Tapping The Breaks- Dealing With Burnout

Good evening, friends and neighbors!

This week’s entry is going to be a little light, and next week’s is gonna be… well, non-existent, because I’m finally getting to go on vacation. Emily and I will be heading down to Florida for a few days to see her folks. It’ll be our first chance to ACTUALLY get away in nearly two and a half years, and frankly, it couldn’t have come sooner.

There’s been a lot of changes in the last couple of months. Between new staff at the cafe, keeping up with everything on here, and a few other personal situations that have required my attention, Emily and I both feel like we’ve been trapped on a treadmill and running ourselves ragged.

“Such is life,” some of the older folks in our world have said.
“Keep at it, keep working hard, keep your head up, you’ll power through.”

Sometimes, though, that’s easier said than done- and it’s important to recognize when things get to that point.

Definition of burnout
1the cessation of operation usually of a jet or rocket engine; also the point at which burnout occurs
2a exhaustion of physical or emotional strength or motivation usually as a result of prolonged stress or frustration
b a person suffering from burnout
3a person showing the effects of drug abuse

-Merriam-Webster Dictionary

This past week- ironically, after telling you all about time management in the kitchen, I made a couple of really stupid mistakes and caught hell for it.
Without going into great detail, I wasted a considerable amount of time trying to make an ingredient I was less-than-familiar with work, for an admittedly unimportant task. I then let my failure to work with that ingredient and personal frustration from wasting so much time trying, distract me from getting several tasks done that- while not world-ending failures- were unequivocally my responsibility to see done. They didn’t get done, inconvenienced others, and made others- including myself- question my judgment and efficacy in a kitchen I had been serving in for nearly two years.

Everyone has bad days, but that was REALLY bad- and absolutely not me.

Occupational burnout” has been a term in use in psychology since 1974. It was originally used by Dr. Herbert Freudenberger to describe the behavioral symptoms of himself and volunteers at a free clinic for drug addicts. These days, burnout has been identified in a litany of symptoms, the overarching ones of which are:

  • physical and emotional exhaustion
  • cynicism and detachment
  • feelings of ineffectiveness and lack of accomplishment

Each of these come with a host of physical, mental, and emotional signals that all come about from chronic stress, overwork, and overexertion.

In short, its a consequence of not doing your side work, and obviously I have not been doing mine properly.

The true danger of burnout is that it sneaks up on you. You can shrug it off for ages by saying “Eh, I just didn’t sleep well”, “I’m just not feeling good,” or “my patience is just a little thin today.” It sometimes takes others noting that you’re “angrier and more frustrated” than you were previously, “less tolerant” or “seem to obsess over things a bit much.”

In case you are wondering… yes, every single one of those things has been said to me within the last few months. I’ve gone around and around in circles in my head trying to reason my way around them, and it wasn’t until this past week, a really horrible day, and researching for this entry that I had to realize that there could be no more running. My friends, my family, and my wife have all warned me- now I’ve got to do what I should have been doing for a long time and listen to myself.

Tomorrow, for a fun and eye-opening exercise, look at yourself in the bathroom mirror in the morning and ask yourself, “If my best friend in this world was standing before me, looking like I do in the mirror right now, what would I tell them?”

Ideally, not “consider plastic surgery.”
If I am to be honest with myself, for the last few months, I’d look at them and say “Dude… whatever you’re doing, take a break. Go back to bed.”

There’s nothing macho or cool about “powering through” burnout. There’s nothing manly about it, and there’s nothing artistic/inspired/to be envied about colossally screwing up your life while trying to live it as much as you can.
There are plenty of steps for dealing with or treating burnout– small things like changing up your routines and recognizing your stressors, to larger things like a change of scene, changing jobs, or finding a new passion. 

There’s no quick fixing it, and there fixes aren’t always easy.
I love food and this blog too much to give up on either, so have no fear of that. I’m going to keep on being the Black Hat Baker one way or another. I just need to figure out what that way might be.

Seems to me that sunshine, a boat drink, and distance from the kitchen is a good way to start.
After all, the last time I was in Florida resulted in a life-changing decision. It might be time for another one.

Stay Classy,