this has to do with being a military brat who never lived anywhere longer than 3 years until I went to university. Growing up, my life was routinely segmented off by frequent moving dates and it’s only in my 30s that I’m understanding how this may affect my worldview. In some ways, it’s deeply positive! Barring personal or natural disaster, you can survive anything for a set period of time with an end date so I think I developed a robust ability to endure less then ideal circumstances and have a genuine attitude of “this too shall pass” to most challenges.

On the other hand, things like 5-10 year plans have never really played a starring role because they have never been or felt relevant to my circumstances. If I was eventually going to be in another school, another state, or on another continent, it never seemed like a good idea to conceptualize things that required any kind of permanence. Again, in my early 30s, I’m only really starting to understand some of the connectivity of this to my life choices. And also again, in a lot of ways this is positive! It’s allowed me and my partner to dream big and take chances that we might not have had we organized our lives in more “traditional” ways, at least according to how we grew up. But it’s also meant that I’ve made a lot of non-strategic choices over the years, some of which have had long lasting ripple effects. Frankly there have been whole months and years that I felt like I was “winging it” as an adult. I still do!

But I’m feeling myself go through a mentality switch these days where I’m starting to be able to conceptualize a future a few years down the road. I’m doing work I enjoy and can see myself doing for a long time, Jeff is in a good (if still busy) place with his career as well. Knock on wood, but it feels as though we are slowly moving out of the “hustle and grind” phase of our work lives into the “work smart” phase where we will (hopefully) begin to build our savings and make the big decisions adults make around where to make a permanent home, what that home looks like, and who we want in it.

I’m still pretty present-focused in that I’m starting to feel like a lot of hard work is paying off. We live in one of the most amazing cities on earth, we’ve put the time and energy into our careers and it’s starting to pay off, our marriage remains strong, we’re healthy–all pretty damn good things. Let’s be honest, it’s taken a decade to get to this point and we’re still not as insulated from shock as I’d like to be….but we’re getting there.

And so, slowly, things in the more distant future are starting to come into focus. We spent some of the bank holiday weekend planning out the rest of the year in terms of work and budgets, and even did some planning for holidays. We’ve learned how important those are to us over the past two years and how grateful we are to live somewhere and in a culture that encourages us to take them rather than making us feel guilty for doing so. We picked some mutual goals to work towards, and I’ve got my own weird and fun projects going on in the background to keep me entertained and grounded. I’m looking forward. And at the moment, things feel good.

Anyone else gone through this particular transition? Any wisdom to share? 

How do we feel about social media these days?

“Distracted from distraction by distraction” 
― T.S. Eliot

A genuine question, kittens. I ask because Katarina and I had a delightful hour and a half long conversation on the topic the other day and I have not been able to get the conversation out of my head. I joked about it when I mused what I’d like to give up in 2018 because I didn’t quite mean it…but didn’t quite not mean it either.

Last year I started logging out of Facebook for extended periods of time. I don’t really enjoy it as a platform and haven’t for years, but I’ve kept it because it’s an easy way for people all over the world to keep in touch with me. A military brat and an expat, my friends and acquaintances are scattered across the globe and I justify keeping my Facebook account to make it easy to connect with them…but maybe I need to be more honest about the fact that most of the friends I keep in touch with regularly, I keep in touch with through other means. My best friends and I talk, text and email weekly. I have a lively correspondent base and Facebook isn’t how I keep in touch with them. I’m holding on to it for a purpose that I don’t actually use in real life. My logic is flawed.

Less personally, I don’t really like Facebook anymore. My feed is a constant stream of advertisements and wannabe viral videos and memes. For a long while I watched and uptick in people sharing content I didn’t like or agree with (this was a few years ago) so I started culling my list of “friends” until it actually represented friends. From 2014-2106 the content turned political and the tone turn downright vicious so I went through another culling period and started muting people whose views troubled or angered me.

In other words, I became part of the problem so routinely ascribed to Facebook these days: that it shows us content we already agree or align with, reinforcing our views.

I’m now trying actively to correct this by widening how I consume media, and Facebook is not the way I do that. I’ve subscribed to newspapers that I previously enjoyed mostly for free (got to support journalism now more than ever), and I make a deliberate effort to read commentators and platforms or publications that represent different views than me. I might not share them as much because, hey: my blog, my rules, but I do read them.

Instagram is a platform I still enjoy, even though it’s owned by Facebook and I haven’t liked a lot of the changes that have been made to it as a platform (a non-chronological feed for one thing). But it’s a place where I find beautiful images and interesting people and so it’s still a fun thing for me. I follow friends, a lot of beauty and style editors and writers, vintage sellers, some bloggers who I either know or have interacted with in some way over the years, and a few theme feeds that give me a much needed daily dose of pretty.

Twitter I’m torn over. I didn’t really use Twitter all that regularly until the 2016 campaign and now I feel a bit like a junkie who needs it to keep up with what’s going on in the world. I subscribe mostly to journalists, editors, writers, bloggers, and podcasters whose content I enjoy, and politicians whose views are relevant to mine or to my life. But let’s be honest, as a whole, Twitter is a hilariously overly-dramatic place. If you acknowledge it and don’t believe everything you read, you can enjoy the ride. But if, like me, you’re a person who tends to take a lot of things very (or too) seriously, it will convince you that the world is on the brink of self-destruction or that people are mostly garbage if you give it too much of your time. It’s not a platform that encourages good mental health or stress management.

