Burn-out, Balance, and Change

Go on social media, and you’ll see a thousand videos that make you laugh, cry, or cringe. Some gain their followers or reacts by being controversial. Some prefer to just produce comedy. Some are designed to help the world move in the direction the creator feels is beneficial for us. There’s always a video to find. There’s always a person behind the video’s creation. There’s always an audience that forgets about that person.

When I started my blog and YouTube channel in 2018 it was a way for me to get away from things going on in my life. They were rough, and not things I could change or control; so I chose to change my focus. I used my free time to focus on hobbies and art, and making videos from those. I used my weekend mornings (which were unfortunately very lonely) to write blog posts. It was phenomenal, because even under the weight of my problems I still managed to get up and do something that made me smile. I chose last year to only put things up when it suited me, because my life changed and posting all the time wasn’t feasible without giving a huge part of myself to the wants and needs of a social media audience. For this reason, my “brand” hasn’t gotten very popular. This is okay with me; I just want to do what I love and have fun with it. After all, this was my stress relief, not work.

My actions and choices aren’t the norm, as a lot of social media personalities choose to completely involve themselves with their channel or blog — to the detriment of their mental health. I thought about this two days ago as I watched a video from a popular video personality who makes down to earth mom-comedy. She talked about how she’s been stressed and spread thin; that her husband sent her to a hotel at night to get away from everything and just relax.

In our country it’s normal to expect a person to produce a product. Whether that product is entertainment, a service, or a usable good, we are all expected to be productive members of society. Your worth is only as good as the role you play, and that’s incredibly stressful. Don’t get me wrong, I think everyone should do something. It doesn’t seem right to sit around all day and do nothing at all; but it doesn’t have to be for the purpose of proving your worth. I think doing things simply because you love them has value. I believe going to a job every day because you love it, not because it helps more people, or saves lives, or makes the most money, is what brings happiness. Maybe that shines a light on my own values, but it certainly couldn’t hurt to consider. Because the alternative is a world where everyone does things they hate because they want to be valuable, where everyone is depressed and anxious because it’s impossible to be valuable to every person.

I’ve watched friends crumble under the pressure to match other’s expectations. I’ve listened to new college students emit waves of anxiety over making it through, whether school is something they want to endure or not. I’ve experienced my own anxiety over not being productive enough; in fact I worry so much about it that I’ve melded my hobbies into productive endeavors so that I can have productivity and stress relief in one nice little package. A real anxiety reducer…if you do it right (I don’t always do it right).

My housekeeping job has been incredibly fulfilling. I help patients get what they need each day, within the tasks I’m permitted to do without an STNA license. Some days I can make them laugh, or not feel so alone, or get them water and a blanket, or just keep their room clean so it feels a little bit nicer. It’s a job that’s worth doing, that needs doing. It’s a job that isn’t for everyone. The days are long; in my case it’s 10 hours at a time of cleaning patient rooms and function rooms. It’s a job that, if you use common sense and good time management, plus some good interpersonal skills, you can get through quickly and smoothly. It takes navigating patient preferences, surprise messes, and day to day changes, all while cleaning up the things that happen in a medical setting.

It can be gross. It can be tiring. It can be thankless. A lot of the time, however, I receive tons of thanks from patients and their families and our staff. The team I work with is supportive and adaptable, and our supervisor is excellent at her job. They’ve been my home away from home for over a year, and the housekeeping staff have been my work family for about 6 months.

I had planned to stay two years.

I wanted to be there for them after two years of 10 different trainees walking out on the job. Of not getting their vacations, and working understaffed in a field that isn’t exactly easy on the body. Life didn’t exactly agree with my plan. I put in around three weeks notice, and I’m trying my best to do a great job for all of it until I leave in mid-November. Part of me feels like a failure, the other part feels like this is the right decision.

Society tells me I should stay in this job, regardless of how that affects me or my family, because I’m producing a valuable service. My ideals tell me it’s time to go before I burn out trying to balance work and home life; I’m needed at home in so many ways.

