Don’t Burn Out, Bow Out

"I wore my burnout like a badge of honor, doing more, completing more, accepting more, until I just couldn’t go on anymore."

Burnout is Real
Burnout is real.

At the end of the day, I love scrolling through my social media feeds (yes, I know it’s poor sleep hygiene), and most nights, I see a lot of quotes telling me things like “Don’t complain, just work harder” or “Dreams don’t work unless you do.” 

People in the legal profession are used to working hard. It’s an innate and sometimes annoying trait many of us share, so these quotes shouldn’t rub me the wrong way, but they do. The deeper I delve into my own wellness, the more often I find myself asking: is all this hustling harming our health?

Being in the legal profession is tough. If you’re a student, it’s hard to escape the web of reading, outlining, and studying. If you’re in the workforce, you are constantly juggling deadlines, combative counsel, and anxious clients. 

It can be totally exhausting. I never admitted to burnout when I was in law school, nor did I admit to burnout when I started practicing. I wore my burnout like a badge of honor, doing more, completing more, accepting more, until I just couldn’t go on anymore. 

I’m finally in a place where I’m not as worried that opening myself up will lead to an attack of my vulnerabilities, but it took me about 20 years to reach this point. I realize that now that burnout is very real, and so are its negative impacts. It’s also high time we admit to our stressors in the legal field. Celebrities from Justin Bieber to Rihanna to Lilly Singh to Selena Gomez have hit the “pause” button, so why can’t we?

Wait, What Exactly is Burnout?

When the feeling of being completely overwhelmed persists, it can spiral into burnout – a growing epidemic with serious consequences for your health, academic and legal career.

Burnout is so serious that the World Health Organization (WHO) announced that it will recognize burnout as an official “occupational phenomenon” that could drive people to seek medical care.

Physical signs of burnout include overwhelming exhaustion, feeling cynical and detached from work or school, and a sense of ineffectiveness or lack of accomplishment. 

In our hyper-connected digital world, burnout is reaching epidemic proportions, and among women, in particular

Women often feel a particular kind of pressure to “lean in” and plow through, but Jess Davis sums it up perfectly: “Women are leaning in so hard, we are falling on our faces”. Basically, we are digging our own graves, and we need to stop. 

And here’s something else: people seem to connect burnout with hating school or work, but it’s becoming more and more common among those who are highly engaged with their work

What We Can Do to Reduce Burnout

1. Work harder. This sounds counterintuitive, but work harder. Not longer, but harder. When you are studying, go all in. Don’t scroll your social media feeds or respond to texts. Likewise, if you’re off, allow yourself to relax. That hour you spend watching Real Housewives can help you relax and reset. (Pick up any book by Jason Fried to see how you can be both balanced and successful: no, I don’t know the guy, I just shamelessly plug him because I love his approach to work).

2. Focus on relationships. Relationship building is so underrated but so invaluable. Take the time to re-engage with your support system, or invest in building a new one. Data shows that having good relationships at work is also one of the best ways to help prevent burnout in the first place. That goes for school too. Find someone. Listen. Connect. 

3. Prioritize happiness. Happiness is not some elusive luxury; it should be a priority for all of us. For every bit of hustle and stress, you need an equal amount of rest and restoration: while you’re looking for that relaxation, you may just find something else: some peace of mind. 

I botch up even the simplest quotes, but I’ll leave you with this quote that goes something like this: 

“The wise rest as well as they work.”

To the perfectionists in our midst: let’s strive to make that quote our reality.

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