So let’s talk about a taboo topic in personal finance: BURNOUT.
A couple of months ago I was working a full time job (read 9-10 hours per day), actively engaging in a search for a new job, commuting 2+ hours per day, working out, working shifts for a catering company on the weekends until 2am, volunteering weekly, and writing a blog with weekly posts. I was listening to a lot of The Side Hustle Show and other personal finance podcasts at the time, and I had started to get the idea that everyone was just hustling till they drop. I had really absorbed what John Kapetaneas said on So Money about paying down his 100+k in student loans: that the progress you will make is all about how uncomfortable you are willing to get. I had formed the impression that everyone other than me was somehow never resting, while managing to have multiple successful side-hustles on top of their full-time jobs and other commitments, and that I therefore probably didn’t really need to get sleep or rest. It sounds crazy, but I think that falling into this mental trap might not be that uncommon, especially among the type of driven, type-A folks who are interested in personal finance. This is an especially silly type of thinking for me to have developed though, because I have a Master’s degree in clinical psychology, and I know better. Nonetheless, I carried along this way for a while. Eventually though, as will always happen when you put yourself through extended high levels of stress, your body step in and will shut you down. For me what this meant was starting to get sick, to get colds and other random physical ailments, and to start having high levels of anxiety that I could no longer successfully ignore. Honestly though, I still didn’t figure it out. It wasn’t until I finally secured a new job in my field and was reading training materials about a presentation I would be giving on mental health that I realized what was going on. I was reading through a page of the presentation that detailed the symptoms of burnout and thinking, “Oh, I have that one…..oh, I have that one too…..oh crap I have them all.” It was a real wakeup call, even though in truth, I had really been struggling for a while. Let me clarify struggling: it’s not that I wasn’t able to fulfill my tasks, or that any of the balls were dropping, but I was just in so much distress that even though I was fulfilling all my commitments, just getting through each day was very difficult and painful. It was difficult and painful because I was exhausted. I had no resources left but I was continually pushing through anyway. I am lucky that I recognized this before I got to a real breaking point, but that isn’t always the case for everyone.
So what did I do?
- I dropped the side hustles.
- I dropped the catering side hustle. It was really exhausting working until 2am every weekend, and it meant that I never had any real down time. This was really burning me out. I also realized that I was going to need all of my energy and mental and physical resources to perform the way I wanted to at my new job, and I wasn’t going to be able to give 100% if I was already burnt out from working all hours of the night every weekend. Honestly though, my new job was also such a pay raise that quitting the catering was basically a wash. That is, the income lost from catering was made up for by the increase in full-time salary, so this definitely helped make this choice a bit easier. However, I would have had to quit this side hustle either way because I was too burnt out to continue with it.
- I recognized false commitments.
- I took a look at all my commitments and recognized which ones were real and which ones were not. Obviously, weekly blog posts were a self-imposed commitment, and were therefore not actually pressing. There would be no serious, life-altering, or even minor consequences if I stopped posting weekly. Sometimes it can be helpful to have an honest look at the consequences of your deadlines and commitments. I bolded and underlined the word honest because it is the most important part of that sentence. Imagine me asking myself, “What will happen if you don’t post weekly?” I could be inclined to answer, “Well, there will be terrible consequences! I will never write another post! I will lose all the moral support I get for my financial goals on twitter!”, or any number of other responses, but none of these would actually be true. Sometimes it can be hard to see the truth, and if you think you might be someone who is struggling with this right now, working with a therapist can be a good way to cut through to what the real truth might be. If you don’t have the money or time for therapy, or you don’t feel comfortable with it, you can still examine the validity of some of your thoughts at home using what is called a Thought Record. This is a process in which you write out some of your distressing thoughts about something, and examine their validity. This can be a very helpful way to counteract unhealthy or negative types of thinking.
- I scaled back the workouts (for a while).
- Full disclosure, I am back now to working out a good deal, but when this initially happened, I needed some time to recover, and I recognized that I didn’t need to be working out as much as I was. Taking a bit of a break on that front allowed me to spend some of my physical resources recovering from the stress I had already put myself through, and allowed me to have some rest.
- I started looking for ways to practice self-care and to relax.
- If you are a type-A person like me, then you know how hard/alien it can be to relax. I am not good at relaxing. I understand the research and I know how important relaxation and down time are for recovery, resilience, and growth, but I am still not very good at practicing this. I looked for little ways I could relax or have downtime. For me this is making sure to do things like have a bath and be mentally present for it, to go for a walk and enjoy the weather, to eat something enjoyable and notice the tastes. I have to actively think about doing these things, because if I don’t then my mind tends to run a million miles a minute and I may miss these activities while they are actually happening, because I am thinking about a future goal, or something in the past, or any number of other things which are not important in that moment.
- I worked on getting more sleep.
- Sleeping is my absolute favorite activity ever, but I don’t always get to do it as much as I’d like. I find that I struggle in this area because I work long days, I volunteer, and I have a long commute. What this means is that there isn’t much time left over for preparing meals, doing laundry, or cleaning, let alone doing anything I might actually enjoy / be interested in. A lot of times I get home and just want to watch tv or do something recreational, but I don’t always have time. I have been working on staying away from screens in the evening and trying to get to bed at a decent hour. This is a challenge, and I don’t always succeed. I do however, find that I get more sleep when I am actively focused on going to bed earlier than when I don’t think about it and just stay up watching tv or surfing the net. I have found that reading a book instead of watching tv can help, but I am always open to hear more suggestions on this front.
- I started meditating as close to daily as I could manage.
- Meditation, specifically mindfulness meditation is something I have practiced in the past, and which has been very beneficial for me in terms of reducing my stress and increasing resilience (the ability to bounce back). If this is something that you think might be interesting to you, then I highly recommend the book Wherever You Go, There You Are by Jon Kabat-Zinn.
- I tried to focus on eating healthy.
- Working in an office, there is always an abundance of baked goods and candy. It is always someone’s birthday or a holiday of some kind. It’s obviously okay to indulge in treats here and there, but it’s important to make sure your diet provides you with all the nutrients and vitamins that your body needs to stay strong, to rebuild itself, and to bounce back from environmental stressors. While I don’t stress myself out too much about the occasional treat or baked good, I definitely work to make sure that my meals are healthy and full of veggies, proteins, and healthy complex carbs to keep me going. I am also aware that when I am under high levels of stress, my body needs that much more support to be able to bounce back and perform the way I need it to. I can help to provide it with that support by giving it healthy, well-balanced fuel.
Overall, I want to emphasize that the reason to do these self-care behaviors is to be able to be successful in your future productivity and progress. I am not suggesting that you give up on all your goals and just sit around, but just the opposite. The point is that if we don’t maintain the engine, the car isn’t going to get us very far. That is just what I was doing; I was trying to drive at 200mph constantly without ever putting gas or oil in my car. Framed like that, this was obviously not sustainable, yet so many of us fall into this trap. We all want to crush our financial goals and accomplish our dreams, yet the only way to do this is to make sure we are performing the required routine maintenance. Above are some of the ways that I found to do that maintenance, but I would be interested to hear about what works for you.
As always, thank you for reading.