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Sumer Is Icumen In

I have spent the last several months in a fog. Emotions tend to get the better of me whenever faced with a barrier in my work life. It's gotten increasingly difficult for me to see the forest for the trees, no matter how much I tell myself that my work is for the greater good of my unit, my institution, and archivy. Self-doubt creeps in, as does stress, frustration, depression. Positivity begins to wane, with optimism replaced by apathy and sarcasm. You stop seeing the good in things and other people, and you stop being inspired. You desperately want to get away, pull the plug, clean the slate, or otherwise just put everything to a grinding halt. You stop asking "why can't I do that?" and start asking "why should I care?" instead.

I don't think this is the first time I've faced burnout, and while it certainly won't be the last, the extent to which it's affected me this time around is astounding. I should add that I love my job, and I'm extremely lucky to have a great supervisor. It scared the pants off me that I couldn't get excited about archival/library/digital humanities/whatever things IN THE LEAST and it's still oh my gosh so frightening. This is the type of mindset that people change careers over, and I am nowhere near confident that it's an appropriate response for me to do so. No, I need to be much more rational and find a way to get over, under, around, and through this.

So, I'm trying to get past this and see things in a new light. Sumer is icumen in, lhude sing cuccu. I haven't gotten very far yet, and I only have a handful of ideas, so I'm eager to hear more. Offhand, I have been doing my best to give myself the following advice as words to live by.

  • Remember what you love outside of work. I've started cooking in earnest again, after inconsistently eating like a bachelor during the week given that I split my time between New Haven and New York. I've also tried to get more serious about my passion for beer, and spent time trying to actually learn something.
  • Know your limits; say no. (This one should be obvious.)
  • Force yourself to do something different.
  • Stop seeing yourself as a general; see yourself as a sapper instead. Of course, this one is hard if you're not getting clear marching orders.
  • Surround yourself with smart people, and only engage in the conversations when you're ready to both speak and listen.
  • Realize that your conversations with other people might actually get them excited about things - don't just do it for your own good.

It's a difficult process to get out of this rut, but I'm getting there. I am at my best when I'm excited about things, so it's in my interest to keep myself moving forward. Last, but not least, I have to thank the following folks for helping me remain engaged and at least somewhat positive, regardless of whether they knew they were doing it were not. So... thanks to (in no particular order) Julie Meloni, Matt Kirschenbaum, Amelia Abreu, Corey Harper, Erin O'Meara, Hillel Arnold, Courtney Mumma, Simon Wilson, Bess Sadler, Aaron Rubinstein, Laura Tatum, Mike Rush, Caro Pinto, Daniel Lovins, Ann Green, Michael Forstrom, Kevin Glick, and of course, Chela Weber. I might have been able to do it without you, but it would have been a much longer and more complicated process.



  • 💬 Dorothea at June 7, 2011, 15:53 UTC:

    There right now, doing that, don't want the T-shirt. Hoping things will change for me quite soon.

    Good luck. It's a cast-iron son of a b, this.

    I would only add, don't hang out with people who sap your energy, when you can avoid it.

  • 💬 Jeanne at June 7, 2011, 17:36 UTC:

    Looks like you have a good list there.

    I might add that you should give yourself a break from feeling that anything less than 100% enthusiasm is worthless. You can't stay full tilt endlessly, which clearly you know. But saying to yourself that it is okay to cycle down to less investment for a time might reduce the guilt portion of what you are going through.

    Hang in there and good luck.

  • 💬 The American Writer at June 8, 2011, 13:52 UTC:

    I found your profile by chance on Blip and a few clicks later I'm here on your blog wishing there was something I could say to help you relax. Some doors will never open if we're pounding on them and instead of feeling frustrated by this, take it as an opportunity to slow down. From the sound of it, I bet you have a hard time slowing down, don't you? But a happy life is a balanced life. Instead of trying to hang on (which is draining what little is left of your energy) -- try letting go. Let go of the way you think things should be right now and open up to accept what is...whatever it is. I'm amused that even in your exhausted state of mind you are making lists of things that might help. It makes me smile because I was once the same way and I've had to force myself to stop trying to control everything. You just can't do it. And that barrier you're speaking of is something you can't control right now. You can waste time trying to get over it, under it, around it -- and have a miserable summer full of frustration. Or you can LET GO for a few months and come back to that barrier later. I realize I'm just a random someone you'll never know, but my words are sincere. I disagree about surrounding yourself with smart people alone as well as engaging in conversations that don't excite you. We are more than our I.Q. -- we are emotions, we are dreamers, we are all striving for the same basic things regardless of our test scores. And besides, people are smart in different ways. You know that. LET GO. Talk to interesting people. Talk to strangers. Talk about things that do excite you. Stop making rules. Break the rules. Find balance. I challenge you on your next day off to open your front door and step outside without any plans, agendas, rules or maps. LET GO and see what happens. Let us know how it goes and where your day leads you. =)

  • 💬 The American Writer at June 8, 2011, 14:16 UTC:

    And a song for you, too! =) Best of luck.

  • 💬 Aly at June 8, 2011, 21:26 UTC:

    oh, man. i've been having the worst burnout for the past few months, so much that i have been constantly thinking about and looking for other jobs. it's gotten so bad, i've even thought about just quitting and becoming a barista. but i, too, have a great job and work with great people and should be totally grateful and excited about this. anyway, it's good to know i am not alone and it's good to hear from others how to cope with this feeling. maybe i can stay sane a little longer.

  • 💬 Frustrated Archivist at June 14, 2011, 23:14 UTC:

    I'm so burned out that I've been skipping reading the blogs, etc., so I missed this until today.

    You and me both, my friend. If we're not actually in the same boat, we're drifting right beside each other.

    I've got all this stuff on my desk/plate that I just want to throw out the window because I'm bored to tears with it now or don't feel there's any real value in spending time on it. Every day I have ideas about other things I'd rather be doing, but I can't because I'm locked into these commitments. The hardest part for me is slogging through the tedium so that I can get to the exciting shiny new things. What I promised myself I would do, to get out of this depression rut, is to allow myself to work on one new thing a few hours a week. I haven't managed to do that yet, but it sounds like a good idea.

    I also think people who work at at high level of . . . quality? energy? engagement? cleverness? call it what you will, people who work at a high level get burned out at a higher level than others. I've seen it. By that I mean, being burned out hits you harder because you're used to be so excited and enthusiastic. I think you've got a good plan already. Try to relax and regroup. This is a great time of year to do it.

    And although I'm too cowardly to let the world know who I am, you do, so let me know if you need someone to lend you a sympathetic ear.