How I went from Burnout to Happiness in 10 steps

Sara Vilas
ABOUT ME

Burnouts suck.

Your energy is gone. Your motivation is gone. And changes are your self-confidence is gone with them too.

Burnouts are the outcome of a long period of time giving 120% and receiving way less in return. You don’t feel appreciated, you don’t feel like anything makes a difference and, eventually, you give up. Worst of all? The feeling of failure that comes with it.

This is my visual representation on how a burnout feels like

I left a full time job I loved with all my heart a few months back. I didn’t want to admit it to myself, much less to anyone but I was seriously burnout. I played it cool and I walked away as graciously as I could. But inside of me I knew it was not OK. I went from 0 to 200 in that job — it made no logical sense at all to be feeling like a failure. Each and every day I would wake up from bed more tired than I was when I laid down and it just felt like even breathing was a tough task.

But I’m a designer. And a (workaholic) passionate one. So I decided to face this as I would face any design problem: analyse, determine, create, repeat.

It has worked well for me so I thought I would share it with the world in case someone out there is in the same crossroad and this could be of help. So, let’s go!

1. Pain demands to be felt.

Really. Take your time. It’s OK. Screw everyone. You’ve been giving too much and now it’s time to make yourself a priority again.

As much as it might pain you to admit it, this is a big wound. An emotional wound. If you were a basketball player and you’d injured your ankle from over-using it, no one in their right minds would force you to go back to play, right? Well, this is exactly the same. It’s a wound and it needs time to heal. So start by accepting this first. Start by not pushing it aside or away, not ignoring it. Just let it in. Keep thinking and re-thinking until it stops hurting, like when you repeat a word so many times it looses it’s meaning.

This leads me to my second point:

2. Listen to yourself.

While you’re there debating with the voices in your head, pay attention to it all. Analyse it. Listen to the words, the adjectives. Find the patterns. Find the things that trigger a visceral response (those tears coming to your eyes, that fire burning in your chest). Those are the keys to understand yourself, to learn a bit more about you.

Every visceral response has its own root. And even though the response might see illogical, trust me, once you get to the root you just understand why the response.

And once you understand the seemingly illogical responses, you realise there’s nothing wrong with you. It’s a natural and almost subconscious reaction to something that you strongly believe in, or to a very deep injustice that was never fair.

Me talking to myself and trying to listen at the same time

Self-awareness is extremely important. This wound requires not only your attention and care, but also understanding before you can keep moving on.

3. Get away. Far and alone.

There’s basically 2 ways you can go through this healing:

  1. Extended through time, while you get burnout again on a new job surrounded by the same old stories. Like the basketball player that keeps playing after the injury.
  2. Fast and quick. But intense. This requires quality time with yourself. Meaning: get away. Really. On your own, no one that can take your mind off anything. The sooner you face this, the sooner it will go away.

In my quest to look for a place that allowed some quiet time, as well as some nice quality and conditions for a young woman traveling alone, I found Mokrin House, in a rural area of Serbia.

Mokrin House is a co-working and co-living space with the tagline “House of Ideas”. The promise is of a quiet desk and working environment, 3 yummy healthy meals per day and an amazing estate that will blow you away.

Mokrin House is SO Instagramable ❤

I booked my flight immediately after reaching out to them. I packed some books I wanted to catch up with, my laptop, some clothes and off I went to Serbia for a full month.

Best. Decision. Ever.

They went beyond my expectations and, by the time I left, they almost felt like family to me! I have never in my life have spent so much time looking at the stars and I have never in my life felt so much at peace as I felt while I was there when I had worries of any type (no groceries! no cleaning! no laundry!) and all the time and space in the world to put myself first.

4. Enjoy some quality family time

Family is home. Wherever they are.

One month on your own is awesome, but we’re still human. And where better to keep recovering than around your family? Or closest friends!

After Serbia I decided to go back to my parents’ for another month. I went back to the routine from when I was still living with them and that turned out to be key on my healing process.

I kept feeling I wasn’t enough, that I didn’t do enough. I felt like I failed. But then being at my parents’, in the environment I was years ago was a clear reminder on how far I have come. It made me value every single step. I was going around to the same shops, the same streets, same town. Everything was exactly the same except for me. I have changed, I have grown so much.

And, let’s be honest here, is there anything better than a mum cooking your favourite meals, a dad taking you to the cinema and going with a cousin for a shopping afternoon? I don’t think so! :)

4. Pay the bills through something totally different

Okay, so maybe by now you have asked yourself: how the hell is she maintaining that!?

Internet, my friend. What a marvelous thing internet is. Scary too. But, oh, so brilliant.

Wifi and laptop is enough to work online. And it’s not as hard as it seems! When I quit, of course, I thought everything was impossible and nothing would work out. But it did faster than I thought and in a beautiful way.

When you go through a burnout the last thing your body and mind want is to keep doing the same thing. In fact, in my case, I was completely rejecting design. When I would have spent hours polishing a logo, now I found myself finding excuses to avoid doing it and trying to finish as quickly as possible. All with a good amount of almost disgust while doing it. What a weird feeling… And quite despairing, I must say. If I couldn’t design, what was I supposed to do? Design is the only thing I can do and I was not even confident of my abilities anymore.