I could go into all the detailed reasons I’m needed here, to cook, clean, do laundry, and provide support wherever I can because the people I love need it. I could go into the health reasons that the physicality of the job is taking its toll and I need to find something just slightly less rigorous. The job is a sprint, whereas I’m more of a slow marathon kind of woman. Three days of 10-hours in a row, sometimes four days, and then one or two days off to get the housework done just doesn’t work when you’re trying to get meals on the table each day, and the spaces you live in clean. Waking up at 4:30 AM, and then the next days waking up later for a different shift or a day to fit my family’s schedule, means my circadian rhythms are extremely off. My body is in a constant state of jet-lag.

If I had a different home life, if I was at a different point in my life, or if my body had just slightly more endurance, would mean I could easily continue working this way. For now, I need something different. I need a regular schedule that’s also either flexible, or within time frames that let me cover my responsibilities at home. Some people see this as a weakness, but I see it as a strength. If I find a job that fits well with the rest of my life I’ll be a more productive employee. I’ll be awake and alert, well nourished, and ready to take on new challenges each day. I won’t have the same level of stress that I do now. I won’t be worried about how I’m going to get it all done, because I know I’ve planned for my responsibilities, and a few surprises too.

I don’t want to be like the social media personalities who burn-out and need to get away at midnight. I don’t want to be that person who loses the important parts of themselves and their lives for a job, when there are easily alternatives which suit me better and companies I can be even more helpful to. I also don’t want my career to be the marker of my value. My health, to me, is the most important thing because if I lose it at 30 from burn-out then everything I’ve done will be for nothing anyway.

I want to be productive, I want to fit into society’s idea of valuable, I want to be that model employee. I also want to be a good girlfriend, a good daughter, a good friend and pet-owner. Someday, I want to be a good wife and mother who helps keep her family healthy. I want to be a good example to my children, who can look at me and see a mother who knows her limits, and balances her priorities in a healthy way. The thing that makes life great is the process from start to finish: what we do with this time, not how we end it. Money means nothing if I have to spend it all on medical bills. The approval of a company means nothing if I’ve alienated the people I love, focusing on work so much I forget to actually love them. Our lives are a balance, and sacrificing that balance feels more like failure to me than failing my original plan to make adjustments. Small failures help us grow, but if we fail to find balance in the process of our lives—that’s sometimes too large of a failure to come back from. I’m not afraid to fail, but I’d prefer it be in the ways that help me grow.

Chess, Leadership, and a Polymath

I’m in medical limbo right now, waiting to get a neuro-EMG done, so I’ve been trying to take it easy in my free time. Normally, I’d be writing, creating something, or organizing another part of our home that probably doesn’t need to be organized (again). Lately though, I’ve been playing Runescape (not old school, sorry, traditionalists). For those of you who don’t know what Runescape is: it’s an online MMORPG that’s been around since 2001 and was created by Jagex. It has a massive player following and is incredibly extensive in story-line, mini-games, quests, and choices. So. Many. Choices.

The really fun thing about it is those choices. Don’t like to pick just one thing? Try 27 different skills to master. There’s so many things to explore in game it’s impossible to get bored. You can free-play, but a membership is completely worth it. I’m not here to advertise for them though; I really just want to talk about our society’s idea of choosing one thing.

My entire life, I’ve been told “you have to choose one thing to specialize in”, “you’re a beginner in everything and a master of nothing”, “you’ll never find a good job if you don’t pick something”, etc. the list goes on.

Well you know what? The list does not go on for me. I’ve never seen my way of thinking as a problem, I never considered my life was less because I enjoyed many things. If anything, it was better, because I always had something to do. Runescape was built with this “polymath” style that I love, and other people love it too. Why is it that in games, we all praise the well-rounded, do-everything players, but in life…that’s unacceptable? I love learning new things, and I hate being told that I have to pick one thing and stop learning about the others. Lately, there’s been a lot of talk on social media about how this is a product of late stage capitalism; how it’s because we’re seen as work-horses, instead of individuals with unique minds. I don’t know enough about that to say for sure, but I do know I’m not fond of it.