As for all the other social media platforms, I’m either barely or not at all active on them. Bad blogger!

I’m not sure what this thinking will coalesce into but it’s an idea I can’t really get out of my head. Katarina and I had a lively discussion about whether social media will stay as relevant or how it may change in coming years. I don’t think you can write it off entirely, especially given the current political landscape of the world, but it’s been interesting to watch how it’s been leveraged or monetized past the point of authenticity for so many people. We also chatted about blogging and how that medium has changed over the past decade, but that’s another rambling post altogether!

I think I’m going to keep off of Facebook for as long as I can avoid logging in. Other platforms I’m still up in the air about. How about you guys, how do you use social media and how has your use changed over recent year? Is it weird I’m thinking about this so much, or do you guys ponder this stuff to? Lend me your thoughts!

Editing

“Be a good editor. The Universe needs more good editors, God knows.” 
― Kurt Vonnegut Jr., Letters

I don’t always do a good job of remembering resolutions, but I have to say, picking a “theme” for this year has been a remarkable success. My mindset around a lot of life elements has taken a turn for the healthier and I’m in a more balanced place than I’ve been in years. I really believe that this has come from some purposeful editing of my life. I’ve gotten much better at saying no, worked hard to remove or improve things that contributed to my stress and anxiety problems, and become a lot more intentional about my money and consumption choices. It’s been a very successful project, and I’m already thinking towards how I want to frame 2018.

“Less but better” doesn’t have a uniform definition for me. For instance, we are currently living in our largest and most expensive home to date, but on the other hand, after 10 years of marriage and most of those spent in cheap digs, the decision to rent a nice apartment was a considered one. We are also furnishing it ourselves, meaning we are spending money, but we are taking that process slowly and very judiciously. Our home is still far less furnished than I would like…but we have chosen every piece in it together because we loved it, and not because it was the cheapest option on Craigslist. I love the idea of editing a home, carefully selecting what I put in it and not rushing to fill empty space just because I have it.

Stress levels: all time low. This time last year my nails were chewed to the quick.

Meanwhile, on the work front, I’m actually working more but in a better way. Going back to freelance and contracting has been a great decision. I have not only opened a lot of doors and opportunities, but I have finally discovered a balance between work and identity: what I do vs. who I am. This has not always been the case with me, as I tend to throw myself into things like causes, projects, and roles wholeheartedly, allowing the lines between them and myself to blur. Surprisingly, given the nature of freelance and contract work and how it can divide your attention, I’ve found that because I’ve been able to choose my work, I’ve therefore been able to choose (i.e. edit) how I direct my energy. This has also helped me train my brain to better separate work from my personal life and I’m more aggressive about holidays and an overall work/life balance. In other words, I may be working more, but my stress levels are lower than they’ve been in years.

Let’s talk stuff, generally. I had a whole month long blog project dedicated to my closet and bathroom shelf this year, and I continue to be really happy with where it’s at. I’ve actually shopped and bought less this year than I have probably since my early 20s. Granted what I have bought has tended to be more expensive, but I’ve been fascinated to physically feel the urgency and desire to buy things fade as the year has gone on. There’s plenty of reporting out there to suggest that brain chemistry can be affected by purchasing, and I wonder if I’ve been able to ween myself off an internal drug I didn’t realize I was on. I’ve been slowly editing my closet down and I now think I own less clothing than I did when we first moved to London on an item-for-item basis. What I do own, I wear more and I love more. The same goes with beauty; I’ve been focused on using what I already own instead of craving new makeup and skincare items. I’m actually in the midst of a shopping freeze (my second this year) in an effort to actually use up cosmetics and potions before I allow myself even to replace beloved items. I’ve done a few edits of my shelf throughout the year and donated or gifted a few items that I didn’t use enough to justify keeping. Maybe it’s a welcome byproduct of getting older and more self-confident, but I’ve never been more pleased with the woman in the mirror.

When it comes to food and overall health, I haven’t done as well as I would have wished. We are eating out less (yay, us!) but ordering in more (kind of defeats the purpose, C….). We have periods of focus on health, but other periods of intense laziness. One thing I’ve realized is how much I require a routine in order to stay committed to food, exercise, and wellbeing goals. I am not a natural health bunny, I do no default to healthiness–I default to deep friend potatoes and Netflix and am self-aware enough to acknowledge this. It turns out that once I’m in a routine, I am pretty good at maintaining it but if something knocks me off course (two straight weeks of houseguests for instance, or a particularly uneven month at work), I fall well and truly off the wagon and it takes herculean effort to climb back aboard. I haven’t figured out quite how to overcome this yet, but I suspect the solution will lie in editing out things that I use as excuses or distractions.

This has been a much better year than 2016 for me, and I’m feeling pretty positive about 2018 at the moment. It’s a good place to be.