While I have mentioned it here and there on Twitter, I have been dealing with a lot of things regarding my mental health. Things that I think are common, like Imposter Syndrome, depression, anxiety about money, and stress from my job and from planning a wedding.
These things aren’t new ideas people face, in fact it seems to be about as common as a cold. Plenty of people have had issues with money, careers, and some have planned a wedding too. After thinking about this and writing this post, I have seen some trends regarding “burnout.”
My generation has been told time and time again to go to college, do what makes you happy, and to follow your dreams. That is precisely what I did and I am working in the field I went to school for and I love my job. Yet, I still wake up anxious and afraid of what will come next. This isn't me blaming anyone for the path I took in my life, I am happy I went to school and I am happy with the career path I took. In fact, I haven't met someone in the millennial generation that seems to be an outlier from this mental health and cultural issue. This could possibly be just the people I associate with, but even those I talk to have mentioned something like this to me.
In a recent article from The Atlantic Sophie Gilbert mentions Tidying Up With Marie Kondo and how people define success and the burnout many millennials are feeling right now. It also goes into some other things like the Fyre Festival and how these two events are synonymous with the culture that the millennial generation brings. What got me the most, though, was how “burnout” was seemingly connected with success, but what is “burnout” anyway?
The majority of the video content that I consume is on YouTube and a recent trend I have seen by people like Casey Neistat is this open dialog about "burnout."
Said Video of Casey on Burnout
In this video he comments on this article from The Insider about big YouTubers feeling burnt out and overwhelmed. Most of this video is about how when people attain this level of success they realize that to continue that growth they have to ultimately push themselves to their absolute breaking point and, frankly, bust their ass to make that effort equal or exceed their expectations.
But what if you haven't reached that level of success and you already feel burnt out? Does that mean you should just quit while you're behind? Or does it mean that you need to push yourself even harder to get over that dip?
I ask not just because I want to bring about a different angle on this, but because that is where I am right now. To be completely transparent here, I haven't seen any real growth from Rocket Panda (formerly Tablet Habit) in several months. It just has this plateau of about 2000 visits a month. Which in blogging terms means next to nothing.
There have been several times where I decide that the best way for me to use my time is to work on a new design, or maybe even move my site to a new blogging platform, or even just change the domain to something else again. Which I know is about has useful as cutting off my foot just before I get ready to run a marathon.
Most of the time I have these thoughts it’s because I am afraid of just sitting down and writing. I am afraid because I worry that once I do I will see I have nothing to say, or what I do have to say isn't good enough. But as literally every great writer has said in one way or another, the best way to get better at writing is to actually write.
What I am saying here isn’t new and revolutionary. The problems I face aren’t unique by any stretch of the imagination. With that said, I can’t help but feel like this is something that is not being talked about enough, hopefully that will change.
I also find these common problems for my generation to be indicative that millennials are more superficial than ever. For example, I would rather waste time on materialistic things instead of working to get better at my craft. ”If I can't be the best," I would say to myself, "why would I want to put any of my time an energy into it? I should just go and try something else that I can be better at instead."
I don't know the definitive answer to this problem but I think it starts somewhere with changing the mindsets of myself and others in this era of what success actually is. I am still trying to figure that out for myself, but it shouldn't be the number in our bank account or whether we have the more organized and optimized apartment.
How I am Changing My Mindset
Before I go into this, I absolutely know that this is something better said than done, but you can’t start somewhere without taking that first step.
1. Throw Envy Out the Window
One thing I am slowly starting to make a mantra is that your work should be like golf, the only real opponent you should measure yourself to is you.
I have seen people I follow and consider my peers gain success in their own ways and I can’t help be get a little jealous and envious of them for growing while I am not growing fast enough to my liking. This kind of thinking is how you get discouraged and throw in the towel. It isn’t healthy to always be looking how well others are doing and comparing yourself to them. If anything it will drive you insane.
What I plan to do instead is to look at how I am doing month-to-month. The things I want to look at are:
- RSS subscribers
- Email Newsletter Subscribers
- Page Views
With these numbers I record them in a Google Sheet and see how they are trending and see what I need to do to either continue growing, or what I need to do in order to start growing these numbers.
2. Quality of Quantity
While I do want to keep an eye on the numbers, they aren’t everything. One thing that I want to remember as I write and post on Rocket Panda, or really anywhere, is that there are people reading this. My readers are not numbers on a chart, they are human beings that I want to engage with and share things with.
