It’s another day at the office. The usual 9 to 5, although ever since I started earning a salary, it’s more like 9 to 6 or 7. I love my job. In fact, in the 10 plus years I’ve been working, it is the first job I have ever loved, the first job I actually respect my co-workers, and the first job I’m willing to dedicate extra time for growth and advancement.
But there are also times when I despise my job, when I am overcome with negative thoughts and I wonder if all my time and commitment is actually worth it. I’ve never been truly valued in any professional job I’ve had. I’ve always been at the bottom of the totem pole. And although I now have two degrees and earning more, I am still young, and still at the bottom. A part of me wonders if this will always be the case, if due to this economy and my age, I’m destined to be at the bottom, forever hoping, but never quite breaking that glass ceiling.
Silly, I’m sure, but we’ve all experienced burn out. I’m usually good until the two-year mark, and then I realize how much I’m not valued, how the benefits aren’t worth it, and how much I don’t care about my performance anymore. So I find a new job or a new career. I’m happy for a while, and then it starts all over again.
So here I am, almost 28-years-old, and I am struggling with burn out. I don’t want to get to that point. I love my job. I love my benefits. I love living near DC. I just moved here. I haven’t even celebrated my one-year anniversary yet. So what is going on? Why am I struggling to stay committed and passionate?
It could be the long work hours. I don’t have to stay to late every night, but I do because I want to take on these new projects. I want to move up. I don’t want to give up the things I am passionate about for the administrative and mediocre tasks I have to do. And there is no one below me to delegate these tasks to.
I’m not the only one. Plenty of people in my department are overworked and overwhelmed. But we’re coming back from a hell of an economy. We all hope things will get better, that resources will increase, and that help is on the way. So for now, we just do the best we can do.
But the question is – how do I prevent burn out? How do I keep myself from getting to the point where the fight is no longer worth it and I’d rather find a new job than keep struggling? I hated my last job to the point that I walked in with resentment and then walked out with double that resentment. I spent a good part of a year searching for a new job, a better job. That wasn’t easy, either.
Based on my short work-life experiences, there are certain guidelines I follow to ensure this doesn’t happen again, that I don’t burn out.
- Always challenge yourself. This is very important. Even if you’re at the bottom of the totem pole and feel overwhelmed by administrative tasks, make sure you have something challenging on your plate. It won’t be easy, but it will make you feel more valuable and satisfied.
- Make your supervisor aware of your workload. There may be nothing your supervisor can do about it, but knowing that you’re working overtime or feeling overwhelmed will not only make them aware of their resource capacity, but might also give you some help down the road. Just try not to complain. It’s better to be realistic than obnoxious.
- Take a mental health day. We all say this, but sometimes it’s necessary. Make sure you’re making time for your personal life, and the things you love to do. If you really aren’t feeling committed to your work, then take some time off, even if only to catch up on sleep. No one expects you to be perfect 24/7.
- Ask for help. It never hurts to ask. Even if you’re short-staffed, and everyone else is just as overloaded as you are, you might be surprised at the empathy that’s shown. And you might even get some help out of it. Don’t feel like you have to take on everything yourself. Ask questions – maybe a mentor has some advice and a more efficient method for getting things done.
- Always take a lunch break. Yes, sometimes we’re so busy this isn’t possible, but when it comes to your mental health, it’s vital. Even if it’s only a 10-minute walk around the building, take it. And eat something. Always eat something. You will feel better, and your co-workers will appreciate your happier self.
- Change your schedule. There’s no reason you always have to work the 9 to 5 (unless of course your boss requires that you work a specific schedule). Sleep in one day. Leave early another. Change it up. Take a different route to work. Make it seem as if your days are different. It may not seem like much, but believe me, your brain will appreciate it.
- Be realistic. Remember, you are only one person. Recognize your capacities. It does not mean you’re a failure. It means you’re human. No one expects you to be perfect all the time. Give your 100 percent the majority of the time, maybe even 110 or 120, but that just means you can give 60 or 80 percent other times. Relax. Not everything in life is centered around work.
- Be social. Reach out to your colleagues. If someone invites you to a happy hour or lunch, go. You will always feel better in numbers, and maybe you can share some of your stress and remember that you’re not alone. A support system always helps.
This list may be geared more towards the idealistic, perfectionist worker, but it’s definitely a reflection of a few lessons I’ve learned over the years that have helped keep me sane in the everyday grind.
If you have additional rules of your own, feel free to add them in the comments section below.