Dear Captain Awkward,
I reached a major professional milestone that I have been working towards for seven years in college and while working. (Not an unusual amount of time.) My colleagues and I received our results simultaneously. Less than half of us were successful (also not unusual). We’re around the same age, but I am not close to them. I sat quietly within view of them congregating near my desk to discuss, but felt it was not my place to interject much disappointment with my good news. I am sure they did not want to put me on the spot (often we wait to be told rather than ask unless you’re close).
I emailed a few colleagues and texted my family/friends. My family wanted to know what I was doing to celebrate, and I had nothing to report. My three local friends were not available. My colleagues were also unavailable to grab a drink or fancy dessert. My boss encouraged me to leave early, which I was reluctant to do, so I took a break to have dessert at a café. By myself.
As the news spread this week, folks urged me to make extravagant purchases, plan trips, and eat and drink copiously to celebrate. No one offered to join me. Usually there is a happy hour to mark the results, but if there was one I wasn’t informed/didn’t overhear.
I made plans with a friend for today, but she canceled shortly beforehand due to an unavoidable problem with her apartment. All local friends are now unavailable for two weeks. My family lives out of state.
Tangentially, when I first saw my results, I didn’t really feel anything. When I completed the previous step, my success was a huge surprise, and I clearly recall my astonishment and delight. This time, I felt more confident when finished, but I didn’t feel the relief that I remember from before. After the long wait for results, I was expecting/hoping for relief and joy, but neither manifested.
I told colleagues who asked that I felt excited but a little anxious because “I’m already behind with studying!”
There is another optional step that will take at least two more years, possibly much more. Due to company policy, short of a medical exception, I am not allowed to take a break (though I may stop permanently) and must continue these assessments twice a year. This accounts for 400-600 hours of commitment annually outside of work. Most colleagues have made or are making this commitment, and it’s standard for my industry. I am told the previous step was the most challenging. I had a rough couple of months preparing, being very focused but also easily upset.
This process requires lots of my non-work energy. I find group studying to be less productive. I am also a lifelong introvert. (I would even say I’m aggressively introverted.) I engage socially with colleagues/friends once-ish per week outside work in “off” study times, less when I am studying. I often initiate. I try not to turn down invitations because I receive few, and I usually have a good time. I also have lunch with a few people and socialize at work. The folks I started with aren’t in my office anymore, and the group I tested with all started together later. My closest friends live in different states, so I see them rarely. I would rather have a pelvic exam than have to meet/befriend strangers.
tl;dr I didn’t react appropriately to amazing news. Instead I felt sad, empty, and isolated. I am not sure if the root of this is the milestone itself—what have I really achieved? My daily role has not changed, and I am not truly finished, so I must again begin the grueling cycle of preparing for the next assessment. Or were my feelings influenced because I didn’t have an outlet to celebrate and that was disappointing?
So my questions are: 1) How can I better nurture my friendships when I have these responsibilities and this introverted temperament? I feel like my emails go largely unanswered and engagements cancelled as often as not. What can I do differently? I have been told I am a good, supportive friend, and people ask for email updates (without reciprocating), but I feel like Team Me is largely second string, and it’s not my right to demand anything of anybody, while gentle requests for support are not taken seriously. And 2) How can I be more excited and positive about this accomplishment? I am afraid I am focusing too much on the friend-related disappointment or the difficult steps ahead. I want to savor this, but I seem not to know how.
She/her is fine.
Finally a Professional
Dear Finally A Professional:
Congratulations on achieving (whatever it is). It makes total sense that the achievement would feel anticlimactic since so much work on this particular goal remains ahead of you. You’re in the middle, and it still feels like the middle.
You sound to me like a person who needs a break, a short trip to visit someone close to you, and an ongoing local pleasant, low-pressure outlet for companionship.
Could you get a massage? It sounds like you can afford a nice treat, and the catharsis of being rubbed and kneaded until some of the tension leaves your body might help right now. It sounds like your shoulders are up around your ears. See if someone can help you (physically, at least) drop them down a peg.
Could you spend a little time thinking about your career & life goals? Maybe jump on a journaling habit? Are you happy and excited about where all this testing and studying is leading you? Can you think of some people in your field who you admire, who do the most interesting and relevant and useful aspects of your profession? Is there a way to add something that really interests you to your current job duties? Does your company have an opportunity for you to job-swap with another department, cross-train in another role, or transfer to an office (maybe one that is closer to your favorite people)?
