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Burnout and Becoming

You may remember the superlatively rude Laura Jane Williams from her Yellow Kite Festival blog post where we introduced her book, Becoming.

Since Laura finished writing about all the raw and glorious moments which have forged her, she’s blogged about her burnout. This feeling of burnout isn’t unique. As more of us feel the pressure to ‘have it all’ we’ve written and read more about digital detox  and work-life balance.

Yellow Kite Books offer lots of good advice on surviving and avoiding burnout, but sometimes you don’t want advice. Sometimes, you just want to talk to someone else and listen to their problems and realise you are not alone. With this in mind, Laura launched The Becoming Podcast: twelve weeks of conversations with her favourite women about what made them who they are, released every Friday.

At the end of each podcast there’s a call-to-action asking you to email Laura at laura [at] superlativelyrude [dot] com your story of becoming, how you came to be who you are. With the hashtag #thisismybecoming on social media we’re gathering tonnes of stories of the great and grimey moments that make us who we are. We’d love to hear about yours via email, social or below on the blog comments. We’ll start you off…

Caitriona Horne:

I first moved to London in January. I don’t recommend this. I was lucky to stay with a generous friend, but I was working 7 days a week juggling jobs and flat-hunting every evening. These evenings were dark, wet, cold and I had no idea where I was geographically most of the time.

One Friday night I saw three terrible rooms, got lost in a massive estate, soaked in freezing rain and arrived home at 11.30 thoroughly miserable. A note on my friend’s lovely kitchen table read ‘Popped out to the theatre, away to New York tomorrow, see you Monday?’. I felt like his life was a million miles away from mine as I set my alarm for 6am the next day.

I was so stressed about finding my place in this ugly city that I couldn’t believe I’d ever love it. Needless to say, here I am. It’s not been quick and I didn’t do it alone, but I feel sure now it’s very common. I’ve since offered my room or sofa over to newcomers to the city, to pay forward what was given to me. It’s wonderful to see them becoming comfortable here too.

This isn’t to say that everyone should keep on keeping on until things come good. I’ve also seen friends and family try something different, change their mind about it and move back or on to something else entirely. However, whatever your path, I would always suggest that starting somewhere new is easier when it’s sunny.

Elizabeth Caraffi

After graduating from uni I found it almost impossible to get a ‘career’ job. I temped for a time and when I wasn’t needed anymore and couldn’t find work, I signed on. I applied for tonnes of jobs – mainly in retail and catering – I got none. I felt more and more tired and less and less independent. I spent my JSA on booze and fags and train tickets to see a boy, hoping it would make me feel better. It didn’t.

It was only when I took some downtime I realised I wasn’t in a good place, and being exhausted and sad all the time wasn’t who I was or wanted to be.

Months passed and finally I began doing work experience at the company I now work for – I had more to talk about with my friends on the weekends and I felt comfortable and happy here.

That year was one of the toughest, I grew up so much but I also spent a lot of it completely knackered and crying. That year was probably the closest I’ve ever got to true burnout – and I’m so glad I came out the other side.

Veronique Norton

Before making the move to Paris for six months I imagined scenes of working in a boulangerie/ charcuterie/ tabac/ librairie *insert other stereotypical French setting*. I thought my A Level French would come back instantly and quickly transform itself into colloquial-savvy fluency.

Fast forward a month and the reality was that I was near-broke, a TEFL course under my belt but infrequent tutorial work barely covered my rent. I was living on my own with no native Francophile at hand to tell me where I was slipping up and how to know my ‘tu’s from ‘Vous’.

I thought my luck had changed when I landed a waitressing job 10 doors down from my flat in a chic café -cum-bar. I was swotting up on all the French ways to describe a cooked steak (there are six!) and how to carry 17 plates on one arm. Despite the efforts and a rigor mortis smile firmly worn across my face my boss Pierre decided I was ‘fini’. Pierre was man of volatile temperament, not adverse to throwing either a strop or a tray of plates, he viewed waiting as an art form, not just a way to gain a few extra Euros and a delicious free lunch. I resigned myself to the fact that maybe waitressing wasn’t for me (I wasn’t any good at it in English, never mind a foreign language). The problem came however when I asked for my pay for the fortnight of long day shifts and evenings at the bar.

From what I could gleam from his booming crescendo, payment wasn’t going to happen. I was merely ‘temporary staff’ on a ‘trial’ so those hours of travaille weren’t about to amount in a fiscal reward. I was horrified. This meant I wouldn’t be able to pay my rent or eat. I was distraught and so, lacking the words to communicate my absolute outrage to Dear Pierre, I found myself in floods of tears, in front of a rather puzzled set of diners. Funerals and reading-sad-book-on-public-transport aside I wasn’t used to crying in public.

Pierre hustled me off the floor down a narrow stairwell and into the dark basement which reeked of stale beer and stagnant water. I thought (probably thanks to having read too many crime thrillers) that this was it, this would how I’d end my days. Instead Pierre, probably just to quiet the weeping Brit, squashed a wad of notes in to my clammy palm – 120 Euros, less than half of what I was owed but better than nothing.

The next few days were spent in a morose state . I had been sacked, I’d cried in front of a bully, I was living off watery potage, my mates were all hundreds of miles away, and worst still any time I left the flat I had to walk right in front of the bar and Pierre on his bi-minute fag break.

I had to have a quiet word with myself – I was in one of the most amazing city in the world, even if I spent no money and had no mates I could enjoy just being there for the next five months. I was living the dream that I had had since opening my first copy of Tricolore aged 11. Sure it wasn’t quite as I’d imagined and in no way postcard-perfect but it was certainly colourful and exciting and unexpected. Plus Pierre taught me a valuable lesson; always agree your terms before you start anything, and I can still order steak in French in six different ways.