Burnout

I have always been a fan of personality tests, and as you may know, the enneagram personality types are a hot topic of conversation at the moment. I am a classic Type 3: The Achiever. (Anyone who knows me is reading this and thinking, “There is absolutely no surprise there.”)

For as long as I can remember, “achieving” has been incredibly important to me. While I don’t consider myself a competitive person, I am and have always been quite competitive with myself: If I take the SAT one more time, I bet I can get my score up a little higher; when I run the next half marathon, I want my time to be a little faster; I brought in x number of dollars this year, I wonder how much more I can bring in next year, etc.

[SCN The Nine 2018: Elizabeth Newton]

I’m not one of those people who doesn’t enjoy their current victory. I toss confetti and have a slice of cake with whoever will join me, but while I’m enjoying that slice of strawberry deliciousness, I’m thinking about the next goal or milestone I want to achieve.

I ran my first marathon, the New York City Marathon, in November 2016. Five months later I ran the Boston Marathon. I also ran 10 half marathons in 2017. I don’t set small goals here, folks; I go big!

I wear the early symptoms of burnout with pride: the early-to-bed Friday nights in preparation for the even earlier Saturday morning training runs, the frequent late nights working on production proposals, the travel that has me away more than I’m home. I love the races I train for, I love providing superior customer service to my clients, and I love my job that allows me to work remotely. I’m not someone who glorifies being busy, but I didn’t see where my go-go-go was leading.

I was training for the Chicago Marathon in July 2018, doing speedwork on the track at my high school, and some of the worst pain I’ve ever experienced shot through my foot and up my ankle. “Walk it off, then pick it back up again,” I thought. I walked 200 meters, then I was back to running. About 20 steps after, I could barely walk.

A doctor’s appointment and an MRI later, I walked out with a boot on my foot and a stress fracture diagnosis. The Chicago Marathon wasn’t happening, but my doctor was hopeful that after eight weeks in the boot, I’d be back to my normal activity.

Running had become such a huge part of my identity, but my stress fracture was the physical manifestation of the burnout my body was experiencing. I had put it through a lot in the previous 18 months.

I’m one of those people who is always doing a lot of things a lot of the time. So with running off the table, I had some extra hours to fill. I started a weekly vlog series where I shared stories of my job in the audiovisual industry and the behind-the-scenes of my business. (Oh, have I not mentioned yet that I also own a small business?)

We had large show, after large show, after large show for me to manage and produce. I love the energy and pace of my job.

I had nine weeks of work travel in the first quarter of 2019 ahead of me. It only seemed natural to fill up the remaining weekends with fun travel! I don’t like to “waste” a weekend without any plans.

I had more goals ... like cleaning my house once a week, learning Spanish, and desperately trying to eat more vegetables. I wanted to grow my business, and I was making plans for a time when I could finally return to running.

If I really admit what I was feeling, I was miserable. I was simply covering it up with all the things I was doing. It’d been months since I’d done any physical activity because of the pain in my heel. It wasn’t uncommon for me to sit at my desk until 3 p.m. and suddenly realize I hadn’t eaten breakfast yet. I would look at the clock and see that it was nearly the next day, but I wanted to finish one more quote. I barely saw my family and never saw my friends. Let me say it again: I was miserable.

[More By Elizabeth Newton: Perfection versus Excellence]

And then I stopped doing (almost) all of it. I found that I had suddenly, and surprisingly, hit a wall. Not only did I not want to do it anymore, I couldn’t do it anymore. I experienced a mental and emotional stress fracture.

I stopped doing the vlogs, I stopped doing the ridiculously late nights, I stopped studying Spanish, I stopped pretending to eat vegetables, I stopped caring about so many things that are so important to me.

I stopped being me.

After a couple weeks of wallowing and going through the motions, I embraced my inner Popeye and said, “That’s all I can stand, I can’t stand it no more.”

I tried a new workout routine that didn’t irritate my physical stress fracture. I slowly, slowly eased myself back into running. I set healthy boundaries for myself when it came to work.

I realized that rest is as important as emails sent, miles run, and goals achieved. I now understood a favorite quote from Anne Lamott: “Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes, including you.”

We work in an industry where when equipment fails, sometimes the solution is as simple as unplugging it and plugging it back in.

I was forced to do that for myself, and it’s been one of the best things to happen to me. My perspective has changed. You can do what you love and still get excited about taking a break. Post-InfoComm, I’m sure we all need to unplug. Cheers to taking a break!