I attended a webinar yesterday about how to avoid burnout in remote working. It was a great webinar but I doubt that I will share the recording with my colleagues – it was sponsored by a software company and while I use that software at work, the use-cases promoted during the webinar can all be supported by software our company currently has licensed and I don’t want to encourage anyone to start using this sponsor software instead.
Anyhow, one of the points the speaker discussed was having clear start and finish lines to your work: when you start work and when you wrap up. He also made the point that, if you’re working in a home with children, you may need to have multiple start and finish lines that take into consideration when you need to give them attention.
I started to think that this is not a problem that I have.
At least, I do not have this problem right now. After spending two years of WFH as a consultant, I established pretty good WFH habits and I turn on and off the computer at regular times and take a real lunch break. (That is one thing that I think is funny about the company where I’m working now – they do a great job promoting work-life balance except that they schedule a lot of lunch meetings.)
In the past, I struggled with start and finish lines. When I managed a retail store, it was struggling, and I often stayed late or worked weekends to try to catch up. Then I worked for another store and, while I set reasonable boundaries, I was manipulated by a nasty boss who would hold “work parties” at night, “accidentally” set off the silent alarm. The alarm company would call the store but she wouldn’t answer so they’d call me. (Ah, the days before cell phones.) I’d call the store but she wouldn’t answer so I’d have to get out of bed and take a cab down to the store to confront her. “So sorry,” she’d say with a smile that said she wasn’t sorry. She did this multiple times and I knew, when the alarm company called, that she had done it again, but I was still obligated to go and check.
Then I took a job that I loved. I loved it to death, my death nearly. I came in early, I stayed late. Sometimes I worked weekends. As things shifted and moved and transitioned, I eventually restored some balance and forced myself to work a regular schedule except when necessary not to. I tried to take lunch but I didn’t like eating alone; for a while, I ate at my desk and worked through lunch. Then I started walking at lunch and I felt balanced.
Then it went to hell in a handbasket. I’ve written before about the last year there, the psycho who tortured me, the five – count them, five – complete changes to the major project I was working on. My finish lines disappeared. Instead of going to yoga, I went in early to work. Instead of walking at lunch, I ate at my desk. I often worked late into the evening, often drinking diet soda and eating candy. Because I loved my job so much that I just wanted everything that came out of my area to be perfect, I told myself. But the truth was, I was over it all, and I was trying to work myself to death so the pain would end.
Even if I left on time, I pushed the finish line out by bringing all that stress home with me. Not the work itself, for the most part, but the troubles I was having at work. I talked about them until my husband and my friends were sick of hearing about it. And then I thought about it. I thought about it during yoga and fell over or burst into tears during shavasana. I thought about it during really long walks in the park and, if startled by passing someone, anyone, a complete stranger, my brain did weird things in fight-or-flight mode. I thought about it when I woke up in the middle of the night or early in the morning at 4 a.m. when the city pauses between nightlife and the morning shift, and you worry because it is so quiet.
Eventually I got my wish and burnt out. I took a long vacation where I was alone and exercised and was in nature and spent time with people I didn’t know, which helped a little. But when I returned to work, nothing had changed, and I hadn’t changed and work sucked.
When I finally gave notice, a decision I made after weeping all of one weekend and with no place to go, I felt relieved. I sang karaoke at the company Christmas party – very badly – and wondered why I hadn’t done it before. I remember I said something to one of my colleagues about a project we had been working on and he responded with something like, “What do you care? You won’t be here. You don’t care about us.”
The jerk was wrong. I did care. I cared too much.
They say you should have a passion for your work. I’m sorry. I disagree.
You should have a passion, while you are on duty, for doing your work well and for making sure you and your colleagues have a safe, enjoyable, rewarding place to work.
Finish your day, leave work, and channel your passion into something other than work.
Save your true passion for life itself.