Burnout & balance

This week

This week I felt more burnt-out than usual.

Maybe that's a strange thing to say. For a lot of the pandemic I've felt sort of continually exhausted: not tired, exactly. My interest in things has felt blunted. The joy I find in hobbies is fleeting.

The simple answer is that the psychic strain of living through a global pandemic just does this sort of thing to a person. Not seeing other people for weeks on end, not leaving the house, constantly worrying that you're going to transmit a lethal disease to someone that you love without knowing it—all of this takes a massive mental toll that will blunt the hobby-joy of the most devoted hobbyist.

This answer is almost certainly not wrong. At the same time, I know that I'm not making it easier for myself, since I have neither hobbies nor boundaries between work and the rest of my life—meaning that, in this midst of the pandemic, sat alone in the office at my house, my work is the be-all & end-all of my personal emotional barometer.

Work life balance

I remember back in high school when my teenage emotions overwhelmed me (& it was often), I'd dig into studying to level myself out. Work has always had a leveling influence on me. You put some stuff onto a todo list; you apply some effort and let time pass; you check the things off the todo list: you are successful.

This is maybe unhealthy. The result is that I've turned into an adult who identifies profoundly with my career. I say maybe unhealthy because I think there are plenty of people who both identify profoundly with their careers and can manage that relationship. I think I follow a lot of them on Twitter.

(Although there has been a significant uptick in posts about burnout from these people, so maybe their relationships with work are just as unhealthy as mine.)

For me, at any rate, a bad day at work equates with a bad day full stop. Producing less-than-perfect work means that I am fundamentally less-than-perfect. Spending a day sitting around watching YouTube—even spending an evening without trying to learn something new—is a waste of my life. Is a personal failure.

I know that these things don't necessarily follow logically. In fact, they certainly don't. A lot of the time, I'm just having a bad day. A lot of the time there are some extenuating factors outside of my control. And regardless, taking time off to recharge is a normal and vital part of life. I know all of this. I will advise other people to take time out when they feel the way that I do now, and happily absolve them of the same guilt that I feel today. But it's possible for me to realise that the way that I feel doesn't make a ton of logical sense and to still feel that way anyway.

I need to do something else

If you know me, you know that I have a pretty broad range of interests—I try to know just enough about something to keep up in conversation with an enthusiast. Whether it's mechanical tinkering on cars, or playing the guitar, or strength training, or the outdoors. I spend some time keeping up on these things, but I don't identify with them remotely the way that I identify with work.

You'll hear talk on the Internet about T-shaped people: like a T, they have a shallow understanding of a broad variety of skills, and a very deep understanding of one. I've striven to be very much T-shaped. And work is the leg of the T.

This is probably not great for me. Because if I cease to find joy in the leg of the T, there's nowhere for me to turn to. I know how a car works, but I have almost no experience actually wrenching on one. I can play a few chords on the guitar, but producing music doesn't generate the same spark in me that it does in others. And the pandemic has not helped.

Finding balance might well consist of adding another leg to my T-shaped person (π-shaped, maybe?). I've got a couple of ideas for trying to reorient myself, but I don't want to write about any of them here because I know I'll come back and kick myself for not pursuing the ones that I just won't have the time or energy for. Having a generalised plan forward is a big help, though. I love the low-current glow of feeling that there's a road ahead.


Not much to report this week. Got my second vaccine on Saturday, which is one fewer thing to worry about. We're planning a exciting overnight walk this upcoming weekend in the North York Moors, for which I've taken off Friday. We watched Promising Young Woman on Saturday night and it made me feel awful, in a good way. I watched a lot of Olympics coverage. Things are still happening.