How I learned to let go: the story of my burnout

I was 22 when I hit a burnout. It was at uni, during the time of my thesis, just before I graduated. I felt scared having it diagnosed as such. And, as with all shocking news at first, I fell into denial. ‘What?’, I thought, ‘but that isn’t possible!’ Of course it was possible. In retrospect, I was doing too much. Well, not only doing too much – I was having too much stress in my system over a long period of time. I was stressed. All. The. Time.

Letting go of perfectionism

I had always been a perfectionist. I used to be the girl that cried when she got a B instead of an A at school. I remember once coming home crying and my mom got worried the second she saw my face. “I think I got that answer wrong in my biology exam.”, I sobbed. I will never forget her reaction: she got angry. She had been worried just to find out the reason of my tears had been something as unimportant as a (possibly) wrong answer in an exam. But for me, it hadn’t only been an exam. It had been my identity. That was the first mistake: I had tied my self-worth to grades. If I got a B, I felt it was my fault, I felt I wasn’t smart enough. Truth is, you are more than your grades. You are even so much more than your CV – ouch, this used to hurt, since we are trained to take so much pride in what we’ve accomplished. You as a human being though have nothing to do with your CV – and your CV will never be able to explain who you are. Yes, really: your CV will never be able to explain who you are. Perfect doesn’t exist. Perfect is an illusion. Let go of perfect, and do you instead.

Letting go of goals

My goal had been to graduate with a First Class Degree. I did. But the moment I held the final results of my thesis in my hands… I simply felt empty. I couldn’t get myself to feel proud. I almost felt angry: this is what I gave myself up for? So much work had gone into this thesis. So much time. I had slept about five hours for a few months, had four side-jobs, neglected my friendships, almost gave up on music, my stomach had been upset for months, my skin looked horrible from all the stress, and I had faced some serious mental challenges. Loneliness, insomnia, the feeling of not being enough, not doing enough, not eating well, forcing myself to go to the gym when I was exhausted, anxiety, panic attacks … I had caught a cold each 2-3 weeks, not to mention a stone that grew in my body due to all the stress. It had later be taken out with surgery. This is when I learned: listen to your body. If it catches a cold, it’s for something. If you have a headache, listen to why. If you feel exhausted, don’t push, rest. I had completely ignored everything my body was telling me for the sake of reaching a goal. It wouldn’t happen again – it couldn’t happen again. It doesn’t mean you should stop having goals, yet, you should have the freedom to re-evaluate and adjust goals and not give yourself up entirely just because you’ve set something as a goal in the past. Live in the present. Adjust the goal, when necessary.

Letting go of expectations

If it was for the expectations of the job market (and society) there is always more you could do. If you say you aren’t busy or stressed, people will probably tell you there’s something you’re doing wrong. Being busy is overrated. Be happy instead. The internet is never turned off, you have work at reach 24/7. Expectations are always high: you should have done this and that internship, you should get involved in this and that, you should have a list of extracurricular activities on your CV, experience abroad, etc. … You can’t meet all of those expectations. And that’s okay! Decide what’s important to you and then go for it. Don’t live for your CV, live your life. Create your own expectations and then show up for those. Spend some time thinking about your values and make those the standard you live by.

Letting go of productivity

That was the hardest. I had been trained to be productive, trained to be busy. So – what was I going to do now? Stare at the ceiling and do nothing? Just go for a walk? Bake for the sake of baking? Read a book that wasn’t related to business? Watch a movie? Stay in? Say no to the hundredth networking event? Exactly that. All of it. And it did me well. If we get too caught up in the rush of the world, we so quickly loose the connection to ourselves, our intuition, our purpose. If I don’t take the time to reflect, I quickly get distracted and jump off my own path. (If you struggle with reflection, I have a reflection guide which you can download here: https://payhip.com/b/WD5R) It is as mentioned in Elizabeth Gilbert’s novel “Eat Pray Love”: Il Dolce Fare Niente. The sweet doing nothing. The best ideas come when you don’t force them to come. Inspiration comes when you feel happy, not tied to a desk. So take time to recharge and feel confident doing nothing, just seeing what the day will bring.

Learn to let go

I don’t remember where I picked up that phrase ( I probably saw it on a post on Instagram) which said: unlearning is just as important as learning. The time after the burn-out wasn’t nice. It took me over a year to let go of beliefs circling around productivity. I am still in the process of unlearning – it takes sooooo long!! It’s painful, but definitely worth it. Take it step by step, day by day. Never forget: healing is possible and necessary. The process of healing might not be as romantic as it is always depicted yet it is a journey where you get to know yourself better – and your life will change for good.

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