Acknowledging Burnout: The Truth Behind My “Pit Stop”
One year ago today, on October 6th, 2015, I boarded a flight from Helsinki to Kathmandu, kicking off what’s so far been 12 months of solo travel, detaching myself completely from the life that had consumed me for over ten years. My greater friend network learned about my travels as I started posting daily photos on my Instagram feed, drawing comments such as “living the dream” and “crushing life.” The real story behind the journey, however, is something that I initially kept within a small group of friends, family and confidants. The more I’ve shared it with transparency, the more I’ve found others who have had similar thoughts and experiences. Today, I’m using my one year anniversary to republish my first private blog post (slightly modified) from my travels on an open and public platform in hopes that we can expand the discussion around a very real and growing phenomenon.
In thinking about what this “Pit Stop” concept might become and what content will be most meaningful to friends, family, and myself, I found the first words to be the most difficult to articulate. I don’t mean the words that I’m typing right now in my first blog post, but rather the title, description, and ethos that will influence the lens from which I view the next 3, 6, 12, or however many months. In that time, I’ll be embarking on what I’ve deemed my Pit Stop and will make my best effort to translate those experiences into the written word.
By way of background, the Pit Stop is a fairly elementary analogy that came to me after several weeks of contemplating what got me to the point of burnout and what compelled me to take off on a journey of self-reflection and, hopefully, self-renewal.
To put it simply, I was a workaholic media executive, enjoying several years of success building and being apart of multiple fast paced and high profile organizations. I had recently left New York City, my home of over eight years, and joined a booming company in the UK, which I had been advising since its early days. While the move was something I felt I truly wanted, it may have actually been a last ditched effort to reinvigorate my already wavering psyche.
My life in NYC had begun to feel a bit like Groundhog Day, going through the same motions, same workdays, same nights out, and same romantic endeavors. I was seemingly living the high life full of fancy dinners, hockey tickets, weekend trips, and plenty of shiny new material possessions, but below the surface, a looming feeling of discontent and angst was growing.
Coincidentally, this all happened precisely 10 years after finishing college without a clue which direction my career would go or what awaited me in the years ahead. And right on cue for my 10-year anniversary, deeper questions about my life and the years past started entering my mind. My career had been my primary focus over the last 10 years and I was constantly weighing my worth by what I was accomplishing professionally. My identity and self-recognition were directly correlated to what I was doing in the office and it fed right into my personal narrative; whether it was in dating, socializing or even amongst my family. I rarely created space for myself and being “busy” was almost a badge of honor. The imbalance that came with such a dependence on my work self was simply unsustainable.
Initially, changing scenery to the UK and taking on a new challenge felt great, but as soon as the honeymoon phase was over, I slipped right back into waking up with the feeling that my life was not my own and time was just slipping through my fingers. While I continued to suffer, so did my work, social life, and personal and professional relationships. Yet the funny thing is, I didn’t allow myself to listen to these thoughts until I was literally forced to; burning out in dramatic fashion and crashing into a wall of anxiety, emptiness, and self doubt, culminating in a full blown panic attack in front of my entire company.
It was an unexpected and pivotal moment from which there was no coming back. It happened during a quarterly company review about five months into my stint in the UK. It was a standard presentation that should have been delivered with ease, but after a few moments of speaking, the panic hit me like a ton of bricks. My hands began to shake, my throat tightened and my ears filled with a dull white noise as the world came crashing down around me. As I coughed out whatever words I could muster, I looked out over the room of familiar and friendly faces, which brought no solace. Foregoing everything I had planned to say, I rushed through the presentation and found myself walking back to my seat in utter confusion, trying to pick up the pieces. A few days later as I struggled to reconcile what had happened, I broke out in a painful rash on the right side of my torso. The doctor told me I had shingles, something that a healthy 32-year old guy has no business having. He simply asked, “have you been under a lot of stress?”
Whether directly or indirectly, this culmination of discontent led to my early exit from the high profile position in one of the most promising media companies on the web. I was offered an exit, took it, and there I was, left astray without my work self to keep me afloat. In the days and weeks following, I bounced between feelings of total liberation and apprehension, primarily because I knew the rare opportunity had come to look inwards and confront my demons. The only thing that felt natural to do was to go away. I’d go far away from the life I had grown accustomed to and seek to both examine those parts of myself that I’ve left unexamined and see if I could fix whatever needed fixing.
Much like the way a race car needs a Pit Stop for a new set of tires to finish a race, I’m pulling over from the rat race for my own repairs, refueling and mechanical adjustments. It’s an opportunity for me to put aside whatever lay ahead of me or behind me, and focus on making sure my next 10 years are not only sustainable, but also to make sure they’re better than the last.
“I know well what I am fleeing from, but not what I am in search of.” — Michel de Montaigne
While my personal journey and photography include themes of my travels, my objective with The Pit Stop is to share, explore and provide as much insight as possible about millennial burnout, the challenges our generation faces, and perhaps even what it means to transition from a life of stress and discontent to a life of balance, curiosity and fulfillment. Each week (or more) I’ll continue to republish private posts from my journey as well as share new thoughts and findings as they come.