If I asked if you could continue working at the pace you currently work for the next 10 or even 20 years, what would you say? I think for most people, the standard response would be: “Hell no!” But what we do today, and what we do tomorrow, rapidly becomes the status quo. Until working in a way that is completely unsustainable starts to seem quite normal.
It happened to me. A few years ago, after being at a startup for 4 years and getting the chance to make tons of cool stuff, I was intoxicated with my own productivity. I got wildly ambitious and decided to 3x my workload, adding multiple massive new projects (of my own devising!) to an already intensive work schedule. By the end of that year, I had produced a shit-ton of incredible things, but I was a burnt out husk of a person.
I had no energy for eating healthfully, exercising, or extracurricular activities. My usual routine involved getting home from work at about 8pm with only enough energy to open a beer, order takeout, and watch Netflix until I passed out in bed.
I had no energy left for building meaningful relationships. I had friends and I had a girlfriend, but I was so consumed by my work anxiety that it made me selfish. I didn’t have the bandwidth to truly engage with other people and be a supportive partner.
And I had no energy left to savor any of my accomplishments when they actually arrived because I was always already focused on the next thing I had to accomplish.
In short, I was mentally, emotionally, and physically burnout. But it took me a long time to figure it out because I wasn’t listless or unproductive or disengaged from my work. The problem was: All I was engaged with was my work. And that was causing me to work in a way that was utterly unsustainable.
So I decided to dial it down.
For six months after I slowed down, I woke up with a strange buzzing sensation, my body thrumming with energy. Stuck in a rhythm after years of overwork, my body was continuing to release the excess amount of adrenalin that I had previously needed to get through the day.
It became clear that I needed to do more than just work less. I had to rehabilitate my mind and body, and shed years of bullshit and bad habits.
These are just a few of the steps I took over the past three years to get back to a healthy place and realign my work/life balance. (It’s also where you learn that I am a huge hippie.)
I went to an acupuncturist to try to calm the crazy buzzing, adrenalin energy.
I started seeing a psychotherapist regularly to work on reducing my anxiety.
I did a series of sessions with a physical therapist to remove decades worth of built up stress and tension in my body.
I consulted with a professional life coach about how to start writing more, because the lack was making me empty.
I did a four-month program with a personal trainer to get back into physical shape.
I made a cross-country journey to see a shaman and get a cosmic tune-up.
I did a three-month program to realign my career and business ambitions with my core strengths (not just competencies).
I went to see a reiki healer who helped me, for lack of a more artful term, “take out my spiritual trash.”
And all of these things helped. For the first time in years, I feel very little anxiety. I feel extremely clear on what I’m doing and why. And I feel very healthy and content with my life as it is. I have long hair, I am tan, I live in LA. It’s kind of weird.
But I’m still not done. And bouncing back to this point from massive burnout took over 30 months. And you can tell from the list above that I am the type of person who is highly motivated to seek out options for growth and change. Not to mention that I am obviously in a very privileged position to have the resources to pursue all of these “fixes” in the first place.
The point is, when you’ve been conducting your working life at the speed of a freight train, it takes quite a long time to roll to a stop and/or point yourself in a new direction—toward a new way of being, living, and working.
So if you feel like the pace you’re working at is unsustainable, I would ask you to consider how you can begin to change your habits right now—rather than at some point in the future when you magically have more time.
Saying that you don’t have time for something is really just another way of saying it’s not important. When we make time for work and little else, what we’re saying is that our health, our bodies, our partners, our families, our happiness, our creativity are not important.
And if that’s true, to what end are we working so hard?