Could you take a day off from work to take a long weekend to visit one of your far-flung friends or family? Why not throw some clothes and a book you’ve been meaning to read in a bag and hop a train to see a friendly face? You need a change of scene and to be in a room with someone who loves you. Combine the “celebration of milestone” with “short break” and “refilling your friendship well.” And don’t gently hint at it – ask/tell. “Old Friend, I would love to see your face this weekend. If I make it into town for a day or two can we meet up for brunch or dinner?” “Friend, I want someone to celebrate this big work deal with. If I hop the train this Friday, can we meet up for a drink?” It’s okay to flash the “Hey, I need you!” symbol in the sky. If travel doesn’t work, institute a Skype date or a long gossipy phone call. Email isn’t working, social media isn’t working, gently holding back isn’t working, and you’ve been trying so hard not to impose on anyone that you’ve started to disappear. It’s okay to say, “Friend, I’m a little lonely right now and I need you.” Vulnerability connects us as much if not more than celebrating achievements. You’re allowed to want that and ask for it.
These are three pieces about nurturing friendships among adults that I really like:
My Mother Showed Me How To Hit The Jackpot, by Kate Harding. (You might cry when you read this). I have a group of far-flung friends who make the effort to get together in one place at least once a year, and it is the best. If you can’t visit a friend now, can you try to plan a trip with a few people?
Friday Night Meatballs (about hosting a regular get together, which seems like a weird thing for an introvert to do, until you realize that you control every aspect of it and then kick people out of your house at a set time). To implement: Pick a day, gather your three local friends together at your place, and feed them. “I’m celebrating finishing [MILESTONE], please come join me.“If you enjoy it, try doing it once a month. Every now and then invite someone new and get to know them better.
How Do I Make Friends In My Late 20s, Ask Polly. An excerpt:
“This is the downside of living in a gigantic country like the U.S.: You move away for college, you move away for work, you move away because you meet a great guy or girl, and one day you wake up and you’re 2,000 miles away from anyone who knows you really well. For someone who’s faintly allergic to small talk, who can never quite hit that lowest common denominator of casual chattiness, who can never quite manage to burble happily about the weather and the news and those cute shoes and the new restaurant down the block, making brand-new friends sounds about as appealing as a trip to the podiatrist.”
Sound like you? ❤ She’s got some wisdom in there about connecting with people different from you and looking for things to like about people. I know, you said the thought of befriending strangers is literally The Worst. But your distant-yet-beloved network isn’t really doing it for you right now, nor are your work colleagues, nor is the thought of pouring yourself into hundreds more hours of studying. What could you do that is fun (maybe a physical activity of some sort, something that gets you into your body or your hands or your senses in some way) AND gets you out of your office AND out of your house AND into proximity with other people once a week? Join a choir. Try something new, something you don’t have to be good at, or reconnect with an old hobby. Meet a couple of new folks where you live. You don’t have to befriend them, you just have to show up and give it a chance. You need an outlet and a change of pace. I know you hate this advice, but making friends at multiple stages in life is a skill and sometimes there is no substitute for pleasant proximity to other people (even people who don’t necessarily have anything in common with you on the surface) when you’re trying to find your way back to having community.
- Treat yourself.
- Take a small break.
- See or at least call a friend (be vulnerable).
- Do something new that connects you to others, even if it’s just the shared work of petting puppies in the animal shelter.
- Give it time and be nice to yourself.
You’re not weird for feeling this way, and you’re not alone. I hope your friends come through and that you find a place that reminds you that you belong.
76 thoughts on “#876: Loneliness and Anticlimax”
It is absolutely okay to reach out to a friend and say “I miss you, can we spend some time together soon?” or “I’m having a tough time of it right now, can you find some time in your schedule to watch a movie with me/go for brunch?”
The Loneliness Cloud can be hard to get out from under sometimes, and The Captain has excellent advice. I’d also say that you’re probably dealing with some burnout too. You’ve accomplished a Thing that you worked really hard on, but you’re not excited about accomplishing the Thing. That’s pretty classic burnout. The best remedy for burnout is time away doing things just for yourself. Sometimes that’s a Staycation reading at home, but it sounds like you’ve had Enough Of That. The Captain’s advice for a weekend trip to see someone who loves you sounds like a great remedy for burnout. Change your scenery and recharge. Maybe when you’re talking to someone who is excited to see you and excited for you for having accomplished Thing, you’ll feel your own excitement.
That was my take, too: burnout.
All that pressure can work on our emotions like a bad position makes our foot fall asleep. It’s like our foot isn’t there at all!
I agree with the Captain: break the pattern that has shown itself to have some flaws. Move things around, connect with those you care about, and don’t be shy about who you are… or what you need. Other folks can get caught up in their things and don’t want to press, so help them out. Appear.
And we all walk a little funny when our foot is waking up 🙂
the connection to the numb foot is so perfect
I love this analogy.
(And also your cat podcast.)
Many of us have been there. Most if us will at some point.
It’s absolutely okay to tell your friends what you need. I love it when my friends tell me how to be a good friend! Otherwise, how would I know?
