I’m trying to keep upbeat about my work as I continue to hurtle toward retirement. But it’s hard right now. Man, is it hard. I’m burnt. Drained. Exhausted. I’ve approached the stage where I wonder whether I have anything left to offer. This feels like third-degree burnout — to a point at which I fear there is little recovery.
I do have periods where I feel less stressed and anxious and think that I can endure the frustrations to the end. And then something happens, and I wonder how much longer I can keep doing this. Facing this computer, generating graphics and repeated analyses. The nuanced writing and endless editing. Knowing that it is all on me at this point because there is no help to be had. The only relief is to finish or quit. I don’t know if I care to which end it is at this point.
This feeling isn’t new — it’s been building like this for years. I’ve felt increasingly marginalized and disconnected from my program and from the work that I once embraced. I hate that I’ve come to detest my field. I’m fighting for a last bit of respect by pushing on these final reports and publications. All with a foreboding sense that no one actually cares.
Three bad days. That’s all it will take for me to finally make the jump. And they don’t even have to be in row.
I sometimes wonder if burnout a mechanism to protect oneself from excessive stress. When there is no way out, is this forced inaction a way of keeping myself safe? When coping strategies are ineffective, do our bodies and minds simply stop working and make us address the situation? We see burnout as a sign of weakness — but is it a sign of strength instead? The strength to stop “going along” and actually address the problems?
I also wonder if late-career burnout is inevitable. I have had more than one conversation with colleagues lately who have nearly quit their jobs or are actively looking for something else. Those close to me in age are also preparing to retire early. We all share an intense sense of disappointment with our positions and careers. In a way, I’m grateful for these conversations, knowing that I’m not alone in feeling this way.
But it’s not getting any easier.
And still, I feel a slight stir of excitement as some new opportunities have developed for our workgroup. Is it enough though? There currently is no shared sense of purpose amongst my co-workers, and we are at a hunger games level of competition. It will takes years to get back into a functional working group where we treat each other with any semblance of respect. I sense that we simply too far down to possibly recover.
It’s probably best to leave this job to some one less jaded than I.