Burnout is a hot topic right now. No Pun. You may have read the viral piece from BuzzFeed that set the internet ablaze, Millennials Became the Burnout Generation.
- BuzzFeed: This Is What Black Burnout Feels Like
- Mashable: Our best bet against burnout is self-care, just not the kind you think
- Harvard Biz Review: Cope or Quit? Facing Your Mid-Career Crisis
I was handed another great article on burnout, How to Tell If You’ve Got PreBurnout. It came from a source that was almost as surprising as it was ironic: my former boss. After all, even under the most wishful of circumstances, they are at best a co-conspirator in my struggles with burnout. Depending on your viewpoint, they either lit the match or turned up the heat while I remained stuck in the kitchen.
To be fair, when they arrived with the article in hand–they had printed it out rather than send me a link if that gives you an estimate of the generation they represent–I was literally hiding in my office, again. Hiding in plain sight was one of many coping mechanisms I used while my ego recovered in the intensive care unit due to another unrelated issue. They accurately recognized the symptoms of burnout, but in addition to overlooking their own culpability, their diagnoses of the source was a misfire.
Too much emphasis has been placed exclusively on employees developing better coping skills, effectively letting employers off the hook for their toxic culture and practices. – Mashable
Maybe they were just trying to help?
I, on the other hand, was trying my best not to burden anyone with my issues. As a manager, I always practice an “open door policy.” However, I admit that lately the physical door of my office was closed more often than not. While I figured a closed office door was a minor inconvenience to everyone else, it was a departure from my normal routine.
Personally, I had been trying to minimize ‘the noise’ in my life until I got back to equilibrium. Other than business-related functions, I had taken a break from social media and introduced more self-care activities back into my life (15-minute walks, mindful focus, journaling, etc.). I know these sound like minor and perhaps even “corny” solutions. Bandaids on a wound that requires professional help (more on that later).
Still, these minor efforts weren’t without their own measurably positive results. For instance, my iPhone tracks my screen time (which is weird, I know). That’s why I know for a fact that these changes alone meant I spent four-to-six fewer hours a day on my phone every week I was on my social media cleanse.
Just for a while, I needed fewer distractions. Not only had I been trying to “Keep Up With the Joneses,” I was following them across SnapChat (deleted), Facebook (paused indefinitely), Twitter (deleted the app from my phone and logged out for a month), and Instagram (logged out for a month). Interestingly enough, I went 20+ years without social media in my life, but going more than 20-minutes without social media in 2019 feels like traveling back to 1989.
For the first few days, I couldn’t remember what the hell I did before I became addicted to all these various online accounts. Further, explaining to people that you don’t know the latest headlines, news, or viral events of the day because “I’m not on social media” is like admitting “I’m not from this planet.” By the way, either confession will make bystanders give you the same confused looks and quizzical follow-up questions.
How to Tell if You’ve Got Burnout
Professionally, I began only attending ‘required’ meetings. Optional and tentative became synonymous with don’t expect your boy to show up. I stopped volunteering for ad-hoc projects, and I only attended after-hours events for limited networking, if at all. I proactively avoided anything not found within the borders of my job description or performance evaluation. Basically, I was doing the most to do the least. After years of exceeds, I became a firm ‘meets expectations’ employee.
I mistakenly thought I was doing a pretty good job of faking it till you make it. My work output hadn’t slipped; only my social output had tapered off. There are no rules against being anti-social!
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), burnout has three elements: feelings of exhaustion, mental detachment from one’s job and poorer performance at work. But waiting until you’re already fully burned out to do something about it doesn’t help at all–and you wouldn’t wait to treat any other illness until it was too late.
“A lot of the signs and symptoms of pre-burnout would be very similar to depression,” says Siobhán Murray, a psychotherapist based in County Dublin, Ireland, and the author of a book about burnout, The Burnout Solution. Murray suggests looking out for creeping bad habits, such as increased alcohol consumption and relying on sugar to get you through the day. Also, watch out for feelings of tiredness that won’t go away. “So that even if you do sleep well, by 10 in the morning you’re already counting down the hours to bed. Or not having the energy to exercise or go for a walk.” – Read More at BBC News
I consider myself fairly self-aware. My issues typically aren’t a failure to address my personal shortcomings. I do procrastinate on addressing them, but my greater frustration arises when the ability to solve an issue is outside of my control. For example, by human nature, most people aren’t as worried about your issues as they are their own. If you don’t believe me, try calling any 1-800-We-Care customer complaint hotline. After they place you on hold for a few hours, try your best to get the call center representative to feign even half as much interest in your problems as you believe they warrant.
With the idea that most people are self-centered by nature (or nurture), I try my best not to burden others with my problems. I figure we all have enough on our own plates. There is no reason for me to pile on your plate with my buffet of BS and vise versa. This approach to life has its pros and cons. The pros: everyone assumes I’m always fine because they have no reason to believe otherwise. The cons: no one knows the rare times when I’m actually completely losing my mind and could use a shoulder to cry on, or at least something steady to lean against until I regain my balance.
Like myself, you might have stumbled into a rut of burnout and not even realize it. In my case, no matter how much I slept. No matter how much I drank. No matter how much I how muched, I was always exhausted. That is a dangerous predicament to find yourself in. It’s even worse when you have no idea what to do about it.
