Recently I came across this interesting anecdote on recovering from burnout by the late Richard Feynman. As a physics minor in college, I’ve had an interest in his work ever since I read his book “Six Easy Pieces” when I was younger. I’ve always appreciated his writing style and thought processes.
What really resonated here with me in this moment is that I am very much coming out of an intense period of work where I clearly demonstrated all of the signs of burnout.
Running 4 businesses and trying to be a present husband and dad — while still doing all of the things I enjoy (and need) was completely unsustainable. I wanted it to change but I lacked the ability or willingness to do something about it.
Dare I use the word “fortune” in the context of the pandemic, but things have changed considerably over this past year. Sparing details for now, my responsibilities have never been greater professionally and as a father but I’ve very much appreciated this ‘hard reset’ on life.
I suppose my current biggest challenge is the notion of feeling a passion for “something” again. I have trained myself to be a very analytical person who has learned to understand the importance of process. Needless to say, I can appreciate the value in a good system. As a side effect, I often wonder if systems takes away from the creative process — business for business’s sake, if you will.
I know that I can do anything but I’m often left wondering “is this the best use of my time?” or “what should I be focusing on?” versus “what do you actually want?” and “does this move you?”.
My takeaways from the Feynman passage is that first and foremost, everyone in all fields of study or industry can experience this debilitating burnout. It’s completely normal but we can all move past it.
Beyond this, I can also appreciate the need to reconnect with “little interests”, no matter how trivial or inconsequential they may seem. This is how we cultivate passion in the context of structure.
Lastly, economic viability should not equate to value. Yes, this is a borrowed socialist platitude, but it can apply to creating fulfillment in our work and personal lives.
Some of this I’ve already realized and it’s been lingering in my subconscious for quite a while but it just takes validation in the form of a 40 year old passage from a Nobel Prize winning physicist to start honoring it.
To this end, I’m committing to making room in my day to chase more of these little interests for no other reason than “because it moves me”.
I’ve also added “Surely You’re Joking Mr. Feynman” to my reading list.