Well-Being//

How My Vacation Pushed Me to Burnout

The surprising moment I realized I needed to make a change

Pinkyone/ Shutterstock
Pinkyone/ Shutterstock

Does this sound like a regular day to you?

Get up early, crank on the computer in an effort to get some items off of the ever long to-do list, wanting to strike before the rest of the world wakes.

Familiar right? Here’s the kicker;

It’s 5 AM. It’s a Saturday. I’m on vacation.

When I booked my vacation, I was over the moon excited about spending quality time with my family and having the opportunity to unplug and unwind. Filling my days hiking in the mountains, biking on trails and the evenings sipping wine in front of the fire would be magical.  I was exhausted and knew I needed the break from the grind of everyday life.

No laundry. No back to back meetings. No commuting.

As I started to see my vacation on the horizon, I found myself feeling a sense of dread. What used to be anticipation, excitement and dreaminess had turned sour.  Instead of envisioning the peaks of the mountains and the scent of the forest, I was seeing the 3,000 email pileup on the return highway to hell. I started to feel drained thinking about the late nights that lie ahead when I returned to the office. The more meetings that were added to my calendar, starting the week of my return, the more the tension crept up into my shoulders until they touched my ears.

I dreaded my decision to spend time away from the office.
I dreaded my pending vacation.

The week leading up to my vacation, I found myself working even longer hours in an effort to leave the office in ‘good shape’ for my absence. I knew things were tough on my family when my five-year-old daughter asked my husband, ‘Daddy, when is mommy coming back from her business trip, I haven’t seen her?’ (Meanwhile, I was just 25 miles away in Manhattan and sleeping in my own bed at night).

I went into my vacation with a plan. In an effort to not feel overwhelmed and keep up with work, I decided while on vacation, I would wake up early each morning and spend 90 minutes working. In my imagination, this was a well thought out compromise for our family vacation. Allowing me to stay afloat and compartmentalize.  Yet, it didn’t do either. I found myself;

Distracted with thoughts of work all day long. Tense from having unfinished tasks. Making vacation decisions based on my need to work in the morning.

I was stuck in the black hole of exhaustion, depletion and helplessness. No matter what solution I attempted in an effort to manage my work and balance my life, it all felt compromised.

I knew I needed this vacation, for my mental health, my physical health and my family dynamic.  My gut was screaming at me and the red light was flashing, “DANGER ZONE.”

I cracked. On the fourth morning, I woke at 2 AM, unable to fall back asleep. I watched the clock tick to 3 AM, my anxiety building, knowing I needed to be up at 5 AM to get some work done. Tears started rolling down my cheeks, I was so tired and completely burned out.

The next morning I made a conscious, although difficult, decision to put my computer in my suitcase, zip it up, place it in the back of the closet and close the closet door.  I then recognized three things;

1- Work withdrawals (shakes, discomfort, sweats) will only last for two days 2- Workload will be high upon my return regardless of what I do this week 3- I was on the verge of collapsing.

When did taking a vacation become an added stressor to my life?

Women are taught what success looks like and it has included the mantras, ‘lean-in’, ‘level up’, ‘power through’, and ‘have-it-all’. Couple this with corporations that value collaboration (lots of meetings), open floorplans (constant distractions), growing bottom line (job elimination and combining) and face-time (late nights) there is no wonder the burnout rate is so high.  We are actually perpetuating the culture of burnout.

We need to recreate what the standards of success look like, placing value and worth on different criteria than we have up until now.  We need to recognize that a collaborative culture shouldn’t be synonymous with a meetings culture, that constant distractions lowers IQ and decreases productivity, that first-in, last-out doesn’t make for a better executive, just a tired one.

While women need to work on setting definitive boundaries, saying no to tasks and asks, and being selective about where we put our energy, there also has to be a shift within the corporate environment.

Rewarding the workhorse with more work isn’t a reward.

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    People look for retreats for themselves, in the country, by the coast, or in the hills . . . There is nowhere that a person can find a more peaceful and trouble-free retreat than in his own mind. . . . So constantly give yourself this retreat, and renew yourself.

    - MARCUS AURELIUS

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