Recently, I have gone through a loss. A close coworker passed away suddenly and it has affected me in ways I was not prepared for – I have spiraled down this existential crisis of what does it all mean. I am certain I will never really know the larger answer but will have to figure out what it means to me. She would constantly tell me – “You’re not married to this job – take a break.” And I would always just okay her off as I dove into one project after another. My coworker -her passing – threw a stick in my wheels, completely throwing me off the track – forcing me to face my unhealthy relationship with my work and question what kind of life I want.
When I began college, I always told myself I would only go into a field that I love. And I have chosen a career I love, but I have thrown myself completely into it, where I only see myself through my job.
Currently, I am working my full-time job as curator and I have two contract jobs as well. Due to dusty time management skills that I used in grad school, I began working all the time – after work, on my weekends. This is mainly due to doing my own projects in addition to the three jobs I am currently involved in. Also, still being in quarantine began to make me feel trapped moving just between home and work and working non-stop in both places. Just because you love what you do, does not mean it cannot burn you out. Because I am exceptionally stubborn, I had to learn this the hard way.
My burnout was not something formed within the last year, but has been building up since I graduated in 2018 due to my need to prove myself as a historian. I felt insecure for not having a PhD, and did everything I could to prove that my work was just as competent as the historians I looked up to. I remember visiting a professor after graduating – very excited to share all of the work I had been doing. At one point in the conversation they asked what I do during my leisure time. The question threw me through a loop, I could not really answer the question. I should have known then I was on a grim road. Over the past several years my identity has become more intertwined with my career without my realizing it.
The symptoms of burnout escalated over time. The side effects consisted of waking up in the middle of the night and being up for hours stressing about work – racing thoughts. I would also obsess over making mistakes – checking over a completed task over and over again, making work difficult to do and cause me to become exhausted. Making a mistake would make me feel like an utter and complete failure that I would be upset about it for days. Every mistake was a fear that I would lose my credibility as a curator and historian due to me placing all of my self-worth and value on my career. All I could talk about was work, I had nothing else. While I love my job, I honestly was not happy. This is not a healthy relationship and has led me to reevaluate how I approach work but also figure out who I am outside of being a historian.
I have stepped back from my personal projects for a bit until the contract jobs are complete. I also have reorganized my schedule so that I do not have to work as much after getting home from work and during my weekends. When I get home, I work a little on the house and I dive into some old loves – binge watching Inuyasha, sketching works by Amy Brown and Brian Froud, and I have begun reading the Interview with the Vampire Series – I am fully aware I am reverting back to my early teen years. I have only started this for a week or two now – but I can already feel the difference! Work is beginning to not feel as difficult or heavy anymore, but more importantly I am feeling happiness that is unrelated to work and finding other things to talk about. While I am looking forward to diving back into my personal projects, I am really enjoying discovering who I am outside of work. My friend would always tell me “you are going to think back on the advice of this crazy old lady and think she was right” – and that she was!