Burnout and how to see it

February 2, 2015
post life

I read Derek Sivers post Getting out of a bad place today and it made me clean up my blog, re-launch it, collect a few old posts I had scattered around and release a post that I, myself, had only shared privately so far. It is about my history with work-till-you-drop and my history with a mind that is driven to continue well past the point where it is productive or healthy. I hope it is a post that makes you think if you are in a similar situation or, even more important, helps you realise you are in a bad place. A friend I shared this post with recently wrote to me a few months after meeting him and told me that this made him realise that he was way down that track already without seeing it. He made drastic changes to his life and is a way happier person now.

About burnout

In my live I have worked quite a lot so far. Many would say I have also achieved a lot but funny enough for me that never felt that way. I had my first burnout age 30. I hit rock bottom, knew I had to change something and decided to kill my career and start from scratch. I thought that at that time I had learned enough to start again, do something else and just spend my time enjoying live again. Many who knew me at that time did not notice that I was a wrack, that I had massive issues with depression and was just focusing on external problems to not having to deal with myself. It was a pretty dark time for me even though my career was going well and the company I worked for was pretty successful.

I moved on, recovered, bootstrapped my live in a new country, working for someone else and just enjoyed life. Thing is, it was actually quite boring so I started working on a little side project. That side project turned into a company, that company needed money so I started another company to finance the first and a few years down the road I noticed that I had fallen into the same trap I was in before. This time I knew a bit more and maybe saw my situation in a different light. I knew that I had to change something but I also knew that I had amazing teams to rely on and the support from my partner who is never tired to look after me. She already supported me through my first melt down and not only helped me build our companies but also always looked after me never mind which state I was in. I know today that thanks to the people around me I can get back on my feet, do less, focus on myself more and still contribute to my companies in a meaningful way.

A quick side story, I was in Scotland recently and we did a bit of hiking. I have not done any hiking in anger in a long time and we decided to hike up Ben Nevis, the highest mountain in the UK. It is a 4h hike up and a 3h hike down over a pretty shitty path with large boulders and it really is not that dramatic but in my physical condition it was way too much for me. Now, my body told me about half way up that this is not going to work but my mind totally did not accept that. I was up there, it was amazing, after I got up from that big bolder I was lying on and slept for an hour, then tried to eat some which I nearly vomited right away - I did not listen to my body. My fear of being inferior and me being determined to get up there did serious harm to my body.

Looking back at my downward spiral experiences I see many analogies, I did not listen to my body and that took its toll. This time round I got away without depressions, maybe because I know in the meantime how to deal with them, maybe because I already suffered from massive anxiety and claustrophobia. It was not a pretty time and I hope that anyone who goes through a time like this has a strong partner at his side that gives them the support to pull themselves out of that again. I have that strong partner at my side and am very lucky that I managed, thanks to her, to pull myself out again and listen to my body more.

I hope that I’ll find my balance at some stage, I certainly know the signs and know how it feels when I am there but hopefully I will not forget to listen to my body. I can really only highly urge everyone who works in a fast paced company to sit back every now and then, reflect and check if what you do is healthy. Pace is not everything, you only got this one live and the mad rush of fast growing companies is amazing but you need to know when to change your mode of running it and when to change your pace. Running a company is a long term thing and it is only rewarding if you are on that peak and enjoy the view without that desire to vomit and sleep or to just hope that a helicopter comes around the corner to pick you up.