Career Burnout: that one time I gave an uncomfy TED(ish) Talk

As a medical writer, I get asked what I actually do all the time. Recently, I gave a talk at our annual medical writers’ convention. That is not really what I do. And it was more about what not to do. But here’s how it went…

Career Burnout: We Didn’t Start the Fire…or Did We? [actual title]

I hate public speaking. This whole thing made me uncomfy for a full 6 months prior. And on the day of the talk, I looked out into the audience of 150+ people and fought back the vomit in my throat and the stress sweat in my pits.

Chandelier in the meeting room where I gave my talk, which momentarily distracting me from my  crushing anxiety. 

My talk was a rather personal story about my experience with career burnout and beyond. Then I told some jokes.

Throwing millennials under the bus

While creating this talk, I started to feel like I was throwing millennials under the bus. They’re labeled the “burnout generation,” and I felt bad about perpetuating that. But I knew I was coming back to pick them up.

See, millenials feel like there’s no support for them in the business world. The result, according to sources, is that they don’t undertake jobs or tasks that don’t benefit their personal career goals because they expect to be fired. This is in contrast to boomers, who put in work at a company for years for things like pensions and retirement. The clash in work styles can make millennials come off as selfish.

But here’s the thing: millennials graduated high school and 911 happened. They finished college and grad school and the recession of 2008 happened. They have total professional PTSD.

SURVEY. Ask yourself:

  • Am I just burned out in general? Do I just need a small change, like going to dinner on Fridays instead of Thursdays (even though Thursday is the best day)?
  • Do I have job burnout? Do I need to fire up my resume and quit my day job?
  • Am I experiencing actual career burnout, meaning I really need to change what I do for a living entirely?
  • Is it something else, like moral injury?

Burnout, a short history

Burnout is a term borrowed from ’70s drug culture. Cheech and Chong style. Now it means to cause to fail, wear out, or become exhausted especially from overwork or overuse.

The World Health Organization defines burnout as resulting from chronic workplace stress, characterized as:

  1. Feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion;
  2. Increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism; and
  3. Reduced professional efficacy.

Generally, it’s just being f*cking over it.

Then things got heavy

But in researching my talk, I came across the idea of moral injury. This is a term commonly used to describe veterans of war and their PTSD. Applied to the medical profession, this could be a doctor who can’t provide the care his patients need because she has to deal with the broken U.S. healthcare system.

And because the world is a steaming pile right now, moral injury could apply to so many things in the working world.


My sabbatical story

I talked about how I had to tap out for a sec. I passed my work to someone else–because mama never drops the ball, which is part of my problem of constantly pushing myself too hard–and took a 4-week sabbatical.

The product of that break, in part, is this blog. [You’re welcome!] It gave me a tangible place to park my crazy, helping me get my mental health in order.

But a meditator I’m not

One of the things I tried to do on my sabbatical was meditate. It did not go well, as documented in a 10-day series I wrote called the Meditation for Ding Dongs Challenge.

And it taught me that even writing for my blog, which is a hobby, can start to feel like work. Because, while it’s romantic to daydream about leaving one’s job to become a professional blogger, making a hobby into a career can be a trap.

Fool me twice, shame on me

Once broke, I went back to work because I live in $an Dieg0,000,000 and have kids. And there I was again, doing the same ole shiz. Feeling like shiz. But this time I had tools. I knew that I could change things for the better because I’d done it once before.


A few things: fricking just unplug already! Your brain cannot be “on” all the time, and there’s value in being bored. Unsubscribe to the Cult of Busyness and realize that being busy does not equate with being successful. B-O-U-N-D-A-R-I-E-S

Watch TED Talks. Here’s a list of ones I like. Plus a few more:

Engage in hobbies just for the f&ck of it. Redecorate your office. Get out of your home (if you work from there) and out of your head. For me, this meant joining a coworking space with other living humans.

Eliminate negative self-talk. Would you talk to a friend or your child the way you talk to yourself? Do you burn yourself out?

If you learn nothing else…

schedule massages for yourself once a month. <Proactive> This is different than scheduling one only when your back hurts. <Reactive> It means getting an appointment on the calendar in advance so you can show up for yourself regularly.

And if it’s within your means, take a GD work break. A month or longer, if you can swing it, because it takes time to deprogram.

Make like a millennial

Because they rule. They’re taking the toxicity out of the work environment by bringing mental health into the conversation, IMO. So many people told me that my talk put into words what they were feeling. And millennial or not, most of us are feeling a lil burnt.

Investing in yourself can be expensive, but it’s cheaper than burning out and switching careers.

But Y tho?

So, why give a talk if I hate giving talks? Because it’s time to get right with ourselves, people. Innovate. Stand up for what’s good. And heal.

And it’s important that you challenge yourself once in a while by doing something hard so that normal things seem easier. *deep* Plus, I feel like a punk-ass parent making my kids do shit they hate (but that’s good for them) on the regular without doing it myself, so I gotta walk it like I talk it, in the wise words of Migos.**

**Oh, you thought I wasn’t gonna bring rap into this?! 


One response to “Career Burnout: that one time I gave an uncomfy TED(ish) Talk”

  1. I came to your blog by following a link from Anshari’s. I suspect that he is a med student from a Buddhist background. His interpretation of burnout is so different from what I wrote and what you have here that I’ve decided to put a link to his blog and ask what your opinion is of his views:
    Do you think the West is misunderstanding or mislabeling the burnout phenomena?


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