Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Rekindling the Fire?

No this isn't about marriage. Its about burn out. A couple of months ago, a friend forwarded me an article about burn out. I didn't even need to read the article, the title alone put into words what I've been feeling for a while now. I am completely and totally burnt out on work.

Of COURSE I'm burnt out. I've been working full tilt for so many years--by necessity, by desire, by sheer stubbornness of the "I will never give up" variety. 100+ hours a week at the absolute worst (yes I DID track my time) and 50-60 at the best (yup, tracking). And I just…don't care anymore. Well, no, I DO care, but I don't care that much. I do the things that other people are counting on me to do, but I'm struggling mightily to do the things that are sheerly for my own career advancement. Getting 40 hours of real work in a week is worthy of a gold star.

One cure to burn out is to switch things up---try a different type of work, or a different setting. But after thinking seriously about how I'd feel in a more clinical role, I don't think that's the answer. Why? The thought of that filled me with utter dread. No not fear of change, just hating the idea of seeing patients day in and out, charting, dealing with authorizations and appeals, and taking call.

Its more of an "I need a break" than an "I'm DONE". I don't want a change of job. I want a change of attitude. I want to feel engaged and driven again because I'm in the perfect position to use that drive to push forward a really rewarding career. And it IS rewarding. I love my clinical work and teaching trainees, I love the clinical projects I'm starting up, I love my focused little bench work and I really really love how I can combine all three on a daily basis. Its like part of my brain is excited and ready to dive in, but there is a stronger, more primitive side that wants to zone out for a month or so. But since I can't do that, I just hobble along, half in/half out and half-assed. I'm trying to keep things from falling apart until I can jump all in again.

I'm holding out hope that the fire will eventually start to smolder again. Is that possible? Anyone been through this and come out the other side without a major life overhaul?


  1. Replies
    1. sounds heavenly. not an option.

    2. Could you craft one by taking a leave without pay (instead of half-pay like a sabbatical) and then doing something else (paying) for a year? Sometimes people do government agency work for a year (NSF, CBO, etc.) even when they're not eligible for sabbatical and there's other kinds of post-docs (RWJ) and fellowships etc. I'm not entirely sure what your position is, but academia is often flexible about letting people take time off unpaid and then coming back.

      Or is it not possible for other reasons? Because man, you sound like you need a sabbatical.

    3. No....not my place, not flexible about that kind of thing. Also I'm in year 1 of a 3 year federal grant that is paying 75% of my salary, the other 25% comes from clinical work. and we couldn't pay our mortgage/bills/day care on 50% of my salary, much less 0%!!!

    4. Usually the gov't or think tank or granting agency pays closer to 100% of salary if it's an off-sabbatical thing, or rather, they usually pay whatever they pay for that position, which can be up to 100% of salary (plus 3 mo summer salary).

      My husband took a year leave without pay so he could come with me on sabbatical and his department had never heard of pre-tenure sabbatical, but they let him do leave without pay after a lot of discussion with higher administration. I got 50% of my pay (and benes) from the uni and 50% (plus summer salary) from the place I did my sabbatical. So I actually made more during that year than I normally do because of the summer pay.

      It sounds like this isn't going to work out for you, but it is an option that a lot of people don't know about. Leave without pay + paying job elsewhere. Universities tend to like it best when it's a prestigious fellowship or a government organization, but my husband used it to try out working on a start-up, which gave him a taste for what he might do if he left academia.

  2. My only suggestion is to think about what makes you happy, what you really want, and then do that (or some version of that). It doesn't have to be science. It doesn't even have to be medicine. If you're ever interested in chatting about industry, let me know and I can have you talk with my husband.

    1. but thats the THING. nothing work-related sounds good to me right now. Industry used to be my dream until I talked more with some former colleagues who are working in it now...

    2. That's the thing -- sometimes my husband complains about his job as though he is being systematically tortured, and sometimes he seems to enjoy it. And there are layoffs to worry about, which can be quite random and very stressful. You're probably hearing the horror stories from your friends as they vent to you, hence the negative bias.

      My husband works about 50 hours a week on a consistent basis, likes that his area of expertise is expanding (rather than contracting, as it can do when you're in academics), and has developed a skill set that is transferable to a number of different jobs. He also likes that he's not paid in soft money, doesn't have to worry about getting scooped, and likes that he's not focusing his entire life on one piece of one molecule that nobody is ever going to care about.

      No job is ever going to be perfect. Only you can decide if you want a change. If you are thinking about it though, maybe you could update your CV and apply for some positions that look appealing. You don't have to take an offer if you decide it's not what you want to do.

    3. "No job is ever going to be perfect", I completely agree, which is why I feel silly even venting about work. Everyone has those days/weeks/months. I actually did apply for industry positions 2 years ago and got nothing. I figured I'd need to A) build my skill set and B) build some sort of network.

    4. Two years ago the economy was terrible. Also, HR screens most resumes with a computer looking for key words. Maybe you need to build your skill set and network. But maybe you just need to find the right position at the right time, and fine tune your resume with the right keywords. Also, I was told once that you should expect your job search to take approximately one month per 10,000 expect to earn. So.... by that measure if you started looking 2 years ago, you should have found a job.... not that long ago.

      It's never silly to re-evaluate what you're doing career wise. You never know when a really cool opportunity will arise. If you're not looking, you might miss it!

  3. RETURN OF THE FIRE IS POSSIBLE. I was so intensely burned out and bummed about my job before tenure, and it only took two years and some professional development, and I feel tons better. Now, to be fair, ain't no way I'm ever going to work 50 hours a week. I will never care that much, and my job doesn't require it. Because I'm also not all that ambitious. I want to do the stuff I do and keep my job, not get all famous. So maybe my FIRE REKINDLED is your BURNED OUT. But if you're in the market for practical advice: I see that you don't have tons of options, but maybe some kind of professional development workshops or coaching or whatever IS. It has to be good to be worth it and you may not know until you try it, but a little time spent there could lead to a renewed energy in the stuff you're already doing.