Michael Ashcroft

February 19, 2021

I wouldn’t start from here — recovering from burnout

There are a few variations of this apparently Irish joke, but for the sake of argument I’ll use this version from Wordreference.

A traveller stops to ask a farmer the way to a small village. The farmer thinks for a while and then says "If you want to go there I would not start from here.

This is why I quit my last job, because I realised I couldn’t get to where I wanted to go from where I was. I had to get somewhere else, somewhere that would allow me to start.

Basically, I burned out a couple of jobs ago. I had been working too much for too long.

And I don’t mean a slow and gradual loss of interest and capacity to perform well, although that also happened. No, one morning I woke up and, looking back, had a pretty severe dissociative episode. 

I didn’t see emails to respond to when I looked at my laptop screen, I saw blurry shapes and colours. I seemed to have no meaningful theory of mind, either. Other people surely didn’t have their own subjective experience, they were Non-Player Characters — just like me.

There were a few things going on in my life at the time that contributed to this — and that I won’t go into — but my job was probably the primary factor that, at the very least, amplified the other issues.

I only took a week off and then I was back at work, but I was not okay. 

Over the coming months I somehow managed to claw my way back to about 50-70% of my previous high capacity, but then stayed there. After a year and a half after the episode in that same job, and after trying and failing to get back to where I was, an opportunity came up for me to go somewhere else. So I did, hoping a change of scene would help.

It did not. 

I mean, I was doing fine. The sort of fine that is okay for coasting and occasionally impressing people at the right moments. But that’s not what I wanted and it dawned on me: “I shouldn’t start from here”.

That’s why I quit not only my job, but the entire frame it represented. I built my escape route from that entire system on the side, because I knew I needed to explore an entirely new way of being.

That’s what I’m doing now. 

And now I’m here, and you know what? I think I would start from here.