Apr 10

How I Avoid Burn Out

The critical shift I’m instituting this time around…and the 1.0 versions I tried at the magazines.

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Despite the lovely company of Seventeen’s wonderful Publisher Jayne Jamison and Sophia Bush, I was totally and completely fried and uninterested.

Hey,

A lot of people have been asking me about ambition lately.

I totally understand why. In the aughts, I was the poster girl for ambition, right? On the surface this young, overachieving Editor-in-Chief. Killing it at work and seemingly living the high life with the requisite house in the Hamptons, fancy car, NY Times headlines, seat at the Met Ball. I had two assistants: One was a full-time assistant just to answer reader letters most often asking, “How can I get to where you are?” To which I had crafted a detailed game plan to do EXACTLY what I did to get where I was in my career, nothing left out. And perhaps you got one of those letters and followed the game plan and if so, hi again. (And I’m sorry I steeped you in hustle culture so early. Really. I’m sorry. 🥺)

Well, we know where that level of ambition got me, right? Burnt the fuck out.

But I must give my younger self a little credit. I did subconsciously recognize what was happening in real time. There were a few weeks at CosmoGIRL! that I had my (other) assistant block out from 2-4pm on my schedule every afternoon. My intention was that I would use that time to nap on my couch, look at international magazines, or just do whatever the hell I needed to shake myself out like a blanket. It was a great concept, in theory, and I’m sure I did try to nap once or twice. But I was just too activated in my cheetah print carpeted office to get the rest I was needing. So it just morphed into a time when I can do additional work uninterrupted.

I tried again at Seventeen. This time, I would work from home in the morning until after lunch. I think my first meeting at the office would be at like 2pm. I wasn’t necessarily sleeping in or anything, but I was giving myself a sensory rest. I appreciated reading and editing without the constant dinging and ringing of my computer and phone lines and the frequent “Hey, just a quick question…” pop-ins. I’m sure many of you are enjoying this aspect of WFH life.

Sensory rest is a real thing.

I thought this was my own little private struggle. It was certainly nothing I said out loud. But at one point when my top team and I first arrived at Seventeen, NY Post’s Page Six reported that my assistant sent out a breezy memo (this was unbeknownst to me, btw) to Seventeen’s existing staffers with a list of how-to-best-work-with-Atoosa rules. Honestly, I never read the memo but I sort of remember cringey tidbits like they shouldn’t look me in the eye if they were passing me in the hallway. I had never said that to anyone. Ever. Had she felt that from me? My total and complete overwhelm? She wasn’t wrong about my unspoken comfort zone, but for sure it was jarring reading it in black and white. Welcome to my Burn Out, friend. Even a friendly or hopeful glance felt too much.

Here’s what ambition looks like for me these days. I had a big deadline to hit by 230pm yesterday. It required a lot of heavy lifting – but the delicate kind. My words had to be on point. It wasn’t grunt work, it was artistry, and it required the very best of me….by 230pm. So after I dropped off my children at school, I did my daily meditation and then….I took a nap: A 75-minute deep and delicious nap with a 25-pound weighted blanket pulled up to my neck.

Sounds like procrastination, right?

No. I’m going to reframe it for you. This is precisely what I was trying to do while I was working but it was just so far out in left field deep in the heart of Hustle culture that I kept giving up. What I did yesterday was I resourced myself. My work required a lot of precision, focus and connection with my highest self. The only way I would get my best and most concentrated Output would be by giving myself some really yummy Input. It’s the in-breath to the out-breath.

That’s something I was craving when I was working, but I just didn’t have the language to describe it. All I did was expect myself to perform. Output, output, output. Those attempts at resourcing were well intended. I knew I was hungry for some kind of input…some kind of rest or respite. But I didn’t quite understand that Output needs Input. Well, let me rephrase that because it’s not actually required. I mean, you can give and give and give, right? I mean, raise your hand if you give and give and give in relationships? At work? Even sexually? We are so programmed to give. But it’s just not sustainable long-term and it certainly doesn’t result in our best work. Today I truly recognize the importance of receiving…on all fronts. 😉

So the invitation is to notice how we set up our days. And many of you now work from home so you’re avoiding many of my old traps. But I am talking to you when I say taking a social media break is not rest or Input. It’s as much Output as work, if not more, because it’s so loaded. I may think I’m doing something resourcing for me personally because I see my friend’s faces, but actually it’s just another stage to perform on. It’s exhausting and total energetic junk food we feed on in the face of work burn out.

For me, resourcing is doing whatever my body needs in the moment. It could be an ill-timed nap. (And yes, I said ill-timed. Because when I need it, I need it and I may need to cancel a meeting to get it.) It could be 30 minutes with my foam roller. For sure it’s meditation every day no matter what because it’s as important as brushing my teeth. I don’t kiss anyone in the morning until I brush my teeth. I no longer do life without meditating. Also for me, time connecting with my two best friends either in nature or just a phone chat is really important. Real talk. And the key is these are not the things I do “when I have time.”  These are the things I do before I have time for anything else. It's the morning pee, shower and toothbrushing for my inner life.

David & I walked to the Hudson River the other day during an hour-long work break. It was a triple whammy - my bestie, a nice walk & nature!

I have friends who say they just “can’t” because of work or family obligations. My response: If you got hit by a car today, you would be out of work for weeks. Your office and family would figure it out. With this orientation, you may not be able to do as much, it’s true. You may not be a Captain of the Universe. Correct. But is that what success looks like today? We all know that if you work around the clock you will be successful professionally. That’s a very simple equation. But is that really success? Having everything on the outside, but dead on the inside? We are the creators of our own realities. If we allow other people to dictate when we get fed, we often subsist on scraps. Decide what you need…and take it. It might be a nap, a walk or a workout. It might be an 830am phone date with your best friend before you start your day (that’s what I do with mine – hi K!). Decide what nourishes you and insist on it. That’s what the “Big Life looks like to me today – correction – it’s what it feels like. Make your life feel jucy and delicious. After all that striving and achieving, my big take away is that if it doesn’t feel good, it ain’t good.

What do you do to resource yourself to make every day feel good? Our chats here continue to be a place that feels good to me. It was back then, too. Some things never change. Always so grateful to walk this path with you. Here for you, 24/7, as always at atoosa@atoosa.com.

xo, atoosa