For the past one year, I haven’t posted anything on this website. I also stopped writing my newsletter and posting on the Instagram page of The Five Things Checklist. It’s because I have been dealing with burnout caused by my intensive involvement with the Blog and social media. I felt an immense pressure to keep writing, creating, posting and fulfilling my commitment, which led to a time when I could do it no more. I was not enjoying the creator process anymore. It felt like a burden, a chore to be finished.
I am sure as lawyers, we face such feelings at various times during our professional journey. We dread going to college or work, or our hearts race when our professor admonishes or boss calls up on the intercom. We trudge through our days, missing class or reaching the office early and staying late at night to complete pending tasks. We hesitate to hand over our work, fearing how it will be judged. We are tired of being yelled at or being called incompetent. Our personal lives are not ours anymore and we feel overwhelmed. But we feel compelled to go on since the alternative is not an option.
Let me share some ways to deal with burnout, with personal examples of what worked or did not work for me.
1. Assess and understand
Whenever you feel things are not going the way they should be, and it is taking a toll on both your physical and mental health, you have to assess the ongoing situation.
The best way to do this is on a weekend, right after you have woken up, in a fresh mind. If need be, meditate for ten minutes to clear your head of all thoughts and then sit down with a pen and notebook. List down everything that has been happening in your life, and how they make you feel.
Do you feel anxious, tired, underconfident, demotivated? Name your feelings.
Many parenting experts’ advice to tackle toddler tantrums say, that to deal with a tantrum, one must first tell the toddler the name of the feeling. Once they know the name of the feeling, they know how it makes them feel and learn to deal with them.
Same is true for us. As adults too, it’s not enough to know “I feel burnt out” or “I am tired all the time.” It’s crucial to know what situations make you feel how.
This assessment will likely resolve most of your problems. You will get clarity about your emotions, which will lead you to the actions you need to take control.
2. Maintain a journal
I am a big believer in writing things down.
Since 2020, I am writing my feelings in a notebook. It’s not a gratitude journal or a daily planner. It’s just a plain notebook, where I started penning down my thoughts clearly and honestly.
It started off as sort of a personal strategy framework for myself – setting goals, breaking them down into actionable items and then measuring and recording my progress. I would write down what was working for me and what wasn’t. It was like putting up a mirror in front of me – which then helped me in correcting my course.
I took many a meandering path – my journey was not a straight line ever. But what kept me firmly on the path was the writing in my notebook. I still read them occasionally and I can see what has worked for me and how. It also provided me with a roadmap on the future.
Whenever you are overwhelmed and uncertain of what’s wrong, start writing. Apart from the benefit of a catharsis, writing will help you pinpoint the problem for you to take corrective action.
3. Talk to an expert
There are times when we are not able to resolve everything by ourselves. You may have identified the cause, written down actionable plans to overcome the challenges, but you may still have questions whose answers you are not able to come up with. Those are the times you need to speak to an expert.
Over the past two years I have spoken to many law students and young lawyers when they approached me with their problem. I understand that talking to someone more experienced is useful and I tried to help them find answers to their questions to the best of my ability.
However, I may not have all the answers. For that matter, your college senior, office colleague, favourite uncle or best friend may not always have the answers to your questions. At times, you may not be comfortable approaching a known well-wisher because you might prefer keeping your questions private. For those times, I recommend talking to a coach.
In 2020/2021, I was not certain what I wanted out of my career, and people around me had various opinion to offer. I was very confused and needed guidance. So I decided to engage with an executive coach.
Let me clear a misconception right away. A coach never answers your questions. The best coach asks you the right questions – which force you to find the answers for yourself. After about three sessions of discussion with my coach, I knew what I wanted to do in my life, and how to go about achieving my dream.
You can use a coach for any purpose – lifestyle and health, career, leadership, accountability, business and so on. Be sure you choose the right one, suited for your purpose and you will reap its benefit.
4. Prioritize Yourself
Whenever you are going through a phase of burnout, divert yourself towards another pleasurable pursuit. to counter its effects. It would be ideal to take a break – either a vacation or a sabbatical – but it’s not always possible with a full time job or regular classes. In those cases, focus on another pursuit which gives you joy and will help you navigate through the tough times. It can be music, reading, gardening, yoga, cooking, playing a sport or even spending time with your family. No time is a bad excuse to have, as we all know that we should ‘make time’ for things that matter to us.
When I was facing the social media burnout for this website, I took a break and stopped all activities. Instead I rekindled my passion for fiction reading, which I had almost stopped earlier. I bought a bunch of kindle e-books in my favourite genre – thriller and mysteries – and lost myself in them. I also focused on my health and got into a regimen with a fitness coach.
If you are able to take the pressure of constant performance, or the fear of missing out amidst the cutthroat competition of the legal profession, you will feel better.
After all, a burnout is your mind and body’s way of communicating to you that you need to slow down.
You needn’t participate in every moot court, or intern every waking moment.
You needn’t grovel before every senior or write intelligent Linkedin posts every day.
You can choose to wake up late, smell the coffee, go for a walk, strum your guitar, do a little dance, eat your favourite cake and indulge your soul for a bit. It will freshen up your everyday mundane and you will find new vigour to tackle your daily life and its burnout better.
5. Nothing Lasts Forever
Whenever you are going through a tough phase, it’s important to know that this too shall pass. It’s natural to feel hopeless during the difficult phase of your life when you feel exhausted and burnt out. However, if we give ourselves a little pat and point our fingers ahead, we will see the light at the end of a pitch-black tunnel.
We all sustain on hope, and its important to know that.
When we are hopeful of change, we will never give up.
When I was not able to secure a law firm internship in my city at the end of my second year law school even after a lot of effort, I went to the Calcutta High Court area to note down the name of law firms from the signages, spoke to as many seniors I knew, personalised the email applications to the extent I could and finally landed one at one of the oldest and most reputed law firms in the city.
Nothing is impossible if you put your heart to it.
And for that to happen, you have to know that the tough times do not last forever, tough people do.
Whether you are stuck at a bad job, or with a bad boss or no job, or a career going nowhere – you have to tell yourself that you are strong enough to ride through the storm.
This article by Harvard Business Review identifies the various effects of burnout and provides effective tips to deal with it. Here is one more article with some useful advice.
Let me know in the comments if you found this article helpful. You will find more tips from my life in this article.