Burned Out of the Wilderness

Reflections on burnout after 2 years of pandemic lows and career highs.

April 3, 2022 (2y ago)

Burned out girl

Out of the many things that I dabbled in before (I remember thinking of myself as an unfortunate dilettante), I used to circle most around writing. I was obsessed with blogs, delivered to me through Google Reader subscriptions painstakingly curated over the years in middle and high school. I wrote short film scripts, poorly paced and overly specific novellas, and a link-blog styled after Daring Fireball that I spent a summer between 8th and 9th grade working on.

Most of all, I loved hearing the voices of writers come through in the things that they focused on and how they put their words out into the world—it gave me a sense of them, in a way that I felt I could strive for myself. A hope that I could put my own voice out there, making something through words.

For the last nine years, I’ve been owned by my career. I’ve spent most of my 20’s building companies as an early employee (both of which were incredibly tiny, with one ending quietly and one becoming a defining company) and finding my worth and value in the corporate spaces that I helped shape. My energy, actions, and time I spent were focused on this side of me—employee, designer, engineer—and the rest of my life felt more shallow for much of that time.

Yes, along the way, there were significant moments for me outside of work—coming out as trans four years ago, losing and finding long-term love, and developing friendships and care with my family that I didn’t have the capacity for in the past. But behind it all, work and the meaning I sought in it often overwhelmed me and held a top seat in the priorities I had in my head—for better or worse.

So, for a long time, I felt like I had to sacrifice myself to succeed. To meet the expectations of the people around me—my peers, leaders, reports—I had to be all in. And even though this is decidedly not true (if my boss sees this, know that they’ve done everything they can in dissuading me from this view), the way that I think and operate leads me to this view on work. While I’ve taken steps to pull back from this mindset through therapy, self-care, and other means, I’ve been mostly unsuccessful. And with that lack of success, I’ve continued pouring so much of myself into work, like gasoline on a flame. Out in the wilderness, alone, getting smoked out by the fire I set for myself. Burnt out in a way that, this time, I have to take seriously.

Right now, it’s the last night before the end of my (admittedly short) vacation. I went to Honolulu to try to see friends and nature, and amid both happy and depressive moments, I spent a long time thinking about my life as it stands now. One of the things I figured out this past week away is that I found a lack of myself and the interests I care about in my life now—that I missed is finding something I loved, that I could lean on and do actively, that I could step towards as I tried to find the proper distance away from work and the way that it leads me to feel.

And as I sat in my hotel, I thought about how I used to love crafting words—trying to put something interesting, thoughtful, careful, exploratory onto a page. I missed how good that felt. How important it was for me to have a voice for myself beyond the one that I made in my work with startups and design. So I’m going to try again, to be back making things in service to honing and sharing that voice—stepping out of the smoky wilderness to live for the things that I care about, way-finding to a better kind of living, and writing about it all along the way.

👋 Hey there, reader!

I don’t know what I’m going to write yet. I do know that there’s a lot on my mind and a lot for me to figure out. I need this for me, and I’m going to write with that in mind. I hope this eclectic collection of thoughts and words helps me find my way—and if it does catch your fancy or helps you in your own way, I’m glad.

See you soon, and thanks for reading.