For me, therapy helped because I could talk about my friend and relationship goals. Then have someone to talk about how it went. It really helped me see and pay attention to the positive things.
If a friend cancels for understandable reasons? Try saying something like “Oh man, let’s do a rain check. Want to hear all about it when we get together.” It sucks less to have plans go off the rails when Im prepared to make new plans.
It’s a lot less stressful to practice following up. You’ll end up finding the friends who don’t think it’s a big deal.
I also always have fun ideas saved up that I’ll do when I’m alone and free. So then I look forward to the time with myself.
Hope this helps!
I think the Captain covered it, but just to be explicit in this: sometimes it’s hard for the extraverted to be friends with us introverts, or at least to know what the right thing is with us when it comes to our emotions. Some of that is a difference in styles, some of that is that we have worked kinda hard to train them that they need to make some effort to ‘read’ us and not spew unwanted enthusiasm/feelings/obligations all over us.
So when we’re conflicted, or feel like we need some yay-us stuff, we might have to cue them pretty directly. “Hey, I just hit this major milestone in my XYZ and I feel like I need to celebrate. Can we do dinner tonight?” Even when we’re not conflicted they might not recognize what is, for us less demonstrative folks, enthusiasm. So we have to SAY if we’re not SHOWing in a way they are going to catch. It’s in our interest to do so anyway, if we expect them to respect us when we say “hey, not tonight – I need to recharge.”
If your friends aren’t stepping up even when you are explicit… maybe you need new friends. Personally the conclusion I have come to in my advancing decrepitude is that there are different levels of friends and that can be okay. Some of them are just never going to be as good about following up with what’s up with me or what I need as I am with them, or how I’d like them do. Maybe that’s enough reason to just ghost them, but some low-contact friends are fine in my opinion… so long as I remember they’re not going to be there for me in certain ways.
I think that’s very true. A lot of sensitive extroverts have trained themselves to not push invitations on introverts, because they don’t want to freak us out. But the flip side to that is that they may not offer an invite even when you desperately want one–they may be waiting for you to make the first move, because past experience has taught them that it’s safer that way for everyone involved.
I have a friend who is extroverted, who I know would happily hang out any given free day she has. At first we had a major mismatch, where she was asking me if I wanted to do things all the time, and I felt smothered and freaked out but also didn’t feel comfortable repeatedly telling her ‘no,’ and it was kind of a Thing. She figured me out fairly quickly and backed off, making invitations much more sporadically… but as a result, if I really want to get together with her, I need to be the one to say something. (Because it would be unfair to her to expect her to read my mind and determine if this is an ‘ack leave me alone’ week or a ‘I want to hang out’ week. Almost every week is a ‘I want to hang out’ week for her, so I have to be the one to control the throttle, if that makes sense.)
I felt the same way defending my dissertation. I *did* have friends to celebrate with after, and still all I wanted to do was go home and sleep. For two years. From what I’ve read and heard from others, it’s not uncommon to have post-stressful-achievement depression. So much hard work, it’s a huge focus in your life, and then… what? There’s no ticker-tape parade, the sun doesn’t shine any brighter, and there’s more work ahead. But. You did something amazing! Something the vast majority of people won’t do. You’re looking up the mountain… try looking back at where you came from, and see how far you’ve come!
As a hardcore introvert, I feel you on that too. You are allowed to have feelings out loud. Your friends say you’re caring and supportive, and sometimes people get in that habit and forget you need care and support too. They’re not used to you asking for it, and maybe your gentle requests aren’t really being interpreted as more than casual, but I’m betting many people would be happy (honored, even) to be someone you call on when you’re down.
Also seconding the massage idea if you’re into it… it’s a nice way to get some human interaction in without having to make small talk.
Ditto on finishing the dissertation and being depressed for a couple of years afterward. I have found that depression regularly follows in the wake of achievements, for me. I think it has something to do with replacing a clear goal and plan (even alongside the stress that comes with a goal) with abrupt aimlessness.
And, counter-intuitively but fitting the OP’s situation, for me it is even worse when there is even more to be done — I have the exhaustion of having still more to do at the same time as the real sense of loss that comes with losing my goal, even if it is a positive loss.
The only real thing I can say about this is that, as I have gotten more experienced and repeated this pattern over and over, I have learned to expect it and to build it into my plans. So part of my plan will always be, once I achieve a milestone, to double down on doing the things that make me less depressed, such as spending time in beautiful outdoor spaces and visiting friends.
It’s possible that this difficult experience can also be a chance for the OP to learn skills at coping with this kind of loss, one that I rarely see discussed.
well done for building the let-down into your plans. That’s a really hard lesson to learn. 🙂
Thank you! You know, I am proud of it. That is very kind of you to say and it really just cheered up my morning. 🙂
Seconding this! It is one of those things I’ve had to learn several times (through repetition!) because it deviates so strongly from the expectation that achievement=good times always. Good on you for figuring it out and doing something about it.