Some among us believe they have found an escape route, cheat code, and #LifeHack from burnout. Like the timeless question of, “which came first, the chicken or the egg?” our generation faces an equally daunting proverb. Which came first: the Financial Independence / Retire Early (FIRE) Movement or the Millennial Burnout?
Has the Financial Independence Retire Early (FIRE) Movement Burned Out?
One of my most popular write-ups for our site is Has the Financial Independence Retire Early (FIRE) Movement Burned Out? Although I do not actively practice FI/RE, I can see its appeal as a potential light to pursue in contrast to the 40-year tunnel of darkness commonly known as the traditional career pathway.
- Meet The Women Of The Financial Independence Movement
- PB73: Mastering Financial Independence and Student Loans with Robert Farrington
- PB82: Financial Independence ft The Early Retirement Dude
As an auditor, I looked into the data and the math supporting most FIRE estimates. It is sound. To be fair, some people hate the FIRE Movement. We are all entitled to our opinions. But, we also know hate is an emotion that is hard to counter with logic. Plus, if you’ve ever been on the internet, or heard about it from a friend, then you already know facts don’t matter. However, if you’re still curious, the facts behind the FIRE Movement are summarized by Investopedia as:
Financial Independence, Retire Early (FIRE) is a movement dedicated to a program of extreme savings and investing that allows proponents to retire far earlier than traditional budgets and retirement plans allow.
Generation Burnout vs Generation FIRE
The main reason I don’t practice FIRE is because as a helpful listener reminded Rich and I, we are Senior Millennials. All hope is lost for us.
I didn’t find out about FIRE until I started this website. I literally never heard of “the movement.” I guess the revolution won’t be televised. Instead, by the time I heard about it I was already in my mid-30s. Although I had been actively investing since age 22 (more luck than strategy), joining the FIRE gang at this point feels like showing up to a college frat party and trying to copy what all the cool kids are doing. I can flip cup, beer bong, [insert latest popular new dance name here], and live on half of my income with the best of them, but I’ve chosen to stay in my conservative investing, target retirement date index-funded lane.
Mathematically, even some of the most ambitious FI/RE estimates require 10 – 20 years of mastering frugal living, smart investing, and some historical luck on your side, like a healthy stock market that averages returns of at least six percent or greater. Let me be very clear, it is never too late to start any positive activity that helps you realize your dreams. If you’re ready to make some short-term sacrifices for long-term gains then don’t sleep on the FIRE Movement. If you want to see how deep the rabbit hole goes, here is the red pill to your financial quandary:
I’ll be honest with you. I’ve become accustomed to a certain lifestyle. Besides, even if I initiated my own FI/RE journey today, I would “retire early” at age 56. Technically that is early. It could just as easily be called regular old retirement. This realization is more a reflection of me being an old (middle aged?) man than it is a negative reflection of the FIRE Movement. I’ve chosen to enjoy the money now and later by consistently saving 10 to 20 percent.
In principle, I don’t mind working for a living. I mind working on projects that do not interest me. These are two separate issues. I have worked jobs I actually liked before. They filled me with a sense of purpose and pride. I assume (hope?) I will again in the future. Stated another way, I don’t need to quit working. I need to quit working in areas that are not personally fulfilling or mentally stimulating, because that is a waste of time no matter what movement you practice.
To be fair, some younger individuals may view my career trajectory–and there are thousands of stories like mine–as a cautionary tale. Maybe they’re wise beyond their years to already feel that way, and I don’t blame them. In fact, I completely understand, and perhaps even encourage, anyone who doesn’t want to spend 40 or more years of their lives working for employers who don’t appear to care (or who don’t literally care) about their long-term well being. Why should the next generation of would-be workers pledge loyalty when these CEOs ain’t loyal?
- Forbes: On average, Staying employed at the same company for over 2 years earns you about 50% less or more over your lifetime.
- The New York Times: Wealthy, Succesful and Miserable
- Pro Publica: The Chances Are the Decision to Leave a Job Won’t be Yours
Long before they start down an uncertain career path, these “kids” know the data does not support the idea that the only road to financial security is found through a traditional 9-to-5. At some point, the “American Dream” was auctioned off to the highest bidder, repackaged and consolidated, and sold back to us with interest. They convinced us it was all a dream, but we woke up in adulthood to multiple generations burdened with $1,500,000,000,000 in student loans and $423,000,000,000 in credit card debt.
We proved we can always find ways to make more money, even if it comes in the form of debilitating debt. We simultaneously proved we cannot make more time, just as many of us are running out of it. For the next generation, financial independence / retire early is one choice that correctly prioritizes these two pursuits: time > money.
Instead of lecturing them about pulling up their bootstraps and following us over the same financial cliffs littered with our indebted footsteps, maybe we should accept that every path to financial freedom is not confined to the familiar barriers of our cubicles. In the words of a smokey bear that defined another generation, “only you can prevent a FIRE.” Just because a lifetime of servitude burning the candle at both ends is all we have ever known doesn’t mean a different kind of FIRE isn’t a better option than accepting the only path to success must come from stepping on the backs of a generation of burnouts.
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