Being busy seems to be a badge of honour nowadays. It’s the automatic excuse for our daily routine of spinning so many plates, rushing around and over-committed.
Sound familiar? This routine might seem average to many, and cries of “snowflake” spring to mind – but these expectations are exactly the problem. It’s often assumed that young people are work-shy, but in fact seem to be plagued by a feeling that they should always be working.
To clarify, a millennial (or Generation Y) is typically accepted as someone born between 1981-1996. Perhaps we have a need to live up to past generations who didn’t have the wealth of opportunities that we have today. We’re surrounded by comparison on social media and the small hits of feel-good validation from others. Social media adds pressure to create the perfect lives: showing us what we can achieve, where we can go and which Zen lifestyle habit we’ll adopt next in our endless quest of self-optimisation. Being constantly connected blurs our life and work balance until everything becomes a priority – except taking time to relax and recharge.
“It’s good to be busy” only validates this behaviour further until we become so busy that we reach mental and physical exhaustion, or ‘burn out’. In fact, a study in 2018 found that 74% of us are so stressed we’ve been unable to cope. This can be a hopeless and frustrating place where even the simply daily tasks become overwhelming. The physical and mental symptoms of burnout include anxiety, depression, insomnia, fatigue, weakened immune system, heart disease, type 2 Diabetes, and a sense of ’emptiness’. The symptoms are similar and easily mistaken with depression; except burnout can resolve quickly when we allow ourselves to stop, whilst the cloud of depression takes much longer to pass.
More than ever, young people have the opportunity to pursue their dream career, but whether we reach the goal or not – the next challenge is then finding a balance in this endless pursuit of more. Most achievements might seem insignificant compared to what’s come before. Olympic athletes, for example, are only at the top of their game for a short period, because being at the top is not sustainable for long. Continually striving for something bigger is exhausting and ultimately counter-productive when the stress builds until we’re unable to take any steps forward at all.
It becomes harder to break the process when we validate it ourselves with results. In 2014 I dedicated twelve months to fundraising and securing the sponsorship to attempt to climb Mount Everest. This process was only achieved with the support and guidance of great mentors who kept me lined up with the runway, but Everest became my life and identity. I spent seven days of the week sending emails to companies around the UK; over 1,000 in total; whilst doing my A-levels too. I would be on the laptop until gone midnight and the point where I began to fall asleep on the keyboard. Getting up at 4:00am allowed me to fit training hikes in before working at a local restaurant too. Every spare minute, even waiting for a bus, was spent replying to emails on my phone. Social events were bypassed and I even sacrificed a family holiday because losing two weeks of sending emails was too much – reaching the goal was more worthwhile long term.Fear of failure sustained this all-or-nothing routine. The uncertainty of whether I’d reach the goal was also extremely exciting, and as Thomas Jefferson once said: ‘I’m a greater believer in luck, and I find the harder I work the more I have of it’.It paid off when I went to Nepal in 2014. The Everest expedition was then cancelled following a tragic avalanche disaster and a harsh lesson that no matter how hard we work – success is sometimes beyond our control.
Since then life has continued to bring many other peaks with new adventure challenges, professional speaking, writing two books and ambassador role for the Westgrove Group. However that early habit of all work and little play until the early hours to meet self-imposed targets and deadlines, has been hard to shift.I’m sure many other millennials find themselves in a similar position, only with a different Everest in mind. Once you associate success with a process – why would you trust anything less? It can take a while before the consequences of burnout force us to stop.An article in Outside Online said that “one of the best resets is spending a day (or more) in nature without any devices and with no plans to share your experience publicly upon your return.”
And I couldn’t agree more. This is why we set up Mind Over Mountains – a new social enterprise to improve mental and physical well-being in UK mountain environments with respite from the stresses of our modern lives and the chance to get away from phone signal or WiFi, plus mindfulness, professional coaching and inspirational speakers.
As a motivational speaker, surely my job is inspiring people to work hard and achieve their own Everest in life. But I wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn’t share my ongoing challenges, and what I’ve learnt with others – because prevention is always better than a cure. As a coach John Thomson often reminded me, we need to take the time to ‘stop and smell the flowers’. Achievement doesn’t always work proportionally. The latest challenge has been accepting that in order to keep reaching new peaks, we have to enjoy the journey and allow the flame to simmer sometimes before there’s nothing left to burn.
Is burnout something you’ve experienced? How did you overcome it, or what advice would you give? I’d love to hear your thoughts below.
If you’d be interested in a speaker to get your colleagues or graduates thinking pro-actively about mental health, please get in touch.