Unexpected Lessons from the Pitch that Nearly Killed Me

Over a year ago, I was lying on the floor of my open floor plan office listening to the low, distant hum of the vacuum cleaner down the hall.

We were pitching tomorrow. It was a big one and I’d been asked to step in as the creative voice while my boss went on vacation. It was everything I ever wanted, but I wanted nothing to do with it.

The client was a new pharmaceutical meant for patients with bipolar disorder, a disease my father struggled with for my entire life. I put on a brave face, got up and faced the pitch.

We stayed up late editing the deck.

The next day, we pitched.

And 24 hours after, I broke. I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t get out of bed and I started hearing voices.

To tell the truth, I had been hearing voices for months now, but these were so earth-shatteringly loud that I couldn’t ignore them like the ones that came before.

These voices that told me when to jump out the window. They told me which window would be best and what shoes to wear. I knew exactly what to do. I wasn’t just burning out. I was ablaze.

It’s hard to notice you’re burning out when you get to do something you love every day. How do you tell the difference between having a fiery passion for what you do and burning the candle at both ends?

I definitely don’t have all the answers, but I do know a few things that have allowed me to stay passionate about my work without burning out again.

Follow Your Speed Limit

In a world of 30 under 30 lists and youngster competitions, there’s a lot of pressure to hustle. You might have a side hustle or be pulling all-nighters for a pitch, but it’s important to listen to what your body needs.

“I’ll sleep when I’m dead,” sounds great on a coffee mug, but it’s awful in practice. “Forgetting” to eat and excess caffeine can and will make you feel more anxious. Plus, sleep helps you be more creative, according to some studies.

Invest in Self-care

I know, I know. Self-care is the buzzword of the year but really it’s as important as those influencers and lifestyle experts say it is.

Self-care doesn’t have to mean a bubble bath and yoga. It can be as simple as a phone call to a friend, a dance party to your favorite song or a walk outside. A Stanford study showed a positive relationship between creativity and walking outside. What’s important is that whatever self-care you do, it fills up your fuel tank and reenergizes you.

Don’t Cross the Line

We all have things we don’t want to work on. Not the grunt work that you don’t like to do, but work that goes against your core values or moral code. This is when working at a company with strong leadership is key. You need to know your own limits and speak up when you’re nearing them.

Find Your Mirror

If you’re lucky, you’ve found someone who can honestly reflect back to you when things in your life are out of balance. If not, consider this your opportunity to identify them. It can be a friend, a partner, a coworker or even health professional, but it should be someone you speak with regularly about your work-life balance and someone who knows you well enough to know when you’re pushing yourself too hard.

Ask for Help

Most of all—don’t be afraid to reach out. Most agencies have an EAP (Employee Assistance Program) which can offer counseling or help you find resources that are available in your area and in your budget. If you need help now, don’t hesitate to call 1-800-274-8255 or text HOME to 741741.

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