Teaching. That was my answer.

Designlab is an online platform where people go through a 480h course on User Experience design. As a mentor, you join, follow students through the program and provide one on one sessions via Skype as well as written feedback for all their assignments. Sweet as it sounds, being able to do it from anywhere was a main reason to join!

What was (is) more satisfying about teaching is how reassuring it is. It has given me back all the confidence the burnout took away from me because when you have to explain something to someone else is when you really realise how obvious it has become for you. And when you make that other person understand and even master a certain skill… boy, it feels so good!

Let’s face it, a junior doesn’t get burnout. So follow Kevin’s advice on this if you don’t want to follow mine:

“If you have done well, it is your duty to send the elevator back down and try to help bring up the next generation of undiscovered talent.” — Kevin Spacey

Designlab is just one platform, there’s many of them for all sorts of jobs. Mainly tech related, but not exclusively! Check out Udemy or Skillshare where you can create your own content and share it with the world. A bit of marketing, setting that up, and a nice passive income is making it through your door every month.

But ok, maybe teaching is not your cup of tea. Still, there’s plenty of opportunities. I was considering going as a bartender to a cruise. Just traveling around and working on something absolutely different. I’m super bad with trays though, I always drop stuff… I considered the circus too, but it felt a bit too adventurous. Then I thought about doing something online. Besides teaching, there’s plenty of platforms to find remote jobs as customer success representative, project manager, designer, developer, marketer, law advice… Anything, really.

So go and find something that excites you and it’s different from what you were doing up until now! It’s refreshing, gives you a great perspective and, hey, unfortunately we don’t get to pause our bills.

5. Take care of yourself.

Not in a get-away or listen-to-yourself way this time.

I mean it more in a physical health way. Take the time to make proper meals, try new things. Find new workouts to do or new gyms to go to. Put more cream on. Floss every day (really). Put on Youtube and do some aerobics at home. Sing until your voice fades away. Stand under the rain. Paint with your hands. Catch up with old friends. Look at the starry sky. Admire a sunset — and a sunrise. Read more. Get a FitBit or a BellaBeat. Visit your best friend. Drink those 2 litters of water per day. Light up some candles. Take a long bath. Order your folders and files on your laptop (you know you should). Save your holiday pictures properly. Send some hand written postcards. Learn new things.

Enjoy the little things, they are so big.

PS: I actually sent postcards these Christmas and it was amazing to see how people responded to them.

6. Find your Why.

After going through all this healing and time to yourself, start putting the pieces together. Find the patterns of what makes you happy and what makes you miserable too.

If you’re not familiar with Simon Sinek, go watch him! He has this concept about the Golden Circle in which he explains how everything becomes very different when we communicate from the inside out rather than the outside in.

Every company knows what they do. Some know how they do it. And very few know why they do it. — Simon Sinek

This very much applies for people too. Find your why, your purpose, and you will get rid of the cloudy sky.

Have some time and money to commit to it? Try Simon Sinek’s program. Wanna go a bit more freestyle? This is how a why should look like:

To reach for new heights and reveal the unknown so thatwhat we do and learn will benefit all humankind. — NASA’s why.

To ______ (your contribution) so that ______ (how would the world look if everyone did what you do?)

Really, finding your purpose is just like drawing the map for your next adventures. It’s totally worth it.

7. Work on your personal brand

Now that you have done most of the healing and you even found your Why, it’s time to work on your personal brand.

You don’t need a fancy logo and print stationary. But you do need some basics:

  • Choose your color palette. Which colors do you like best or reflect your personality better?
  • Select the right font. Want to have a serious look? Try a serif font, like Times New Romans. Want to have a modern one? A non-serif like Arial or Helvetica does the trick.
  • Set your communication style. How will you address people? Formal language or more of an approachable, friend-like thing?
  • Map out your touchpoints. Business cards? Print resume? Digital resume? Something different and original?
  • Get a website! Whatever your job, a website is cool and it gives you exposure. If you’re not too familiar with the technical world, try Squarespace. Awesome, cheap, beautiful, multi-device and easy.

9. Aim for the moonshots.

You gave it all the last time around, you got hurt. You took the time to recover and now you don’t get to settle for less than amazing.

Find your moonshots and go for them. Even if you don’t land in the moon, you will get further than you’ve been so far.

Failing doesn’t have to mean not succeeding. — Astro Teller, Captain of Moonshots at Alphabet’s X

10. Give it your all. Again.

Yes, yes. You surely promised yourself to never get so involved after this. But let’s face the reality: you and I both know that life is just too short to go about it half-heartedly.

Have you gotten out of a burnout successfully in a different way? Share it please!

Are you currently going through the same thing and want to have a chat? Feel free to reach out :)

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The author

Sara Vilas

After helping over 100 corporations all around the globe become digital and user-friendly, I decided to go wild. I’m now running my own businesses to fearlessly create the future we’d love to live in. Nope - not talking about just another flashy app. This is about radical change.
Here, I share my thoughts about radical innovation and leadership.