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The Great Exhaustion: What You Feel Is More Important Than What You Think

Part II in a Series

So, wow. When I casually stopped to write The Great Exhaustion on December 29th, I did not expect it to become my most read Medium piece of all time. Prior to that, a piece about existentialism and my immigrant parents had held that distinction. I think one of the biggest things I have learned from this experience is that we are hungry for words that capture our feelings — not just our “thinkings.”

I’d like to say that since I wrote that piece I have radically rejuvenated myself, but it’s not true. However, I have made some progress. I always strive for progress, not perfection. I am going to share what I’ve learned with you in hopes that we can start to breathe a bit easier, let our shoulders drop and begin to heal. It isn’t a cure, but it’s a start:

  1. How You Feel Is More Important Than What You Think

We live in a very cerebral time. We think a lot. It’s easy for me to grab these thoughts and run with them when I am in desperate need of solution. However, if I want to actually heal and not just cover up discomfort, I have to wade into the reality of my feelings. (The whole basis of Gestalt therapy is centered on this concept btw.)

What happened on December 29th, is I stopped saying things like, “I’m so busy” (a thought) and I wrote the truth, “I am exhausted” (a feeling). I process life through writing in my journal and writing music. Some people process through hiking, running or meditating. As we venture through The Great Exhaustion, I encourage you to lean into your feelings as you process. Instead of asking cerebral questions like, “Why do I feel like this?” instead try, “How do I feel right now?” Allow what comes up to just be. Feelings aren’t always facts, but acknowledging them allows us to release some pressure.

2. Rest If You’re Tired

This one comes from my husband. The moment his mild case of Omicron cleared up, he wanted to get back to his aggressive running schedule. However, it didn’t go as planned. He’s having some long haul issues (fatigue, brain fog, sudden onset dyslexia) and not able to keep his usual pace.

Last week, as I was powering through another day, he said, “It sounds really stupid, but if you’re tired — you need to stop and rest. That’s the biggest thing I’ve learned since being sick. Rest without shame. It makes a difference and you’ll be more productive in the long run.”

I hate when solutions are simple. I also hate when my husband is right (just kidding). Hustle culture on social media likes to brag about the late nights and early mornings. Funny how they don’t post about the alcoholism or the high blood pressure or the burn out or failing relationships though. But we all know that’s what’s on the other side of hustle culture.

Let’s normalize the idea that real hustlers — know when to rest. If it works for elite athletes, it will probably work for us plebs.

3. Self Soothe Without Shame

What makes me feel good? What are some things I enjoy that allow me to relax and unwind? Even seemingly stupid things.

I have been ruminating on this because it got to a point last year where if asked, “What brings you joy?” I honestly had no idea. In fact, I started keeping a list in the Notes app of my phone so I wouldn’t forget.

Some of the ways I unwind are usual suspects like take a bath, bake or go on a hike. There are also funny things that are uniquely me like stroll in a grocery store. True story. I find strolling Whole Foods or Asian markets extremely relaxing. Did I know before now that I needed to buy lemongrass stalks or nigella seeds? No. Do I know how to use them? Not really. But I’ll figure it out and it excites me.

For my husband, self soothing is hunting for 45s and then listening to them on his record player for hours. College football works too. He also really loves a good BBQ with friends on the weekend. (He’s from Kansas City, what can ya’ do.)

Soothing without shame, even if it’s a day of binging TV, can be tremendously restorative.

Definitely not my home, but I appreciate the vibe.

4. Be Where You Are

When I was growing up, we moved a lot. I went to five elementary schools in five years. It was hard. The upside is that it made me resilient and highly adaptable to circumstances. This has served me well in my career. The downside is that I became addicted to the idea that dramatic change is the answer to all my problems. (The world of 12 Step recovery calls this concept, “pulling a geographic.”*)

I, too, participated in the Great Resignation. I have zero regrets about leaving my senior executive position (and a lot of stock) at Amazon. Quite frankly, I’m convinced my health would have suffered had I not.

But lately, I’m taking a deeper look at other areas in my life when I begin to think change is the answer. Most recently, it was with our home. Over the holidays, I began to think of all the places that might make us happier. I spent hours scrolling Zillow looking for the dream.

Then I remembered something an interior designer friend once said to me, “You know, a lot of people don’t fix up their rentals or even their home because they’re waiting for the next place — the place that will be better than this one. The problem is, they never learn to enjoy where they’re at.” (This, of course, is the classic existential dilemma. If only I had X, then I would be happy. If only I get rid of Y, then it will be better.)

Since one of the ways I self soothe is decluttering and interior design, I decided to invest in our home. I’ve always hated the muted grey walls that came with place. It felt dim, but I didn’t want to bother with re-painting because y’know… they’re good enough. Why waste money on something as basic as painting? (I swear I’m turning into my father…)

Well friends, we are currently blasting the entire inside of our house with a coat of white paint and holy moly — it is glorious! I feel happier! It feels exciting! My house feels… new to me. Turns out the feeling I had of “this place is too dark” was an intuitive nudge telling me what to do all along… but my thinking brain kept getting in the way.

It’s strange how sometimes we’re sitting right in the middle of the thing we dreamed about — but we can’t see it.

5. Be Gentle With Yourself

No one is as hard on me as me. I’m guessing you’re the same. Right now, we are collectively fed up. We are somewhat lost, all searching and doing our best. Our best may look worse than what we think it should — but I assure you, it is good enough.

I am still tired. I am still trying my best to make progress. I think these are the seeds of improvement however, and I’m grateful you’re along for the journey. I am really grateful for all of you who read my last piece and responded. It had 98% positive comments and to be frank, I was shocked as I honestly fear the Internet these days.

I believe in our collective future and I also believe it will take some time to get ourselves back together. But that’s OK. Progress, not perfection.

If you are so inclined, feel free to leave comments below about how you self soothe, what brings you joy, how you’re struggling or your tips for unwinding.

Thank you again. Truly.

*(I like this piece on the idea of geographics btw.)



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