A single matchstick burning out:
Heat and light!
Time is short, the stick is only so long.
It knows ashes will come, yet:
Heat and light!
I haven’t written a poem for years, but this one was surprisingly enjoyable to make. Ought to do more of them.
I hope the reason for this poem is obvious: it’s kinda how I see burnout. Y’know, working insanely hard, with detrimental side effects, on a task until time runs out. I had to go through it recently while working on my Twitch Animation Contest Entry. (I’m blessed that it happened to work out!)
The following post is going to be my observations on burnout as an animator, developer, and academic student.
I am not talking about occupational burnout. A slow, gradual dissatisfaction with your work, and in life, is a much more serious topic.
When I think of burnout, the following Real Life Experiences crop up:
- Memorizing the Greek/Roman names, origin stories, relations, and beliefs of over two dozen gods/goddesses for a college course that I attended in-person once (the first day of classes). All-nighter before the final exam.
- 17 hours straight spent at a coding marathon making a financial trading app with my roommates. Survived on incredibly greasy pizza and no sleep.
- Setting up Gildedguy.com after work at my 9-5. I did nothing but code, eat, and sleep (and stream 1 hour of animation/day). I was practically invisible to my family for those weeks.
These..situations are clearly special occasions, not meant for every day living. It is an extraordinary amount of effort in a limited amount of time. You’re using up all of your energy, even the reserves you didn’t knew you had. Thus, the term burnout: The fuel is all gone.
Where I’m from, it’s expected to go through burnout at least a couple times throughout your school education. You see, achieving good grades is very important. And for a Student (yes, with a capital S), it is their primary purpose in life, even if it doesn’t seem like it. That’s just how it is for Students. So when your life seems literally at risk, the motivation to study is quite clear.
But inevitably, our Student fails to keep up with their studies and is grossly ill-prepared for tomorrow’s big exam. The moment our Student knows she is in trouble, a rigorous, all-night cramming session is necessary. Even when she knows that such an activity will leave her sleep-deprived and stressed, the motivation is still there: Avoid failing, and you can live!
Student then goes ham, burns herself out, and survives the exam.
This has been the same basic pattern for all my burnouts.
- I procrastinate on securing something that’s necessary* to me.
* you wouldn’t burn yourself out if it weren’t important.
- An opportunity lights a fire in me to secure that thing.
- I can’t stop the fire, fearing I’ll lose the thing forever.
- I swiftly burn through everything I’ve got.
Step 4 isn’t pretty.
Cons & Pro
Emptying out all your willpower, mental strength, and physical energy has a whole host of negative effects:
- Chronic fatigue…
- Forgetfulness/impaired concentration and attention…
- Physical symptoms…
- Increased illness…
- Loss of appetite…
The major cons I’d say are “Loss of appetite” and “Detachment”. Being burned out is very unpleasant…
- It gets the job done!
Miraculously, during desperate times, giving your all leads to accomplishment. Maybe not the best results, but, results nonetheless. Sometimes, time is woefully against you. Sometimes, working like a mad man in is the only choice.
- It kicks my ass into gear.
I believe the “normal” mode of daily routine demands that we schedule and balance our life into easy, manageable chunks.
A little bit of chores here, some entertainment for the day, relax a bit, go outside some, get some work done, socialize with friends, browse the web, read the news…
…and on it goes. A peaceful routine, but it does get monotonous.
An opportunity to really push myself is really satisfying. Even if it’s under a short deadline that’s out of my control.
My life becomes focused on “securing that one necessary thing”.
I found that during the Twitch Animation Contest I was incredibly efficient with my time. My focus was on finishing “Invincibility Knight” on time. If I were to play Overwatch, it’d only be for 1 hour, just enough to unwind for more work. I prepared my meals many days in advance. I kept my sleep schedule lean.
It’s refreshing to live dedicated to a single pursuit. I felt like an athlete does with her record or a monk with his god. I knew, starkly, what I had to do every morning.
So with this post, I’d like to defend burning yourself out as a highly useful emergency tool. Just like a matchstick when the lights go out. To be used tactically, and, to enjoy the pretty little fire during your time in the dark.
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