I don’t think I’ve ever been busier than I’ve been these past few months. And if I have, it definitely wasn’t for this long without rest or periods of down time. I shouldn’t complain though; this busyness is a direct result of a lot of fortunate events in my life. My career, passion projects, and relationships have been doing very well. Alas, my challenge lies in maintaining them all without burning out. For those who have experienced it, burning out is not pretty. And even if you’re young and can physically handle it, it’s a quick and easy way to ruin many valuable relationships in your life through neglect. So it goes without saying that I’d love to avoid burning out from stress and being overworked.
So although I can’t complain about my circumstances, the question remains: is it recommended (or even mentally and physically safe) to work 70 hour weeks, moonlight as a member of a tech start-up team, and sustain a blog – all while making sure to dedicate enough time to the people who matter most in my life?
I won’t know for sure until more time elapses (it’s only been a few months). But for now, the answer for now is a resounding yes. And here’s why: I believe it’s important to have moments in your life when you’re close to burning out. These types of moments will help you realize that one of two things are happening in your life:
1) There is something in your life that is taking a disproportionate amount of time from your day without a worthwhile reason/purpose for doing so – this should either be removed fully or in part from your life.
2) The success that you’ve been fortunate enough to find is requiring increasingly more work and commitment from you. As Sun Tzu said, “Opportunities multiply as they are seized.” Therefore, your new challenge is better prioritization (and possibly even automation) to bring your life back into balance.
Regardless of which situation above most accurately describes your situation (assuming you’re also close to burning out), I guarantee that having this kind of realization is valuable. You see, reaching your breaking point is bad – generally speaking, mental breakdowns and panic attacks aren’t fun nor healthy for you – but occasionally getting near your breaking point is a good thing (key word: occasionally). It reminds you of how much you’re made of, and these periodic extreme circumstances keep your mind resilient and disciplined. A person who goes for a long time without testing his/her limits will find that they have less and less tolerance for difficult, trying circumstances.
So as your fight to change the world and make your vision for an ideal life a reality, consider that you should embrace the moments when you feel yourself reaching your breaking point. Figure out which type of situation you’re in (is your life truly out of balance without good reason, or are you in greater need of prioritizing your goals?), and react accordingly. Here’s how I approached my situation of overwork:
The first thing I analyzed was my career, given how many hours I work. Although my career takes up a lot of my time, the learning opportunities are so valuable (and the culture so enjoyable) that it’s a very worthwhile investment of my time. My passion projects and relationships are just as important to me, so I’m not out of balance for no good reason. So clearly I need to improve my ability to prioritize and automate. And that’s exactly what I’ve been doing. Exploring faster routes to get to work (express bus vs. subway vs. bus + subway, for example), large-batch cooking methods that produce more healthy food in less time, and ways to cut down on my weekly errands. I even had to resist the urge to blog this past month as I reprioritized my projects and experimented with new methods for accomplishing necessary, but non-value-adding tasks (i.e. laundry).
So next time you’re faced with a workload that threatens to tip you over the edge, embrace it. Use it to force yourself to think and act smarter; to prioritize and cut waste from your life; to get creative with how you approach your day; to see how resilient you can be in the face of a challenge. You’ll become a much stronger person for it. (Trust me. :))