Burnout happens slowly, then all at once. Snap. At least, that how it was for me. And for Kate.
Recently I’ve been interviewing people about their burnout experiences, curious to explore how it plays out for different people around the world. Last week I spoke with Kate, who did the same yoga teacher training as me in Utrecht back in 2011. Kate rocks her bright blonde curls and an epic collection of tatts. She’s articulate, smart and sassy. She’s magnificent. The world needs sassy woman.
Kate described how her burnout had been simmering for about five years before things came to a head. Then she leant in closer to her computer to articulate the moment that stopped her in her burnt out tracks. The moment something snapped.
“I’d been working at a prominent clothing brand and was preparing for a huge fall fashion show. I picked up the phone to discuss a booking with a famous catwalk photographer, asked him a straightforward question and received an unbelievably rude response.”
In that moment, she felt an almost audible snap within her body.
Her first instinct was to throw the phone against the wall and scream. Instead she calmly hung up, pushed back her office chair, announced to her colleagues “I can’t do this anymore”, and left.
She told me, “after years of caring so much about outcomes, productivity, performance and meeting the enormous raft of responsibilities I was expect to handle, in that moment I gave zero fucks. I no longer cared at all.”
Not everyone who goes through a burnout has this snap moment. Many simmer at a low heat, burning out slowly for years, unable to determine even in retrospect when burnout started or peaked. There are millions of people around the world right now to whom this applies, and COVID has made our existing burnout epidemic even worse.
As I listened to Kate describe this experience, I recognized it immediately.
I was an associate in banking and finance at one of Europe’s most prestigious law firms and had (as usual) been working crazy hours on a number of huge transactions. It was a cold Friday night in late January, and I was due to fly to Nantes to visit my brother for the weekend. I worked until the literal last minute then jumped in…