Story of Tetris and Jenga...

Do you know what burnout feels like? It feels like an immense amount of stress on your body. Burnout manifests in many different ways in our bodies. For some it's pain, for some it's anxiety, for others it may be numbness, forgetfulness, or extreme tiredness. Irrespective of how burnout manifests in us, it has long-term consequences on our physical, mental, and emotional health. Often, we couch burnout under stress, overwork, or feelings of tiredness. But what really happens is – just like a candle – we burn ourselves to the ground because we are trying to provide light to someone/something else but forget to rest and take care of ourselves. Even a candle should not be burned all the way – at once - to the ground, let alone a human being.

In early September 2023, I experienced my first burnout in over a decade. I had too much going on all at once at work, at home, in my professional life, in my personal life. And I couldn’t manage it all. My to-do list on an unassuming Wednesday evening included:

I had to complete all of this that evening because everything was due on Thursday. It’s not that I procrastinated and left it for the last minute. It’s just that every day – even during the summer – I have had similar unrealistic to-do lists to deal with. My strategy was to do whatever was needed the following week, the week before and then slowly make my way through things that were due later in the month. Well, guess what, time caught up with me and I no longer had the luxury of a week’s worth of time. I was now on a day-to-day basis and this particular Wednesday, I broke down. I cried and couldn’t make sense of my emotions. I even pulled out the Emotions Wheel that Abby Van Muijen created to make sense of what I was feeling but I couldn’t make sense. I was crying sitting at my table. I was crying cooking. I was crying even while sleeping! My husband - concerned that I needed space to calm down - decided to give me *more* space. The EXACT opposite of what I needed. 

I realized that I was spent. Burned out. Done. I could not carry-on any longer. I needed help. I asked my husband to pick up things that needed to be done at home – whether that was cooking, cleaning, or planning his own birthday weekend. I needed help physically, emotionally, mentally, socially. I also realized I needed help at work. I sent off an email to my Board Chair asking for the month of December off so I could rest. And decided I was going to hire a Program Manager to support me. And, as for Women In Power, I decided I would focus on it on Thursday and pushed off launching Women In Power (now Power In Allyship) in India till Q1 next year.

Why do I share my personal story with you? Because I want you to know you are not alone. We all go through this, even those of us who have everything planned out. Women disproportionately bear the burden of work – whether at home, at work, or in their social lives. We set unrealistic expectations for ourselves and something we would never expect from our staff or partner. In fact, we would recommend they drop a few things from their plate. But when it comes to ourselves, we keep pushing ourselves to achieve an unseen, not expected, goal. 

We are always playing a game of Tetris to make sure everything fits and then a game of Jenga to make sure nothing falls. And I want you to know that it is OK to let things fall. It’s OK to ask for help. It’s OK to give up and do only what you can and what serves you. The most important thing I learned from my experience is to normalize not striking everything off my to-do list and being honest about what my capacity/limits are. I list three additional things that I learned from my experience below.

So are you burned out? What is your body telling you? How can you stop it? What resources do you seek?