I recently completed my second year of law school and while preparing for finals I felt an unparalleled sense of burn out. Studying was so difficult, finding motivation was a challenge, and I just felt so … burned out. I blame this, in part, on not having a true break since January. I went to California for spring break, but that was a busy trip and I didn’t rest as much as I normally do when home. So, I wanted to explore the concept of burn out a bit more. When motivation isn’t coming anymore, and when you’d rather just quit, and when you feel like there’s a constant weight on your shoulders that gets more and more difficult to bear, you’re probably burning out.
My mom called me a few months ago about an article she’d read that claimed that people who didn’t take time off before graduate school showed higher levels of burn out. I can’t say this conclusion was particularly surprising, but what was pertinent to this discussion was the encouragement to take time off. I think “time off” used to be, at least where I’m from, is a bit of a dirty phrase. When I think of taking time off I think of a season 5 and 6 Rory Gilmore having a major crisis and just about ruining her future by dropping out of Yale. However, what’s missing from the analysis of Rory’s choice was that she did what we should all do when our goals, aspirations, and dreams are no longer clear. She took a step back. She took a breath. Unlike the article my mom read, Lorelai Gilmore thought Rory taking a step back was the end of her life, a decision that she’d never recover from. To be honest, I think most viewers shared Lorelai’s view. However, two years into law school and a lot of frustration later, I think my view on “taking time off” has drastically changed. I no longer feel like taking a step back and figuring out what you want is a terrible thing. In fact, I think it’s probably the best thing you can do.
Though the burn out I’m discussing is related to academia, I think it’s important to take a step back anytime any aspect of your life isn’t clear or you don’t know what you want. The nice thing about academia, rather than working full time, is we have summer and scheduled breaks. While most of us still have internships and things to keep us busy on those breaks, I think they break up our routine enough that burn out is delayed, but still happens. Sometimes we don’t even realize we’re burning out. We’re so focused on finishing task after task that we don’t stop to listen to ourselves. We should.
We should listen to ourselves, be honest with others, and take a step back when we need a moment, a breath. The world is so loud, especially with everything going on right now, and it seems everyone has a say in what we should be doing (and yes, I recognize in writing this post I’m also advising you, my readers, on what you should be doing). I think some of us, when we’re unsure, solicit such advice. I’m guilty of this. I often ask my friends their opinion, and if that doesn’t clear it up, I call my sister, and if I still don’t know (or simply haven’t gotten the answer I secretly want) I call my mom. I run through their advice, hoping to figure out what to do. Other times people offer up completely unsolicited advice, which is seldom helpful. BUT, and this is the big but, the voice I should listen to is my own. I should trust myself, trust that even if I make a decision and it’s wrong or a mistake, its a decision that I have agency over and I can deal with on my own, away from conflicting advice and opinions and people who are not me.
If you’re feeling burned out, that’s normal. Burn out is, in many ways, inevitable. However, if you’re feeling yourself getting there, take a moment for yourself. Leave the books in the library and go to yoga. Leave the paper on the table and go for a run. Go to a used bookstore and browse. Go to the record store. Go do something completely unrelated to what is making you feel burned out and enjoy being in that moment. Remembering that you are in control of your life is hard at times, especially with so many voices contributing to the chorus of your life, but what is important is you. So, the next time you feel burn out stirring in the halls of your being, listen to it and take a moment to be with yourself. Sometimes solitude is the only cure.