burnout, productivity, toxic productivity, organisation

In 2018 I was ready to take on a huge challenge – whilst being nervous, I had a business idea that I really believed in, and I was going to launch that business alongside my 10-12h/day job. No biggie – f*ck it, I was going to do this and I was going to do it alone.

I started the year with a huge burst of energy – I was working hard. I’d work for hours and hours in the office, leave in the evening to go to the gym, come home and cook a quick dinner, then it began – working through the night. I’d be working and sending e-mails out so late that I would more often than not be falling asleep whilst I was typing, and realise in hindsight that I had been writing a lot of gibberish. My weekends were filled with meetings, writing applications for free funding competitions, or shopping for things the business would need. I’d go to any corner of London to get what I needed. I was on it.

At the same time as powering through on this project, I suddenly started to feel as though I was going through a strange, quarter life crisis. I was 23 and in a position in life that you’d think I’d be pretty proud of, one that I should have been pretty proud of – I was living and working in Canary Wharf, in a well paying investment banking role, in a stable relationship, with great friends and family. What was there to be upset about?

Just browsing through the internet and taking in everything social media had to offer definitely had me believing that I had a lot to be dissatisfied about. For one, I didn’t have my own thriving business and I wasn’t a hashtag CEO, plus, the internet had told me that doing a corporate 9-5 was a sole sucking and wasteful activity, and at the start of the year, I didn’t feel as though I was out and travelling the world as I should be… which everyone online seemed to be doing.

I was not happy with where I was in life, as illogical as that would sound to many people.

So I piled the pressure on to myself. In my opinion, I had to be working 24/7 and have my life organised to a T. I needed to keep hanging out with friends to an absolute miniscule minimum – because trying to be successful meant you didn’t have time for friends. I needed to not spend my money on anything expensive – this needed to be piled into my business that I was willing to take a risk on, not spent on a new bag. And if I was going abroad, I needed to have my notes with me at the pool – because I shouldn’t have been wasting even a second of spare time that should be on my business. This was the formula to success… right?

I judged every inch of my life extremely harshly, and worked myself completely into the ground. I was living in such a state of stress that I would often wake up with my heart feeling as though it was in genuine, physical pain. I was chasing after social media validation and judging myself totally based on what others were doing. It’s probably one of the closest I’ve ever come to feeling genuinely depressed.

Amazingly, some great opportunities came to me in the second half of that year – I bought an apartment with my family, spent a week exploring Santorini & Mykonos in Greece, was interviewed by BBC Newsbeat and was even posted up onto the Gymshark website. The validation I felt from such achievements gave me a temporary boost, but the drug wore off quickly. 2019 hit, and I experienced burnout for the first time.

What did burnout feel like for me? Well, I didn’t want to do anything except for sleep and go out with my friends. I was so mentally drained. I was sick and tired of piling my weekends with productive tasks so I stopped doing it. I put my business on the back burner aside from 1 funding competition and a few meetings. And for the first time in a long time, I stopped feeling guilty for not doing “something” with with every spare moment I had. In some way, I felt like this rejuvenated me, and as the year went on and we started to move in 2020, I was ready to re-take on the idea of productivity without making it so toxic.

As 2019 went on, I started to experience the most personal growth I really have ever experienced at one time in my life. I think it was partly just getting older, but also partly due to some of the influences I had in my life as the time. In the office, I was taking huge steps up, and in my personal life, I started to drown out the noise of social media, worry less about what others were doing, and just focus on myself. I did, and still do, try to make such a conscious effort not to let external validation drive any of the decisions I make; and I try to take the “hustle culture” nature of the internet with a pinch of salt.

The personal growth I started to make in the last few months of 2019 only took off in 2020 as I hit my mid 20s. It also started to be recognised by a lot of people around me, and since then, has awarded me even more opportunities. Personal growth in terms of really, truly having confidence in myself, and not feeling like I need to prove to absolutely anyone why that is the case. Finally striking a good balance of being productive and organised (it’s just in my veins), to unapologetically enjoying my life. I told somebody recently that there is SOMETHING that happens when you turn 25… they told me to wait until 35.

Indeed I want to and will continue to achieve bigger and greater things, but I can finally say whole heartedly that I like the path my life has gone down and dare I say it – I’m a little bit proud of myself too!

So what did I learn from burning out?

More than anything – to take it easy sometimes. Drown out the noise of social media and stay lazer focussed on what I am doing myself. I feel like I’m overall more productive in how I approach life now, than when I was trying to fit everything into 24 hours as I did back in 2018. It’s definitely a maturity that comes with age and more experience. Also – I learned to always take time to enjoy the fruits of my own labour, especially at a time when my responsibilities are minor. What are we doing all of this work for if we can’t sometimes take a moment to enjoy it?

Photo: Unsplash
  1. Yes, you are absolutely right. Sometimes you are exhausted in the process of reaching your goal. Why put in so much effort if you don’t enjoy the process? So you’re 100% right. You have to give yourself time to relax.

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