My Burnout and Sabbatical Journey: Learning the Importance of Rest and Self-Care

Experiencing burnout is a common occurrence in today's fast-paced and demanding work environment. Have you ever found yourself in a state of emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion due to prolonged exposure to stressors at work or in your personal life? If so, how did you cope with it? Self-care isn't selfish, and it's essential to recharge and replenish yourself to avoid burnout in the future. So, have you experienced burnout? And if so, how did you handle it?

As a designer, I have always been passionate about my work. However, there was a time when my passion led me down a path of burnout. In 2015/16, I experienced burnout for the first time, and at the start of 2022, I was on the verge of burning out again. The pandemic had made it difficult for me to leave a steady project at a Startup, and this Startup grew exponentially in a matter of months thanks to the pandemic. As the sole designer, I was struggling to keep up with the workload.

Although I loved working with the team, I felt like my motivation was lacking and I started dreading waking up for work. Finally, in April 2022, after months of thinking about it I knew I needed to take some time off. I did not know for how long or if I would return to designing (yes, it was that bad). I just wanted to take a break and let things flow. Being the planner that I am, I had savings that allowed me to take a few months off.

During my sabbatical, I learned two things. Firstly, if I have free time I don't get bored, ever. Secondly, I discovered that I still had a passion for designing and learning. I read 16 books, took a surf trip to the Maldives, spent the summer in Biarritz, and learned the importance of not being productive all the time.

As winter approached, I started to look for new projects. I found a project for an Australian company that I was excited about, and even got a new laptop. Unfortunately, the project fell through the day before we were supposed to start. I panicked and doubted myself, thinking I'd never find work as a designer again.

I signed with the first three projects that came my way. As it turned out, they were the best projects I've worked on in a long time. Each project had clear goals, clear direction, and creative freedom. I realized that clear direction provides a frame in which to be creative, and it organizes a project.

Currently, I am finishing the last of the three projects and cannot wait until they are released into the world. Each project makes the world a better place in its own way. However, I have learned that I need to take care of myself better. Instead of waiting until I am on the verge of burnout, I plan to take a few weeks off after completing these projects to recharge.

The time I took off helped me learn the importance of rest and self-care. Burnout is a real thing, and it can happen to anyone. It is essential to listen to your body and mind and take a break when needed. Taking a sabbatical helped me to rediscover my passion and learn the importance of taking care of myself. I hope my journey can inspire others to take care of themselves, too.

A disclaimer: It's important to acknowledge and recognize my privilege in being able to take time off and prioritize my well-being to avoid burnout. It's a sad reality that not everyone has the luxury or resources to do so. The prevalence of burnout in our society highlights the need for systemic change to address the root causes of stress and overwork, particularly for those in marginalized and vulnerable communities.

While taking a break is a helpful solution for many, it's not always feasible or accessible for everyone. It's important to advocate for and prioritize policies that promote work-life balance, fair wages, and access to mental health resources. In addition, creating a culture of open communication and support within our workplaces and communities can help reduce the stigma around burnout and encourage seeking help when needed.

We must acknowledge the privilege that allows some to prioritize their well-being, while also working towards creating a more equitable and just society where everyone can access the resources and support they need to prevent burnout and maintain their well-being.