Finding jobs is difficult sometimes because unless the supervisor hiring me understands that my way of thinking is valuable, they won’t see my value. Even my social media sites for Lock, Stock, and Spoonies don’t stick to one thing and I don’t think anyone minds much. When it comes to job interviews? It comes off as wishy-washy. Which is a shame, because here’s why it isn’t: I know I like these things. I am not uncertain about any of it. I know what I enjoy doing, I know that I’m a hard worker, I know that I have skills that an employer would find valuable, but getting the chance to prove it isn’t always easy. I love organizing things, multitasking (I guess the new term is task-shifting), occasionally doing monotonous tasks which allow me to clear my head and gain some respite, but also doing things that give me purpose.

Research was fun, but I also had a hard time imagining myself in grad school and tied to the research other people wanted. Could I do it again? Probably. Finding the right lab would be crucial, with the right tasks. Microscopy, over animal research, sounds so nice.  I really enjoy maths, and I loved my courses in school, but I’m good at theoretical mathematics, so where do I go that wants that with just a bachelor’s and a basic knowledge? I loved the props, makeup, costuming, and hand and computer drafting courses I took in Cincinnati’s College Conservatory of Music, but I wasn’t there long enough to master any of it. I would love to have the money to get myself AutoCAD again so I could play around designing things digitally. I’ve danced and I loved the physicality and joy it brought me, but my health conditions have made it hard to do regularly. Ballet will always hold a special place in my heart, and hip-hop was just the most fun if I was feeling creative. Filing basic medical records (the kind that follow a template and don’t require specialized education) for my job originally was actually awesome; I had purpose there, and it was exactly the kind of work I could do for hours and never notice how long I’d been working. However, the position was part-time, and I have bills to pay. I could continue listing things, since my list of enjoyable work is pretty long, but I’ve never quite been able to find that job that screams “me”. I enjoy being a housekeeper, but the downside is the physical requirements of the job are exhausting. I find I have little energy for much else given my tachycardia condition.

I want to continue growing, and learning, and problem-solving. I want to wake up every day knowing I’m doing what I love, and that’s not hard to find when it comes to me. I want to go through each day following my passions, and being myself; not fitting into a box someone else has made for me. I know that sometimes, jumping into that box is necessary. We all have things we have to do to survive, to help those around us do their best, even if those things aren’t something we enjoy doing. Life is full of bland, red-tape type tasks, and we do them because we have to. Taxes? I hate them, but I sit down and try to learn more about the system while I do them, because at least then it’s a little more fun than before. Bills? If you set a schedule, and follow a budget, they aren’t so bad as long as you’re making enough money (sorry to those who aren’t, that’s a whole other story that I hope you don’t have to live long). Paperwork you’d rather not do? I try to sit there and just take it one line at a time and think about the rewards that come with it being done: peace of mind, financial security, or job security etc. Need to care for someone else? Some parts of that job are hard and no one likes them, but we get to see another person thrive and survive, and that’s worth it. There’s nothing wrong with being the person who helps hold everything together by doing the job no one else wants. I’ve done that job multiple times, and I’ve enjoyed all of them.

The point is, I can love many things, and dream of the perfect job, while still understanding reality and necessity. I’m not wishy-washy, I’m a polymath. I’m not stuck, I’m traveling to my destination. I’m not giving up, I’m determined to find balance in my life. I’m not passionless, I’m so full of passion it can’t be contained to one subject. Our world is full of unique people, unique minds. Everyone processes information differently, and instead of embracing the unique talents our world is full of, a lot of people only want to surround themselves with minds like theirs. Everyone has that moment, where they’re tired and just want to talk to and work with someone who thinks like they do. It’s less stressful, so I get it. But when you stop and look at each person’s abilities, if you look at the larger picture of how each person fits together in a team, it gets easier to see a functioning whole. Every video-game has the right idea: your team is made of people with special skills and all have their faults.

