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Stop romanticizing burnout

| Thursday, February 18, 2021

Before I got to college, I did not think burnout was a big deal. Last semester, that belief drove my energy, ambition, concentration levels and mental health to the ground. It felt like running into a brick wall; I was too tired to climb it and couldn’t find a way around it.

One thing I’ve noticed among my generation — particularly among the friends, classmates and colleagues that surround me here at Notre Dame — is that our culture is fueled by burnout. The “always hustlin’” attitude we promote incessantly is just glorifying, and even romanticizing, burnout.

We’ve all heard it before from roommates, on Snapchat, in class: “I didn’t go to bed till 3 a.m. last night,” “I have so much work to do,” “I’m gonna be up all night finishing up this essay,” etc. We seem to share an unconscious obsession with “the grind.” What’s even worse is the fact that this turns into a competition to see who’s the busiest, who’s the most burnt-out or who’s the most sleep-deprived.

“The trouble is,” comments career and life coach Leslie Kern, “each cohort of over-workers raises the bar. Then the next generation of grad students and junior faculty have to do even more to impress their supervisors, hiring committees, and funders. We know it’s a problem, but it’s like a hamster wheel we can’t get off of.”

One crucial thing to remember is that overworking does not equal professional success. There is a tremendously important difference between trying to set yourself apart or staying ahead of the competition and overworking yourself. The media as well as society’s distorted standards of productivity idolizes workaholic characters. They ingrain in us a belief that if we don’t make enough personal sacrifices and push ourselves beyond breaking point we won’t succeed. The truth is, workaholics lose friends, exhibit poor performance in the long run, become irritable and suffer from concentration issues, memory impairment and mood swings.  As Sam Keen writes in “Fire in the Belly: On Being a Man,” “Burnout is nature’s way of telling you, you’ve been going through the motions but your soul has departed; you’re a zombie, a member of the walking dead, a sleepwalker.”

The World Health Organization has classified Burnout Syndrome as a chronic disease and the number of people affected by burnout is increasing. In a recent Workplace Burnout Survey, Deloitte explored the drivers and impact of burnout: “The findings indicate that 77% of respondents say they have experienced employee burnout at their current job, with more than half citing more than one occurrence. 87% of professionals surveyed say they have passion for their current job but are frequently stressed, dispelling the myth that passionate employees are immune to stress or burnout.”

By overworking yourself, you’re setting yourself up to fail. So, how do we break this cycle? To begin, understand how your body and mind react to stress and fatigue. Learn to spot the early symptoms of burnout and take note of your own personal triggers. Moreover, keep in mind that academic work can never truly be completed. Every paper could use more edits. You can never be too prepared for class. Academic work will expand to fill every hour you’re willing to give it. Try to manage your time reasonably and don’t take on more than you can manage. Constructive behavior and habits are not built overnight; take the time to actively and purposefully schedule activities, events or routines that just make you happy or help you relax. Whether it’s exercising more often, taking a nap, grabbing coffee with a friend, please try to dedicate a few hours a week to just catching your breath. I understand that this can be daunting; for overachievers like most — if not all — of us here at Notre Dame, falling into the burnout trap is often an unconscious act. So please, be patient with yourselves. And at the very least, avoid romanticizing burnout.

Krista Akiki is a sophomore at Notre Dame majoring in business analytics. Coming from Beirut, Lebanon, she always enjoys trying out new things and is an avid travel-lover. She hopes to take her readers on her journey as she navigates college life and stands up for the issues she believes. She can be reached at [email protected] or via Twitter @kristalourdesakiki. 

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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