Burnt to a crisp!
January 24, 2012 10:55 AM   Subscribe

Juggling burnout at work with searching for a new career: any suggestions?

After 10 years at a job that wasn’t the greatest fit to start with, I am rather burnt out. When I am at work it’s a struggle to work, and when I’m not at work it’s a struggle to do anything besides mindless/escapist type activities. Any sort of career change or simply finding a new job in the same field will require a massive output of energy: applying for jobs, going on interviews, going back to school, etc.

Frankly, I just don’t feel up to it. I’m so blah when I get home from work that doing anything that is not totally fun and relaxing is like pulling teeth. Aside from finding a new career, I’d also like to volunteer and/or make some new social connections, but I just don’t have the energy.

It seems like I had a little more fire a couple of years ago, when I was convinced I would make it either as a communications professional or freelance writer. For several years I spent nearly all my free time writing and trying to get published, and volunteered for almost a year writing newsletters and press releases for a local nonprofit. Neither panned out into a new career, obviously, and I look back on those days with mild amazement that I had the energy for this sort of thing.

I am aware that I'm lucky to have a job in the first place, and quitting it without having something else lined up isn't an option.

Further complications: I consider myself a fairly mediocre employee at my current workplace (in part because it's a struggle to focus on work while I'm there and not just surf the web all day), and this does not do wonders for my confidence in job hunting. I’ve applied to many other jobs over the last decade and landed one interview, but bungled it because I became tongue-tied and panicky halfway through. I find it hard to sell myself in an interview when deep down, I really don’t think I’d be the greatest employee.

Also possibly relevant: I have ADHD, depression and social anxiety issues, for which I am in therapy and receiving medication.

If anyone has any tips for how to rouse up some much-needed motivation, I'd sure like to hear it. I don't want to spend another 10 years feeling trapped and exhausted at my current job.
posted by indognito to Work & Money (6 answers total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
I can't claim to be in your situation, but man I can sympathize. Perhaps you should look for activities outside the workplace (and maybe home) you can enjoy. I find I do better at work when I've got things to look forward to when I'm not at it. Perhaps a fun hobby (build stuff!), or outdoor activities (sports, biking, hiking), or a pet to train. Something to stimulate your creative energies, might spill over toward greater life satisfaction and minimizing the frustrations of work (and indirectly improving your situation there).
posted by zomg at 11:16 AM on January 24, 2012

Do you have vacation days that you could use to jump-start your search? If you could take a week -- or even two -- off, that might help you get into the right head space.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 12:22 PM on January 24, 2012

I think you're going in the right direction when you talk about changing what you can outside of work in the mean time. Can you delay your work start and use the extra time in the morning to do things before the daily burnout sets in?

Get up in the morning and spend it on you. Work out - whether indoors or out (bodyweight exercises require no equipment), and prep yourself some food. I find that when I get stressed out, my eating slips.

Look at your diet itself - if you eat a lot of carbs or processed food, that can cause exhaustion as well. Do you take a multivitamin? This time of year, everyone ought to get what Vitamin D they can get (5-0kIU per day; if you get SAD, it's a lifesaver, and your profile doesn't list your location).

There's a theory that you only have so much willpower per day, and you're using it all on just making it through work. Can you take a couple days off to recuperate, or take one day off per week for a couple weeks? If it's the job you hate, do you have enough room in your budget to hire someone on Craigslist to apply to things for you? To replace your chores with a housekeeping service?

Also, work on re-treading the paths in your brain that tell you all day about your perceived incompetence. Repeat after me: "If they had a problem with me or my work, they would tell me." One of the hardest things I did was to train myself out of negative self-talk, and I felt much better at work once I stopped viewing myself as a serial procrastinator/surfer.

I really highly recommend the book 344 Questions as a series of thought exercises.

You're not alone.
posted by bookdragoness at 12:26 PM on January 24, 2012 [6 favorites]

I felt like this a few years ago. bookdragoness has a great suggestion about making sure you don't undermine yourself at your current job. If your employer wasn't satisfied with your job performance, you'd be fired sometime in the last ten years.

When I couldn't focus on my work because it was too demotivating, I worked on getting future jobs at work instead of just browsing the web for entertainment. Be careful about doing this if you work somewhere at which they monitor your network traffic. But even if looking a Monster is right out, you can do things like put together writing samples, read about careers, and go through sample interview questions at work. And if you subscribe to job searches sites via RSS, you can check out job listings via Google Reader, and no IT scanner will know.

It may not appeal to you, but it gave me a morale boost because it felt like I was striking back at the heart of the beast.

To focus on improving your position after or before work, try leaving the house and working on it at a coffee shop or the like, if you can afford it. Treat yourself to a coffee or some other sort of drink. The treat is both a reward for your struggle but also an obligation. Make it count, and get some job search/career-furtherance work done. And simply being outside the house sometimes will impart you with some energy.

If you can't leave the house, try working on this stuff in another part of the apartment or house. Just establish a place where you are serious that's separate from wherever you relax and have fun.

I also second making room for exercise a few times a week, as counterintuitive as it may seem if you're short on time. It will relax you and let you work out tension so you can make better decisions both at work and after work. There's some very intense exercise routines you can do that take up little time. There's stuff on simplefit.org. Let me know if you need other examples.

As for making new professional contacts, I have trouble with this, too. Do I really want to make small talk with a bunch of software developers when I could be home either spending time with my wife or coding? The truth is, if I think about it, I know I've gotten a lot of useful information out of going to these sort of meetups and often have a better time than I think I will.

However, if I have to answer the preceding question thirty minutes before the meetup starts, my answer is always "Nah, I'm staying home." What helps for me is to pre-commit to going. Write a message on the web site for the event saying you'll be there or tell some friend of yours that you're going a week ahead of time.

Finally, you might already be doing this, but save as much as you can and calculate as accurately as you can how much it costs you to get through a month. Think of your savings in terms of how many months you can look for a new job full-time without having to work. Even if you don't quit and use that war chest, it is comforting to know that you have it.
posted by ignignokt at 1:42 PM on January 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

When I couldn't focus on my work because it was too demotivating, I worked on getting future jobs at work instead of just browsing the web for entertainment.

I've done this too, under similar burnout circumstances, when I just couldn't care anymore. Standard caveats apply, but if you're already bending your work internet use into pretzels, consider the possibility of doing it with a purpose.

But to bookdragoness' point of exploring other ways to address the burnout outside of work, I guess I should note that also got tested for Vitamin D around the same time, and came up pretty low. Not low enough to get the bendy bones, but low enough to feel a bit better with supplementation. (Either that or it was some great, inexpensive placebo effect.) Good luck!
posted by deludingmyself at 5:01 PM on January 24, 2012

Oh, a followup about the Vitamin D - my post meant to say 5-10 kIU per day.

My husband is serially low on D, and we were told to start him off with a whopping 50 kIU, then wait 2-3 days and start daily 5-10 kIU. He felt more "alive" within 24 hours, and it improved throughout the week. He takes the higher dose daily, which is still well below the 'toxicity' level.

As a tip, don't get the 1 kIU caplets - he was decidedly unamused when I handed him a pile of pills, before we found the 5 kIU caplets pretty cheap at our local wholesaler retailer (Sam's/Costco).

You may also want to get allergy-tested; a family member's nickel allergy/sensitivity manifested itself as profound exhaustion.

Remember, they'll tell you if they have a problem with your work.
posted by bookdragoness at 9:36 AM on January 26, 2012

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