Burned Out

Have you ever felt burned out? Like you just can’t stand to get out of bed to face one more day at work? You don’t hate your job, you just don’t know why you’re doing it, or what the benefit is (beyond the financial). Perhaps you fantasize about quitting, cashing out, moving to a little town in the midwest and raising cattle.

Yeah. Me too.

A recent New York Magazine feature on burnout got me thinking about it again. I’ve experienced job dissatisfaction before, and have even quit jobs without having something to go to. (Not a wise choice, generally speaking, unless you come from money or can go back to mommy.) I was just burned out. The mere thought of going into work made me want to crawl under my covers and never leave.

Burnout made me leave New York. I just didn’t want to deal with it anymore.

I’ve been at my job over five years now, more than twice as long as I’ve been at any other job, ever. That’s twenty years of work, fifteen of which I’ve been at jobs two years or less. (About eight of those fifteen years have been consulting or freelancing, so one could (generously) say I worked for myself for longer. One would have to be feeling very generous.)

After more than five years, I think I’m beginning to feel the first symptoms of burnout. I still love the idea of what I do, and I generally get excited about doing the primary part of my job, but I don’t have much influence over what we do. My team is, for the most part, very talented, and don’t need a day-to-day manager, so much of what I do is more cross-functional planning and thinking.

But since I don’t have a team dedicated to helping me implement my plans and ideas, much of what I come up with ends up in a void, and the stuff I can get done is incremental and derivative. It’s slightly improved versions of the things I was doing three, four years ago.

One of the people in the New York Magazine feature describes his feelings:

I felt somewhat bored, and somewhat depleted. I’d said all I wanted to say. I guess I lost the sense that it was important.

It can be tough to keep doing the same stuff every day. How did our parents do it? How did they stay at the same job for fifteen, twenty, thirty years, and I can’t stay at one for five without feeling I need to be doing something different?

Heck, how do some of my co-workers do it? There are folks in my department who’ve been there for fifteen years. Most people have been there at least ten. Just a year or two ago, one retired after being at the company almost twenty-five years. I suppose it’s generational. Everyone I work with who’s been there longer than me is in their mid- to late-fourties, at least.

Part of this feeling of burnout is, I’m sure, the cost of living in the Bay Area. When you make the money I do, you expect that you will have more chances to do stuff that’s just fun, but instead I worry about owning a house and buying a new stove and putting in new toilets and the squeaking floor and noisy pipes and I think, damn, this would be so much cheaper to deal with in North Carolina.

I’ve idly thought about taking a month off from work, living somewhere other than here for that time. Somewhere very different. Spain. Australia. Italy. Then I think about how much work being in a foreign country would be, and I think… San Diego? Santa Monica? Miami? Would that be different enough?

My company used to offer sabbaticals. No longer. And, of course, I don’t quite have four weeks of vacation saved up (nor would my job let me take them at one time even if I did, I’m sure).

The New York Magazine feature opens with this:

People who are suffering from burnout tend to describe the sensation in metaphors of emptiness—they’re a dry teapot over a high flame, a drained battery that can no longer hold its charge.

I am in definite need of a recharge.