Dealing with burnout from work

One of my biggest concerns as I was about to graduate law school and begin my corporate law job in New York was burnout. Like many of my peers, I was worried about the long hours coupled with depression and unhappiness that many attorneys are known to experience. Before starting my job I made a pact with a friend and soon to be co-worker. We promised each other that we would hold each other accountable. If we saw the other person getting too caught up by the negative routines and stresses of work, we promised to remind each other to remember the bigger picture. Both of us were entering big law with the hope that it would be a stepping stone for our future aspirations—they were not set at the time (and still are not), but included the possibility of entering politics, leading a business or becoming an educator. Overall, we appreciated the training that we would obtain at a corporate law firm, but knew we did not want to stay there forever. Even more importantly, we had certain personal goals. These ranged from goals like staying physically fit to constantly seeking intellectual and emotional growth and surrounding ourselves with positive people.

About six months into my job, I experienced an incredibly rough period at the firm. I was working 100+ hour weeks on end, with no weekend breaks, demanding clients and unreasonable deadlines. I could feel myself becoming the type of person that I never wanted to become—a person who felt too busy to deal with other people’s problems, who constantly complained about work and was no fun to be around. What started off as funny banter and commiseration with the other junior associates at the firm quickly turned into irritation and cattiness. In some ways, I had become more confident and direct in my conversations, but put in another light, I had become more curt and unforgiving.

Sure enough, a few weeks into my so-called roughest period, my friend pulled me aside and told me we needed to talk. He reminded me of the pact that we had made and told me that I needed to take a step back. I was getting the training and experience that I had desired, and despite the long hours and stress, it would be worthwhile in the long-run. Plus, this was not permanent.

Admittedly, the impact of this conversation was not immediate, but in many ways, it stopped me from going down a destructive spiral of depression and discontent. I realized that if I was unhappy with my situation, the solution was not to feel upset or complain, but rather to try to change my situation.

And I did just that. I started reaching out to people and gradually planned my next steps for a career transition. Through this process, I learned a few important things:

1. It is important to keep the bigger picture in mind. Whether it is through a friend, boyfriend/girlfriend, brother/sister, journal, blog, etc., it is helpful to share some of your bigger picture thoughts in life—thinking about the type of career you would like to have and what type of person you want to be. This certainly isn’t set in stone by any means, but on those difficult days when everything seems to be going wrong, it is helpful to read your own notes or talk to someone who can remind you of this larger plan you have for yourself.

2. Inertia is scary and powerful. For me, and many of the people I spoke with, the hardest part of changing our unhappy situations was taking the first step. It is definitely easier said than done, but once you take the initial step, it changes your perspective. The negative aspects of this job still remain, but now that I know I am working toward changing my situation, I have a new sense of motivation.

3. I have heard this many times before, but it is incredible how you manage to reconnect with friends from various points in your life. There were a handful of people I hadn’t spoken to in a while, but we had always had a good relationship so I felt comfortable reaching out to them for advice and help. I was overwhelmed and humbled by how readily people were willing to take time out of their days to speak with me. And I was amazed at how almost everyone I had spoken with either had gone through or was going through a similar situation. Each conversation was immensely helpful and going back to my previous point, the hardest part was taking the first step to reach out.

Overall, if you are in a demanding job, it is extremely difficult to avoid burnout. I can personally attest to that struggle. But you can equip yourself with the right people and mindset so that when things start getting tough, you are able to redirect your energy to keeping yourself on the right track.
— Brown alum '10, Harvard Law School '14, Lawyer