Burnout is a b**ch.
April was one of the busiest, and mentally and emotionally draining months. By that point in 2021, I had been working 15 hour days on the regular (since December), sleeping no more than 5 hours per night and having at a max of 2 meals per day. Loss of contact with friends and family came inevitably as 20 out of the 24 hours in my day went towards…well working and sleeping.
I know, I know the first thought that probably comes to mind is ‘What the hell were you working on?”
Well folks, turns out I wasn’t working on much other than tossing myself into a bad mentality.
Here’s the rundown. In March, I got the opportunity to consult for the United Nations in an attempt to make increase women’s digital employment. Our team focused on South Africa, you can find the details here.
Alright back to the point. That project was a month-long GRIND. Our team went full out, reading research papers, contacting people, idea development & validation, four am meetings with potential partners you name it.
While feeling the UN vibe, I was also heading the App Development department at Coding4Community, building IoT projects, doing a research intern position, another research project with the Canadian Light Source, leading the HOSA chapter at my school, hacking machines on HackTheBox, and of course going to school full time studying for AP Chemistry and English in a quadmestered model with weekly tests.
Now my intention with telling you all this isn’t to show you “how much I did” but to give you context when I try to describe where I went wrong.
Come April, a week after the UN Challenge ended another challenge popped up. At this point, I had started to wear down of 15 hour days. This is the type of crap I had been on for the past 6 months.
So come April, we get introduced to the TKS moonshot challenge. To sum it up in a sentence: Three weeks to use innovation to find a viable solution to one of the world’s biggest problems and pitch it as a company. You can check out some really sick moonshots by Google’s Moonshot Factory here.
This for me was a both “HELL YES” and “HELL NO” moment. Innovation always gets me excited, I felt hyped and was down to grind this shit out. I knew doing that would hurt my body, and bad.
Over the last six months, I had developed chest pains, stress headaches, insomnia as daily occurrences and according to my physician, the lack of social contact had also made me borderline depressed. So in terms of both emotional and physical health, I wasn’t doing the best.
First 1.5 weeks of the challenge, our team didn’t do jack.
The UN challenge had us all so worn down that we didn’t feel like we had recovered, and ended up using that as an excuse to not get any work done. That week wasn’t enough for us to recover. Here’s what I did in that week to help me recover:
Takeaway #1: Do shit. Recovery is not something that just sorts itself out.
A lot of the people I have talked to have this misconception (including myself up until May) that if you stop and take a break and do nothing, you’ll feel better. Even though that may work at times, I feel like that is not the way to go about when dealing with something prolonged like chronic burnout.
You have to do shit. You have to make an effort to actually recover. Another common misconception I had during this time was that me taking a break meant giving in to instant gratification.
Break ≠ Instant Gratification
“Oh I am on break, I can waste this week, not make an effort to actually recover, let it solve itself and I’ll wake up refreshed.””
“I am gonna binge Netflix series, sleep late, not workout, stay on the call with friends until late at night while my burnout resolves itself.”
What I should have been doing was RRR’ing. This is an acronym I came up with when I was reflecting on my burnout dealing process. Reflect, Revamp, Restart.
Reflect on how you ended up in burnout in the first place, and take that a step further by recognizing what it is that your body demands of you at the moment. Is it to get better sleep? Quality food? Time with family? Figure that out.
Revamp your schedule and come up with an action plan optimizing for what your body demands at the moment to help yourself return to equilibrium quicker.
Restart. Implement those changes.
Two weeks into the moonshot I’d have had enough. I couldn’t take the fact that we hadn’t done jack over the past two weeks and were just sitting idle. So I thought we have to change stuff and had a sudden flip, I went to my teammates and said,
“Look if you’re down to grind, cool, I need to know now, if not I am grinding this whole thing out myself.”
See now here, it seems like I was being an activator and taking initiative, but what I was being was stupid.
My health was already asking for a break, the chest pains had exacerbated, stress headaches were still there and I was losing any motivation to work, and I was asking myself to do 3 weeks of work in 1.
I was abusing the notion of a “SEAL” mentality.
Ever since I was a kid I always loved the military, especially spec op units. I loved them enough that up until last year I had convinced myself that that’s the career path I want to take. I was especially obsessed with the SEALs.
Its no secret that SEAL training is absolutely tortuous in all aspects of the word. Check it out here.
So going into this week, I tapped myself on the side of my head with closed fists as I normally do and just said “SEAL mentality Aryan” before throwing myself into work.
Over the course of this week, I worked over 120 hours, sleeping less than 5 hours a day. Cause SEAL mentality.
Now it’s no lie that you can’t research, develop, validate, a whole idea & a company in seven days + all of the extracurriculars mentioned above with a spice of burnout. Or at least you can’t do it as well.
I have always had high expectations of myself. Being burnt out and not wanting to work had already led me into a crap ton of negative self-talk.
“This isn’t you.”
“You’re losing your work ethic, you’re losing it all.”
Come Friday, I was chosen to present for my team on Sunday. I went to the trial run feedback session, with no slides, and just a rough script.
I got absolutely crapped on.
That was that final nail in the coffin for me. Usually, I am a sucker for harsh feedback, but at this point, I had belittled myself so much that I took that negatively, and I was so burnout I didn’t have the energy to counter it.
That Friday night, I lay on my bathroom floor, unable to move, tears pouring down my eyes and my mind flooding with doubt, negative self-talk, and a shit ton of impostor syndrome. That night and the following morning and I was in so much emotional and physical pain that it physically hurt my brain to think, move or even talk.
Takeaway #2: …..
Hey, welcome to Asymmetry! This is my personal blog where I get straight up and real with you. This time I’m covering one of the crappiest experiences I had had in my 16 years of life. The takeaways from this experience are large enough that they almost all deserve their own blog, that’s exactly what I am going to do. Stay in the loop by following me ;). And hey, while you’re at it, be sure to check out my newsletter & LinkedIn.