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The Naked Emperor: An Essay on Burnouts
4 min read
According to Oxford Dictionary, burnout means, "The reduction of a fuel or substance to nothing through use or combustion." The word burnout in workplace usually refers to the same phenomenon where a star player with "I can," or "Give me more," attitude runs out of fuel to function properly.
The term, "Burnout," isn't really talked about much, hence, "The Naked Emperor." Perhaps because it may carry stigma of being weak, spiritually, mentally or psychologically? Or maybe because the awareness of it will result in demands and changes that the big organizations may not really be a fan of? Capitalism and the robotic middle class. Produce, earn cash, buy this and that, however, that's a whole another topic.
Burnout isn't a unique phenomenon. It has been recognized by many cultures and people, especially Japan where there is a term called, "Karoshi," which means "death by overwork." It is a serious condition that needs to be talked about especially in IT field which in intellectuality and mentally taxing. Why does it happen? What can we do to prevent it? I'll also share my story and some advice at the end.
For whatever reason, a hard working person may feel that either their work isn't important. Might feel under appreciated and feel that they're not adequately rewarded and compensated. It is possible that others may take credit for their work. The environment might have became toxic. Overnights, lack of sleep, running on coffee and lack of meaningful connections etc.
These eventually make a person apathetic. The excitement of learning new things, the joy of small wins, the satisfaction of production something elegant, they all fade away. For such apathy, like any other psychological condition, in order to cope, a person may resort to short term pleasures that keeps them going in the meantime. Short term pleasures might include comfort eating, wasting time on social media, movies, games etc. as all of these stimulate the brain reward circuitry.
This apathy slowly morphs into a crippling psychological state of a total burnout. If you think of work as one of your leg, your family and yourself as the other, standing on one leg day and night will inevitably result in exhaustion to the point where you can't keep up and eventually, fall. There are more things in life that you need to take nurture, like your health, career, goals, ambitions, family, friends, spirituality, physical health among other things.
Burnout does not only affect your psychology but also physiology. The stress that you may experience will literally shrink the brain parts that are associated with memory, reasoning, logic, problem solving, self control and emotional regulation (pre-frontal cortex). Lack of sleep and physical activity also shrinks the brain in an extremely negative manner. The social media or sugary foods one may use as a coping mechanism also overloads your pre-frontal cortex with dopamine which results in further deteriorating of your psychological and physical health. A downward spiral that feeds on itself.
Personally, I learned this the hard way. Committing too much to work and a focus on loyalty, I have realized that I never got to built a specialized skillset nor did any real projects that I could feel proud of, I mean, what should I write on my resume's projects section? I've also at the same time, realized that I've always been underpaid nor have my expertise been used to do something incredible. This makes me sad as I'm a visionary and hardworking, to see I've been left behind compared to my peers gives me no pleasure.
This isn't to bash anyone or anything. It doesn't matter where you work, people pay you to generate them profits, fulfil their vision and help them achieve their goals and that's okay! You can also have a business and you'll also need people to run it too. You need to realize that you are employed purely because you have the skill, no one is running a charity and if for whatever reason you start to underperform, they can easily lay you off and replace you. Be loyal but not to a fault. Help organizations realize their dreams and visions but not at the expense of your own. Work hard but don't trade the "self" for prestige.