female burnout, a true story

I recently stumbled on this article in my Facebook news feed: Why Millennial Women Are Burning Out. It says that more and more women are less present in upper management roles, not for a lack of opportunity (although that’s another discussion), but because they are ‘burning out’ at an earlier and earlier age, often quitting their promising, albeit demanding, careers due to stress and fatigue. Women are leaving their positions as they experience this notion of burnout often brought on by the high expectations -both external and internal- that are placed on the female segment. Women are taking on more and more roles within their own lives and the lives of those around them, juggling a demanding job that requires them to be connected at all times with the demands of their own lives, whether it be motherhood, their passion projects, dating, etc.

As I read this article, I found myself nodding more and more enthusiastically, until I eventually resembled a deranged bobble head. It was truly eye opening to realize that the stresses I have been feeling the last 5 years or so, are felt by many women.  I too was contemplating quitting my job. I too was having trouble balancing all the things society demands I accomplish (or that I project it does) and the things I want accomplish.

Just today I sat at a coffee shop and worked on the following:

  1. My taxes (ok I get this is a ‘must do’ but it sucks so damn bad)
  2. Looked for a more satisfying job which also furthers my career and allows me to learn and grow professionally
  3. Looked for volunteer opportunities so I can feel like I’m contributing to society because my job doesn’t give me that satisfaction
  4. Worked on this blog which I do because writing is a passion of mine and I feel the need to exercise it
  5. Worked on my book because writing is a passion and I’d love to one day make money off of it
  6. Answered messages on the various dating apps I use because that’s what dating is now
  7. Researched my next travel destination because I need to travel to feel happy
  8. Answered work emails and worked on a project which is due this week

All of these things I feel like I have to do, and I get immense anxiety when I think about them and when I think about how little I’ve worked on each one. These are, obviously, self-set expectations, but they are things I truly think I need to accomplish in order to be successful and happy. Each one is equally important and the combination of all of these to-dos pared with my day job (not to mention the day-to-day: getting groceries, paying bills, setting aside time to be social, exercise etc.) is constantly overwhelming. My career can be very demanding, often keeping me at the office until 7 or 8 at night. When I finally do get home I’m mentally exhausted, and the last thing I want to do is get back on my laptop. However, if I don’t, I know I’ll toss and turn all night thinking of the things I should have accomplished that day. If I am able to work on a project for a few hours after work, I’m left mentally debilitated (often remedied by a few minutes of reality TV).

I fully acknowledge that these daily pressure I put on myself seem trivial compared to women who have a family or a much more demanding job or both, but each woman has their own definition of success and as I’ve begun to see, each women feels the immense pressure of playing all the roles both she has written for herself and others have written for her. Perhaps this is just the American Way: getting stressed about everything and anything. Wouldn’t it be freeing to set aside all these anxiety-causing goals and just feel happy in the common day-to-day. Is it better or worse to abandon your goals in order to feel less stress or to keep them and experience the anxiety caused by not accomplishing all of them?

At the end of this Sunday I’ll feel immensely accomplished for everything I was able to do, even as my back aches and my eyes water from staring at a computer screen for 5 hours. Is this the sacrifice I have to make to feel a sense of worth and accomplishment? Do I have to trade a rainy Sunday coffee date with friends or time to explore the city for an afternoon in front of my laptop, mindlessly plugging away at the various tasks I’ve set for myself? Do I have to set aside dating or my day job or my hobby or my sanity to make sure I’m successful in everything else? Can I make that choice? Should I have to? Do we live in a society that tells us if we’re not constantly moving and creating and accomplishing then we’re wasting space? Is burnout a symptom of a society which is overly demanding of women, or are women trying so hard to prove they can accomplish everything men can that they allow themselves to become burntout in the process?