I’m tired. Bone-tired.
In fact, I’m not even sure I have bones anymore. It doesn’t feel like anything in my body is solid enough — it’s all been replaced by thick, sleepy jelly.
Chronic tiredness has been following me around for months, burning away behind my eyes and turning my joints to lead. There’s no logical or medical reason for it; I sleep well, I take vitamins, I’ve refined my diet, I exercise regularly. All the doctor’s appointments and blood tests illustrate me as a completely healthy, functioning human.
But here I am, sailing around in a thick fog of exhaustion, fast asleep on the deck.
My best guess is that it’s the same fog affecting millennials worldwide. Something rooted in American life, crawling out of Silicon Valley and infecting business culture and everyday life across the world.
When viral articles about burnout started circulating, I didn’t give it that much thought. It sounded like something reserved for lawyers or people in finance or anyone acting as Miranda Priestly’s assistant. I didn’t think someone who leaves work promptly at 5:30 pm, who always takes her full lunch break and sleeps nine hours a night, could ever claim that sort of exhaustion.
But my body and my brain are telling me a different story. So I started doing some investigating.
Like a lot of people in creative and media industries, I’m not just showing up for my 9–5 gig. I show up for freelance clients, plan blog posts in my lunch breaks, read non-fiction in bed and listen to audiobooks at the gym, create spreadsheets of goals and ideas, attend networking events with too much wine to be considered productive. I’m showing up all over the place — late, pale, used up.
AND HERE’S THE OTHER THING. I’m doing a terrible job at all of these things.
I’ve read dozens of articles from people that paint themselves in the light I just did, the whirlwind, never-stopping, impossibly-together mirage that some professionals seem to exude.
That’s not what my life looks like. As much as I wish it did.
My time at work, any creative endeavours I undertake and my general existence are all consistently punctuated by huge periods of staring into space, obsessively brushing my hair, making new cups of tea to replace the ones I forget to drink, making to-do lists and then reviewing them with dread, thinking about sleep and wanting to burrito myself into a duvet and cry. I snooze my alarm approximately 16 times a morning. I skip breakfast. And for the love of god no matter how much I iron a shirt, I still look like I’ve slept in a bush.
For every glimmer of productivity I feel, for every piece of work I complete, I’m armed with a hundred examples of when I’ve been too distracted, too ineffective, too unable to function on a basic human level — never mind the level everyone else seems to be working at. And it all adds up to one enormous, damning fact.
I don’t deserve to feel tired or overworked.
Therein lies a problem that extends beyond me, beyond what we know working culture and burnout and #selfcare. And it’s getting worse.
The narrative around following your passion is broken.
Think about the thing you love. For me, it’s writing. For you, it might be illustration, design, video games, working out, activism, making soup, herding sheep. Whatever.
Now, think how you felt about that thing as a kid.
When you’re younger, the ‘do what you love’ mantra is a no brainer. It’s implicit. Part of playtime.
Growing up, I would make up stories, bully my sister into playing word-related games with me, have writing competitions, stay up late reading using the light of my alarm clock. I wrote everywhere: on tables, exam papers, the margins of books, my arm, the bottom of my shoe.
It wasn’t me being particularly driven or creative or work-obsessed. It was just me being a kid, doing the thing that I found the most fun.
In fact, the second, the second my English teacher asked us to write a story for homework, bam. Mind closed. Not doing it. Leave it to the last minute and then panic-write some half-baked nonsense.
As you get older, that thing you love stops being about play. It becomes your dream job, your side gig, the thing you do when you have a spare second on the train, the thing you’ve not touched in years and you hate yourself for letting slip. Gym enthusiasts become trainers or Youtubers. Writers become copywriters or freelancers. Designers get jobs with brands or agencies.
Your passion becomes something you monetise — or something you wish you could. And, little by little, it loses some of its gleam.
It’s not that there’s anything wrong with trying to capitalise on the thing you love most. It’s a wonderful thing to be able to love your job, and it’s a privilege not everyone can afford.
But it’s not everything.
And I think that’s, at least in part, where my exhaustion comes from.
The rise of Instagram and LinkedIn has given us a flood of successful people to compare us to. And while the negative influence of photoshopped models and Instagrammable lifestyles has been well documented, what’s less talked about is the huge, creative output the people we follow seem to produce.
Everywhere I look, there’s someone with a book launch, a new skincare line, a training course, an award. It’s incredible, awe-inspiring — and completely demoralising at times.
We’re flooded with people who are, seemingly, 100% committed to their hustle. Never wavering, never doubting themselves, never sleeping past 7 am.
And there we are, walking around with sleep in our eyes, thinking how could we possibly be tired when we’ve comparatively achieved so little?
So we keep working. Because we’ve not yet done enough to earn a break.
When I’m writing, I’m thinking about what projects will help me grow my career. When I’m not writing, I’m thinking about what a lazy, hopeless slacker I am.
And I’m burnt out.
I’m wringing out my passion for writing, squeezing it for cash and life purpose and begging it to give me more than it’s giving.
So, I’m writing a blanket letter to anyone else feeling worthless and tired and like they’re letting themselves down.
This isn’t a prescription for solving burnout and getting back to work.
This is permission to feel as exhausted, as worn out and as low as you feel. Because that is how you feel.
Don’t let yourself be bullied or feel pressured into carving out time to work and graft at the thing you love. To shape it into a lucrative career. To wake up at 5 am and commit yourself to it for an hour before your real day starts. To staple your eyes open and work until you can’t stand.
It’s an incredible, sacred thing to be passionate about something. To have a hobby or interest that energises you, that makes your steps lighter and your days richer. But that doesn’t mean you have to be a slave to it.
In fact, it’s almost essential that you’re not. So it can stay that precious, shining thing in your life.
Don’t let the thing you’re passionate about be the thing that exhausts you — the thing you feel obligated to schedule in after a day’s work. Instead, hold it close to you, treat it gently. Allow yourself to put it down when you’re eyes droop and pick it up when you want to, not when you feel you have to. Most of all, don’t feel guilty for time spent away from it — whether that’s a day or a week or six months.
This is the thing that fills you with joy. So if it starts to feel more chore than choice, step back. Rest. Decompress.
You don’t need to be Stephen King and write 88 books. You don’t need to be Jiro Ono and keep making nigiri until you’re a hundred years old. You need to be you — well-rested, wonderful you.
You are more than your output.