Forest, trees, career, burnout.
May 12, 2015 7:39 AM   Subscribe

I’ve been a copywriter for 10 years and I’ve done well. I climbed the ranks… and promptly burnt out a little more than a year ago. I’m down in the dumps, perhaps depressed, and need to start making decisions. Weigh some pros and cons with me? This is going to get very long.

BACKGROUND:

After 3 or 4 years of freelancing and startup-ing, I joined “Enormous Inc. “ where I stayed mostly happily for 6 years. I had an absolute dream client and dream agency team and we kicked ass for 2 years. We won all of the awards they tell you to, met all of the goals set before us, I got myself promoted to Associate Creative Director… and then it all fizzled when the global client took the business elsewhere.

That was the beginning of my un-mooring. I floated around at “Enormous Inc.” fairly burnt out and looking for other opportunities, thinking a different job might help.

I found one. Enter “HellJob.biz.”

I’ve been at “HellJob.biz” for 9 months. Not only did I not get a better work/life balance, the position they offered me doesn’t exist. They literally sold me a bag o’ honky. They’ve been just throwing me at every project that comes along, regardless of good/bad fit, interest, or skill match.

Every project I’ve worked on has been terrible chaos, the producers and PMs are total bullies and snobs, the turnover is high, and the Top Brass are kinda assholes, egos are too high for their mediocre work, and there’s an undercurrent of devaluing women’s voices—unless they’re straight-up mean.

Pair all of this with the fact that I do not know why I’m here, if they don’t value what I do. I gotta get outta here.


CURRENT STATE:

I’m way past burnt out. I’m crispy. Depressed, anxious, calling out of work a ton, sleeping too much, and just completely self-absorbed.

My dream is to take a month or two off, and Just Be. Go away and not think about my career or advertising. Go wwoofing. Set myself in Puerto Rico and read a lot. Whatever. But I also need to temper this feeling of GTFO with what’s good for my career’s next steps.

My (attainable!) aspiration is to work in digital product design/platforms/etc. I want to be the bridge between Content Strategy and Creative. I want to make cool and useful things that users will actually like—rather than hard sell dumb things to mass audiences. I would like to manage a team and do less writing. Or – at least – I think I want that. The other half of me is saying, "Take a chill pill. Step back, take less responsibility, and just freelance."

I’m interviewing at three places, each having their pros and cons.

Without further ado:

“Intense & Innovative Corp.” –

Pros
This company has a great reputation in the field I’d like to explore.

I have had some great talks with the Senior Brass, and they’re looking for someone exactly like me.

It’s a management opportunity – I’d lead a team of 6 writers.

Cons
It’s an ASAP need. I wouldn’t be to take any time off, whatsoever. I feel like I’d be diving straight back into the ocean, when I had just narrowly avoided drowning the day before.

I suspect they need someone more senior than I am to just walk in and lead the team. I have little management experience—and furthermore, I can barely get out of bed, let alone inspire anyone to work hard.

The culture would probably be intense. I do better with teams/companies who don’t take themselves, or the industry, too seriously. I like to joke around with coworkers while hopefully making cool stuff. The work/life balance concerns me.


“Derpy Social Media Fun Time LLC” –

Pros
It’s straight-up freelance, with a really good day rate. It’d be a three-month contract, and I could save up a pretty penny—and take some time off. Perhaps even longer than a month.

This could launch a period of my career in which I stay freelance. Lean out, essentially. Just do my work, and GTFO when the project is over. That is attractive to me, too.

The work is mostly making the equivalent of Vine videos for clients. Silly and fun, but not terribly meaningful. Might be okay because it’s only three months.

Cons
It’s also an ASAP need. I wouldn’t even get a week off. I’m nervous about even doing a good job, because of the “I can’t get out of bed,” plus the brain-fog that comes along with that.

I would be doing a lot of video creation and production. I only have about 2 – 3 years experience doing that, and I wasn’t on any single project soup to nuts. I would need to rely heavily on a good producer to lead the way. I think they need someone with more experience.

“Enormous Inc.” AKA my old company –

Pros

A culture I understand and rather like. It’s easy going, and I have many friends there. They appreciate my opinions and trust me. I have the ear of the Senior Brass, who have always been in my corner.

It’s a great opportunity, eerily similar to the one “Intense & Innovative Corp.” is offering. It’s leading a team—that I get to help build. It’s a promotion to Creative Director. It’s making products and services people will actually like, hopefully.

As it is NOT an immediate position to fill, I’m 90% sure could squeeze at least a month of time off out of them. This is what I’m hoping will put me in a better headspace to put my nose back down to the grindstone.

Cons
Even though I am better suited to the culture at “Enormous Inc.” I also know way too much about the politics there. There are daily power struggles between the Senior Brass that may affect me in my new position.

I feel an element of failure, going back to my old agency. An element of going back to the safety of the nest, rather than continue pushing to spread my wings. It’s ridiculous, but it’s there.



So what say ye? The pressure is on to Make A Decision, as each company is pushing me for "next steps" in the hiring process.

