Tea Reflection: Not-Burnout

It’s Sunday and I’m currently having a cup of tea. We all know what this means: time for a Tea Reflection! Today, I want to talk about a very odd feeling I’m having at the moment: not experiencing burnout… but feeling like I should.

I want to start by saying that I know burnout very well. I have experienced it, to varying degrees, at various points in my life: in law school, at a couple of jobs, and basically throughout the entirety of my second attempt at getting my HND. I experienced by far the worst burnout when I was working at the students’ association of my last college. The job was stressful, demanding, and at times it drove me crazy. I started that job in July; by October I remembering feeling so burned out that I felt genuinely desperate: if I was already out of energy and already needed a summer vacation when the academic year had just started, how was I going to get through it?

Extreme burnout from that job led to me having suicidal depression, which led to me having absolutely zero motivation or energy at all to do any coursework, which led to me failing the year. I decided to re-take the year and get my HND, but I still battled with depression and serious lack of motivation that whole year (it didn’t help that the course had completely lost its appeal, I was getting frustrated at it more than anything else and I seemed to have lost all interest in computing and programming). I don’t know how I did it, but I soldiered on and passed the year, finally achieving my HND. After that, I immediately decided to not progress with that course any further. Getting the HND was less about progressing academically and more about me persevering and winning my personal battle against depression.

Obviously, after this whole episode, I made an important promise to myself: to never let myself experience burnout like that ever again. Burnout led to the most emotionally wrecking time of my life and to me thinking of even ending it. Not to mention it hurt my career and life goals greatly, setting me back a year on what was my previous goal of achieving a degree in Computing and subsequently leading to the hardest economic period of my life. Never again.

Having experienced extreme burnout, I’ve become pretty good at assessing whether something will lead me to burn out or not. I’ve developed a sort of “gut feeling” about it, which I trust and follow. (A good portion of my therapy involved learning to trust myself and my instincts instead of putting myself down and also sabotaging myself/putting myself in disadvantageous situations.)

Sometimes I feel “broken” for not being able to have multiple things on my plate, like other people seem to manage, but… it’s my life and my health. Everybody is different, and I think I know what’s best for it and for me.

It’s no secret that I have started a demanding degree last year. At the end of my first academic year, I will have produced a video documentary, a radio documentary and a short film for my Graded Unit. In addition to these big projects, I also still have other classes with their own assessments.

The second semester is in full swing, and I have recently submitted my planning stage for my Graded Unit. I worked on it for about a week straight, while I’ve been doing research and thinking of ideas for it for 2-3 weeks. It was a big, important deadline and I was very glad that I had finished everything that needed to be submitted a whole day before it was due. In the end, my planning stage was around 4,000 words.

Here is where things get interesting: this was actually the least stressed I had ever been about a deadline of this size and importance in my life. I knew I had given myself plenty of time to work on it, I knew that had allowed me to think of and cover everything that could be covered in the document, and I was finished before some of my classmates had even started it.

And the kicker is, my Graded Unit for this degree is probably ten times harder than any other assessment I’ve ever had to do for any other degree. I am making a short film. I am going to be a director, a screenwriter, a producer and an editor, all in one. I’m going to be recruiting a cast and a crew and telling them what to do. It’s going to be a heck of a lot of work. No other assessment I’ve ever done has taken this much work.

In law school, all I got were essays and end-of-the-semester exams (both of which I hated, but were not hard by any means when compared to my current Graded Unit). In my Computing HNC/HND, my first year Graded Unit was an end-of-the-year exam that I found really easy and passed with a high A; whereas the Graded Unit for the second year was basically “make a website”. The only reason I had difficulty with that was because I was okay-ed to make a website that I just did not have the knowledge necessary to pull off. Other people made extremely simple websites that were almost copy-pasted from the example websites we made in class to learn PHP and Javascript — for them, the Graded Unit was a piece of cake. I had taken on a very ambitious project for it and I certainly regretted that when it came to the development stage. My website didn’t work, but I still passed with a B, because all my paperwork was really good. I was certainly happy with my grade, but the whole Graded Unit was extremely stressful and frustrating when it didn’t need to be.