A trick I learned seem Chris Wilson was to act like I am writing for a blog or person I admire as if they were to read it. For me it is Federico Viticci, Serenity Caldwell, Myke Hurley, Stephen Hackett, David Sparks, Rose Orchard, Rene Ritchie, Merlin Mann, Alex Cox, Matthew Cassinelli, and John Gruber. All of them are people I admire and hope to connect with one day. Some of whom I already have (listen to the episodes of A Slab of Glass with Rose Orchard, Matthew Cassinelli, Alex Cox, and David Sparks).
If I write something that is for the people I admire I feel like I am more considerate of their time, attention, and I write enough to make my point but I edit down as much as I can to not have too much “fluff.”
3. Focus on the Rocks First
There is an old metaphor about a professor who came into class with an empty jar, he filled it with a few large rocks, then several small pebbles, then sand. The adage goes that you should focus on the big priorities in your life, the big rocks, more and then the other important things, the pebbles, and then the “small stuff” and material things in life, the sand. If you were to focus on the “small stuff” first you wouldn’t be able to fit the rocks and the pebbles in there.
There’s this great video that explains this better than I can.
The point of this, for me at least, is that priorities matter and in order to focus on these big things we first need to acknowledge what those things are. What do we care about the most? Family, friends, passions, careers. These are all good examples. But if we focused more on the small things like the latest tech gadget, whether we have the best phone or iPad, or other material and frivolous things we won’t have the time and energy needed for the big rocks.
Focus on the big rocks first, then the pebbles, and if there is time the sand.
4. Get Organized
In order to find those big rocks, we need to get organized. For me, I have been bouncing around task managers so many times the last week I cared more about what app to write down the things I need to do rather than just doing them.
We all get swept up in the productivity porn of task managers and it can be fun to start using a new app or system; but if we spend all of our time on the app or system we aren’t going to actually get anything done.
So I have decided on an app, which one is honestly not important for this article, and I plan to use this for 90 days without waver. I will write more about it soon but for now I am less interested in writing about the app and actually using it to get things done instead.
I decided to use Things 3, the reason for this is because I have been going back and forth between this and Omnifocus and I decided to use Things 3 after flipping a coin to see which one would win.
Once I take the choice of the app out of the picture I can start focusing on the things that matter, which are the things I want to get done.
I am not removing myself from social media, but I am making social media a lower priority for me. When ever I get free time in the bank or at work or even at a stop light I immediately go on my phone and check Twitter.
I have since replaced this with the app Tally to count how many times I open it in a given week.
This prevents me from sinking time into Twitter when I can be doing something better like reading articles on my Pinboard or an actual book. I also deleted Twitter from my phone and instead made it only available as a web app in Safari, which is blocked with 1Blocker. This makes it very much intentional for me to actually open Twitter for something and if I do so I have to jump through a number of hoops to get on it.
Like I said, I am not going away from social media, but I am reducing my intake of it and making it very intentional in my life.
6. Make Time to Get Centered
When I am going through a very anxious or stressful period in my day I spend at least two minutes meditating to get myself back to the center. I know that I am stressed and I know something needs my attention, but if I don’t make the time to decompress this will hit a boiling point that won’t be good for anyone involved.
Meditation is a new thing for me, so I have been using the app Calm to get started on it and learn more about meditation. So far, it seems to be helping me learn and use these meditation techniques at home, work, and even when I write. As of now, I meditate every morning and throughout the day when I feel that things need to be brought back to ground level.
As someone that has a history of depression and anxiety I am blown away with what meditation can do for me. I was a skeptic for a long time but as I get more and more into this space I am finding it to level things out and help subside my depression and anxiety at times.
7. Never Quit Before Reaching the Starting Block
When you are in a creative field, it can be common to have a feedback loop, a recurring thought that you aren't good enough or that you aren't doing enough, or something to that affect. I know because this is a very common thing in my writing process.
In fact, it has killed a lot of ideas before they had time to incubate long enough to grow into something. Sometimes it can be good to not spend time on something that you aren't passionate about. But when your reasoning is because you feel you aren't good enough that just stops you from even trying out something that could be great.
I have been making a change to my line of thinking with my writing, namely to not kill them off before writing at least 500 words. That way I spend time writing out my thoughts and figuring out what it is I want to say. It has helped me write this very article, and it has allowed me to leave ideas in my writing folder to keep them in the forefront of my brain.
The feedback loops I have are still very much there but I have been working on not letting them make decisions for me.
With all of these ways I have of dealing with burnout, it is still early on for me. I plan to keep at this and follow up next month. Until then, I would love to know what kinds of things you do to deal with things like burnout, Imposter Syndrome, and feedback loops. You can let me know on Twitter or via email.