I would appreciate any opinions you might have on my current three options, any words of encouragement on mid-career(ish) burnout, or any words of wisdom about how to push through this phase.
posted by functionequalsform to Work & Money (9 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
 
Well, from a purely empirical perspective, there seem to be no cons at all to going back to Enormous Inc. Yes, I know, you listed 2 cons, but they're both incorrect evaluations of the situation (likely colored by your current frame of mind).
--Politics are everywhere; politics you know are less dangerous than politics you don't know. So actually that con is a pro, because there's no way these other employers have zero politics--they just have the kind of politics that will bite you in the ass because you don't see em coming.
--And the "sense of failure" thing is just depression bullshit talking.

Coupled with it being the only fairly certain time off option, it's the clear best choice from this end.

That said: I bailed on my Helljob.biz and took the equivalent of "Derpy Social Media Fun Time LLC" and the entire following path (Lean Out, freelance, yadda) and I will tell you, I do not regret it. You sound like your skills are in reasonably high demand and that's basically the crux of successful freelancing.

I too was sad/concerned about not being able to take time off to heal my burnout, but the brain fog lifted really damn quickly after I was out of my own helljob. Fun, challenging work done from your kitchen table is its own kind of healing.

But, my burnout was threefold: 1) a poorly fitting, super-demanding position, 2) a long, grinding commute, 3) a completely inadequate salary considering items 1 and 2. Freelancing reliably solves two of those problems at a time, and sometimes all three. If your burnout is almost exclusively position-based, freelancing may be an extreme solution for you.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 7:51 AM on May 12, 2015 [4 favorites]


It sounds like the second one is the best fit for you right now if you can squeeze three months of productivity out of the novelty of the job and the guaranteed vacation that it sounds like you very much need at the end.

The first one sounds like a worse version of the third: all the downsides with none of the familiarity/support network.
posted by griphus at 7:55 AM on May 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


I agree with Blast Hardcheese. If I were you I'd go with Enormous Inc. You liked it there when the work was good, and you're coming back in a blaze of glory - or at least with a better job title. I get the psychological block of 'going backwards', but you're coming back more senior and with more responsibility.
posted by nerdfish at 8:06 AM on May 12, 2015 [4 favorites]


I'm sorry you feel this way. Your current job sounds terrible.

I'd say Enormous Inc. You need to take time off, see someone about your depression, get any meds or therapy you need set up. You need time off and something familiar (yet challenging). You can spread your wings in a year or two from a place of strength. Making big decisions when you're depressed is usually a mistake, so having a reliable job at a place you have friends is a good thing right now.

Time off when you're depressed is a bit tricky. It is easy to get more depressed with no structure and nothing on the horizon. That said, you clearly need a break. Enormous Inc would offer the best of both worlds. You'd have a time limit on your time off, so you'll be more likely to enjoy it instead of procrastinating and stewing. You'll have something to look forward to and plan for. Then you'll have structure and friendly faces.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 8:08 AM on May 12, 2015 [2 favorites]


For what it's worth, I like the first option for you. If what you're suffering from is work-triggered ennui (I don't want to use the D-word as I'm not a doctor) then I think this job would be the energizing charge you need.

Unlike the freelancing gig, it requires you to be up and at the office so it will provide motivation for you to get out of bed. It will give you experience leading a team, which was the first goal you listed. You seem to have a decent feeling about the management team (which admittedly can be a mistaken first impression, but there are no guarantees about what people will turn into when you work for them).

As for the attitude and environment of the place, as a leader you'll have the ability to soften the seriousness of the place, just by being you.

Added bonus for Intense & Innovative is that it's an area you want to explore. Having a new challenge in a new area of work is a wonderful opportunity, and if in six months or a year you decide that this company is really not the right one for you, you'll have an extra arrow or two of experience in your freelance quiver which should put you in even better stead in the freelance market.

I know you really liked the idea of taking time off, and while I can deeply appreciate that desire, it can be dangerous to do when you're already feeling like you're on a downward spiral. Besides, as they say, sometimes a change is as good as a rest.

No matter which decision you make, I hope it turns out well for you.
posted by sardonyx at 8:40 AM on May 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


I'm going to join the voices for Enormous Inc. It'll give you time to settle back in without the stress of all new everything, plus you can take the time you need to get yourself back into a better headspace.
posted by xingcat at 8:59 AM on May 12, 2015


Go back to Enormous. It seems the clear choice to me based on your past experience, work fit, and the kinds of work you'd be leading. The plus is also that you might find yourself less burnt out getting into Enormous' routine again, and can go back to Innovative! later.

As someone who works at a different Enormous that's sluggish to get into Innovative changes but has plenty of creative juice to make it happen, if I could make a similar move internally to work on good stuff without the hassle of New Place (plus promotion!) I'd take it.
posted by sweetkid at 9:06 AM on May 12, 2015 [2 favorites]


Nthing “Enormous Inc.” --not forever, just for a year or two. Then reevaluate. Maybe you'll stay or maybe you'll leave. But for now -- it's the best option given your pros and cons.
posted by Lescha at 9:13 AM on May 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


Do you need to decide between these three right now? Couldn't you take a month off and then look around for whatever is available then?

Its true its easier to find a job when you have a job, but it sounds like your skills are in demand and that shouldn't change in a month or two.

If that's not an option, count me in for the freelancing gig. A change is as good as a holiday, as they say!
posted by Admira at 1:27 AM on May 13, 2015 [1 favorite]


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