My intention is not to write off exams, essays and making websites as “easy” — I know they can certainly be difficult. What I am trying to say is that, to me, they felt easy. I am also drawing a big line here between “stressful” and “difficult”: my law school exams and my last Graded Unit were certainly stressful, no doubt about it; but, with hindsight and looking at them with a peaceful mind, they were not tasks I found to be actually hard — just very stress-inducing. Not saying they are objectively easy, just that I found them easy.

And they feel easy to me when compared with the monumental task of making a short film in two and a half months, along with two documentaries and various other assessments in the picture.

But here’s the thing: I’m not stressed about it — I am straight up hyped for it. I am excited that I have undertaken this project, even though it’s a bit scary in terms of scale. And, even though I’m more than halfway through the academic year and I have lots of assessments due, I am not burned out in the least.

I feel like I should be burned out, though. My current degree is a lot of work when compared to my time in law school or in my Computing HND, and both of those times I burned out incredibly quickly.

So why haven’t I experienced burnout here, even though the coursework is harder and in bigger quantities? I am still very much going strong, while essays, exams and computing coursework tired me out much more quickly, even though I fully admit that they were easier pieces of coursework overall, with way less work involved.

I think the answer to this question is simple: for the first time, I am doing something I am 100% passionate about. I have tapped into a segment of my creativity that has been left unexplored for all these years (making films and doing radio) and I feel like I have so much to offer, to communicate, to try my hand at. I’ve discovered something about myself that I enjoy a lot and now I want to take full advantage of this discovery.

Making a film should be harder, but I don’t find it to be that hard or stressful. I fully see this as an opportunity, a project to express myself, to show what I can do with the medium — and most importantly, to discover myself, to tap into this creative barrel I have opened and see what comes out. I think making this short film is not just about showing my skills, but also about growing and finding out more about myself as a person and as an artist.

I am excited to see the results and to get to know myself even better through it.

I think I am experiencing the opposite of burnout — I have found something new, unexplored, that I want to tap into fully. And I think the fact that I’m excited and hyped instead of thinking “When does this year end” is extremely positive.

If you find yourself experiencing the same feeling… be glad — it probably means you’re on the right path. As a person who has been trying to find her own path for years… this comforts me and makes me happy. ❤️

4 thoughts on “Tea Reflection: Not-Burnout”

  1. Hello there, I just found your blog, and this post really caught my interest, because I’ve recently crawled up from the burnout ditch myself. I’m glad you’ve found something you can do and that will give you a career, but without giving you burnout – although I believe you never truly “recover”, it’s more like a new normal. However it’s important to find a new way in life. I’ve understood there is so much more to burnout than simply having a stressful job or too much around you. I decided to study Italian again and become good at it again, just that the course was at a much higher level than I thought it would be. I’m not sure I’m going to pass the exams, but I love my Italian studies! At the same time I have work to do – and it’s possible I should worry about another burnout episode, but I don’t feel even close to it, because while I do these things, I’ve also moved to a place I really love, and I do things I love and that give me energy and happiness.

    1. Hello Susanne, thank you for stopping by! I’m glad this post resonated with you and I agree completely with your comment! I also feel like you never truly “recover” from burnout — I certainly didn’t when it came to my coding/web design hobby. I haven’t touched any coding software, or coded at all, after I burned out at my Computing HND, and I can’t see myself picking up coding any time soon (or at least in the next 2-5 years, as I focus on a totally different degree and career). I just feel totally “depleted”, like my barrel has completely run out of the creative juice necessary for that hobby/job.

      I think there comes a point where you learn to live with this “new normal” and learn to let go in a way — let go of what you felt you “should” do/have done, or even who you thought you “should” be — and accept yourself wholly again. I know I’ve had to come to terms with that and it wasn’t easy at the beginning, but the peace of mind that comes from that is really helpful and wonderful.

      I’m glad you’ve found something you love doing so much that you also don’t feel close to a burnout episode! It’s an amazing feeling. And I’m always happy to see people studying and loving my native language! 😉 Best of luck with your Italian!

      1. You have some good points here with accepting the new normal – I’m in the process of that but still in the stage of learning to handle it. I didn’t realise you were Italian! (only read your “about” page now) Nice! And living in Scotland too. And I’m Swedish and living in Ireland. 🙂

        1. Oh wow, what a coincidence that we both moved to these English-speaking countries! That’s awesome. 😊 I’ll make sure to follow your blog! And best of luck with your processing. ♡

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