Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Burnout: the unspoken bane of emerging professionals

I haven’t been very good about posting regularly lately—I’ve struggled with keeping up with Intern 101, trying to come up with good topics to discuss and eagerly pouncing on a topic when someone emails me a question. Really, I’ve struggled with posting anything at all at least once a week. I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m fighting some kind of burnout.

I don’t usually post about what’s personally happening to me, but I feel like mentioning it might be worthwhile, as I imagine I can’t be the only one. If you’ve managed to stay employed through the recession, you might be feeling this way yourself. You come into work and sit down at your desk, and suddenly all the energy drains from your body. You can’t even pick up a pen, and you can’t bring yourself to answer the urgent emails filling your inbox or to complete the rather simple redlines sitting on your desk. All you want to do is surf the internet or go home and do laundry. It’s a different feeling from spring fever or holiday restlessness; it’s a feeling that is a sudden draining of energy and focus at best, and at worst it’s what one of my colleagues once described as “the day is ruined the moment you turn the key in the ignition to drive to work.”

After months—if not years—of trying to do more with less and watching your coworkers get laid off in waves and struggling to keep your job and do the jobs of those who were let go and accomplishing all of this with a brave face, it’s no surprise that you’d be feeling burnout by now. Or perhaps the work has come back with a vengeance, and you’re working like hell with a paycheck that reflects your 2008 skills while doing a 2011 job (yours and someone else’s because no one’s hired extra help just yet, just in case there’s a double dip recession). Myself, I’ve just spent the past few months working at a breakneck pace, leaping from deadline to deadline after nearly wearing myself out with projects plus preparing and giving a presentation at the national AIA convention. I spend my days frenetically jumping from phone call to department layout to email to QC of a set of drawings to—oh, wait, have I eaten lunch yet? And of course, because the economy has been so bad for so long, it seems like sacrilege to complain. But the weariness, the anger, the anxiety are all there, and the passion for what we do—for what I do—is gone. I come home from work, bone tired and drained, and I can barely even flip through a catalog or magazine, let alone put together coherent thoughts for a well-meaning blog providing so-called professional advice.

Burnout is a weird feeling for me, because I’m one of the most motivated people I know. Burnout is what other people deal with, what people who don’t really like architecture feel, I think to myself. But I’m finding that even the most committed amongst us, the most devoted to this art and craft and profession and obsession that we call architecture, even we the truly dedicated feel some annoyance with this field and wish for a break to do anything, anything other than this. I don’t yet have any answers for working through my burnout, but I do know that the only way out is through. I also know that I have to find a way to get some breaks in before Christmas, and I have to make sure that those breaks don’t get used up by holiday shopping or filling out greeting cards or the like. My goal is to post on Intern 101 at least once a week. Any questions, observations, comments, gripes, etc. are welcome, as they help me get ideas for post topics. In the meantime, I do hope that all of you got to enjoy your holiday and are finding better days coming at your firms (or in acquiring a job), and I beg your patience in the coming month or so while I work through this exhaustion.


  1. Lulu,

    I couldn't help but agree with everything you wrote in this post. Coming in the morning and feeling the energy drain away feels all too familiar, and constantly wondering why one is still doing this in spite of all the masochistic things that are endemic to the profession of architecture can't be a good thing for too long. Like you, I'm one of the current recession's "survivors" and I feel overworked, underinspired, and definitely under-compensated. It's made me indeed pretty cynical, and I can't help but look at all the journals and think who pointless it all is.

    As my own household has grown, I have less time to devote to extra-curricular activities, such as blogging. Don't be surprised to find yourself not having posted something in a long while and then eventually losing interest altogether. Still, I hope you find the time to contribute, and it may make it easier to find someone else to help take on the blogging duties.

  2. Hi LuLu, I've sent you a personal email. Hopefully you will respond soon. Thank you! Love your blog by the way!

  3. Lulu (and corbusier):

    This is a good post, and one I can certainly relate to. Maybe it's all about the nature of practicing architecture in lean times: when clients are understandably even more budget-conscious than ever, it puts us in a smaller creative box in which to try and do what we do. That, combined with the requirement of all workplace survivors to do more with less can induce the kind of stress that makes it harder and harder to put two feet on the floor every morning. I can barely maintain a consistent twitter output, let alone a blog, and while I'm wrapping up the ARE, it all seems a study in futility from time to time.

    Flushing these concerns from our minds is a healthy exercise, and a good first step towards correcting the ennui and getting back to being a motivated,productive person. Good luck to us all.

  4. LuLu,

    How are you doing this year? I'm feeling this way right now.Glad to have a job but the stress of the last few months has hit me hard and I'm dealing with anxiety and low energy....I used to love this profession....I know many are still unemployed so feeling guilty doesnt help either.

  5. Anonymous: I'm feeling better, though still working like crazy. I'll post about it here shortly--thanks for asking!

  6. When we were working very hard on a six-year project, it was useful to take periodic breaks, even for a day or two. Our choice was renting a motel for a day and night on the beach, but you will know other relaxing things to do and places to go. At other times, I would awake in the night and go into another room to work on design problems.