Chess, the game of kings, is played around the notion that each peace has their faults, and their talents. The knight can travel the entire board very quickly, but he can also get trapped easily. The queen is versatile and an incredible warrior piece, but she’s weak to the bishop (and visa versa) and she can’t jump out of her own lines. The rook can jump to special defense of the king, but he can’t travel diagonally. The pawns have two special sneak attacks, but their straight forward moves put them at a disadvantage. The king is a slow and steady piece who changes the entire outcome of the board based on his moves, but if he’s captured the game is lost. In order to win, all pieces have to be used together, to form the perfect war team and overcome your opponent’s strategy. The reason it was the perfect game for kings, generals, and advisers, was because it mirrors real life leadership.

Leaders learn their team’s strengths and use them to their advantage. They don’t try to ask a fish to climb a tree (as the popular quote attributed to Einstein goes), they tell the fish to swim. If as a leader, you can’t get your team to mesh, maybe you’ve got them doing the wrong tasks. Sometimes, in our country at least, it feels like finding a job is about fitting into a box. The person interviewing you is looking for a specific person with specific skills; and this is necessary to a point. But there are only so many people, and only so many interviewees. Maybe some jobs wouldn’t have such high rates of turn-over if they started looking at their interviewees, who are eager to work and help, as an individual with a skill. If corporations started creating positions for the people who come to them, instead of fitting one person into a cookie-cutter job, they’d be fluid and adaptable to change. The world is changing quickly, our environment, our governments, our mindsets. The members of each team, whether it’s research, government, education, or corporations, they can play a role in helping those entities thrive, or fail. It depends on how willing our leaders are to adapt and play to their team’s strengths. If not, they may find their team breaks under the weight of change.

I want to find a job, a career, a team, that plays to my strengths and balances out my faults. I’d rather be on the team that can take change head-on, not the one that breaks underneath it. The hard part, is finding a team, that’s looking for a piece that looks like me. I’ll keep looking.

Perspectives

Adulting is difficult. Especially when you get the feeling you’re half-in, half-out, of the whole adulting thing. Add in chronic illness that makes you want to curl up and sleep all day like you could when you were 10 and there’s a lot of mixed messages there.

It’s got me thinking about different perspectives – which can change depending on who you are, what you do, and your level of confidence.

This week has not been my week. Between issues with my health, studying for finals, difficult moments at both jobs, and some small problems with friends/family that add up, my perspective hasn’t been great. I’ve started doubting my ability to do things which, previously, I’ve felt extremely confident about. Mistakes are normal, but I’ve made enough this last week that it starts to add up to a lot of low-confidence moments.

I like thinking about human perspectives, and opinions. Everyone is different. Everyone has a different background. For example, if a person is told multiple times thay they’re doing a great job, they’re bound to be more confident and perhaps make more choices that continue to display their abilities. If a person is constantly given negative feedback, or none at all, they’re more likely to think they’re incapable and stop trying.

I wonder a lot about the differences between perspectives on self vs. perspectives on others. If you’re overly confident, do you believe everyone else is less capable than you? If you’re under confident, do you believe you couldn’t possibly do a better job than someone else?

I love my job, and I think I’m relatively good at it, especially for never having done something like it before. But, others might disagree, a little, or a lot. My bosses or coworkers might think I seem awkward, or full of myself, or completely inept. The same situation and facts looking different to different people.

A child who was raised to read, or play music, or do mathematics at a young age might believe they’re behind in their skills even when they’re ahead of their age group, while everyone else is sitting there wondering how they can’t see it. A child raised to focus on different things such as family care, and working, instead of topics often focused on in school, might think they’re awful at learning compared to the first child, when in reality they may learn just as, or even more, quickly.

Sometimes it’s hard to be sure whether we’re measuring up to expectations, simply because everyone may have a different opinion. When I think about it, especially when I’m feeling discouraged, I try to remind myself of that difference. Then I remember to focus on doing my best, because that’s all I can do. Asking questions, working hard, and learning from my mistakes is how I want to live my life. There will always be people who find flaws in me, just as much as there will be people who see how hard I’m trying, or maybe the potential they believe me to have.

In the end, if I stick to always trying my best, I’ll end up in a place where I’m appreciated and doing something I’m good at, or at the very least love enough to continue doing in spite of my mistakes. And that’s all I can really ask for.