Yes, I think there’s an inherent letdown after a lot of big achievements. You build up and build up and build up, and then you achieve the thing, and it’s awesome! …but it’s also, generally, not wildly transformative. The rain continues to fall, the sun continues to shine, the pizza from the corner shop still tastes the same, the trash still needs to be taken out on Thursday nights, the cat still hairballs on the rug, life is still life. There can be an inherent letdown in that.
It’s a good time to be gentle with yourself, honestly. You’re simultaneously adjusting to a major change… and the fact that even a major change is still sort of just… life? It’s a good time to remember to just be nice to yourself, whether that means throwing a party or it means chocolate cake and a new book that you really want to read.
sort of like, January is extra depressing because of Christmas.
I was going to comment something similar. After a big thing like this just passes with no fanfare, I kind of feel really anticlimactic about it. I’ve found that what happens instead of a big feeling of happiness and celebration immediately is a feeling of general calm or relaxation that may come a lot later. LW, if you know you’re not done and there is more studying and hoops to jump through, maybe that relaxation won’t really come or will be tempered a bit by your need to take the next steps. In any case I’ve found that taking a break like a vacation or starting something new you like or something you’ve been putting off that you want to get done (moving? class or athletic thing? trying a cooking thing regularly? etc) might help to mark this as a transition from Life Before This Test to Life Afterwards Where it is Actually Different even if you have a general feeling of blah about your achievement rn.
You beat me to it! I am still kind of freaked out by how genuinely unhappy I felt after finishing my dissertation. To be fair, this was partially because one of my committee members ripped into me during my defense, but even once the pain of that humiliation faded (it probably wasn’t as bad as I remember, but still, ick), I wasn’t psyched about it. I never, ever felt even a fraction of the happiness and relief that I expected for 6 long years. I’m overwhelmingly happy with what my Ph.D. has helped me get: I finally got to move across the country and rejoin my partner, who had moved for a job; I got to start my own incredible job; I get to put Ph.D. in my work email signature (underrated perk!); I have a pretty swanky-looking diploma on my wall. All that stuff is awesome, but thinking about the actual dissertation and defense makes me feel kind of weird and empty. I think this is incredibly common.
Absolutely. Degree and Master’s were the same for me. I’ve felt much better about much smaller achievements that I wasn’t expecting or planning for. At the time it felt like other people were not particularly into celebrating the degree and MA, but looking back I think they were waiting for direct cues from me, particularly as these were things everyone felt would be easy for me. I gave the impression it was no big deal (when actually I was feeling numb and disappointed) and others followed suit.
I had this experience with my PhD as well. After six years, I expected to feel a major sense of accomplishment and pride when I defended my dissertation. Except I didn’t feel any different. It was kind of a letdown. I had no desire to spend another second working on my dissertation, but I just felt really tired, numb, and kind of lost when I was finally free of grad school. Even now that some time has passed, I kind of feel like — eh, did I even do anything of value in grad school?
I don’t have advice exactly. I just wanted to say two things. One is that it’s ok to feel how you feel rather than how you’re “supposed” to feel, especially if you are burned out. I’ve been surprised by how many PhDs express similar feelings. The other is that there can be really good moments of celebration later on too. My mom insisted on going to my graduation months after I defended, and, much to my surprise, it felt pretty good.
I’ll add to the chorus of PhDs–I turned my dissertation in and then spent a month in a fog of residual stress and unhappiness. I didn’t want to celebrate or do anything fun, and any time I tried it just felt fake and tiring. That month culminated in my defense, and after *that* I spent another month slowly recovering my ability to appreciate anything and expend any energy on stuff. (Not huge stuff, even–stuff like watching movies and reading books.)
In line with the Captain’s advice: a few weeks after my defense, I took a trip for a friend’s wedding. I had been dreading it a bit, because it seemed like so much work. I’d been talking about it a lot when people asked, “how are you going to celebrate!?” so I felt obligated to actually take the few extra days I’d said I would and really have a vacation.
It was SUPER effective. I mean, it didn’t change my whole outlook on life overnight, but getting out of town, doing stuff I hadn’t done in years, seeing people who weren’t the same people I’d been stressing out alongside–it really triggered my brain into figuring out that something was, in fact, different. I had a great time and came back feeling a lot better. So let me absolutely second the Captain’s recommendation there.
Thank you guys. I passed my defense 10 days ago and I expected to be so relaxed and happy…and I’m just not. Instead, I am utterly failing to a)make the necessary revisions to my dissertation AND b) looking for a job AND c) all the home improvement projects I’ve been looking forward to, and generally just getting stressed and tetchy.
It is really nice to hear that is normal.
I’m an introvert too, and as I get older, I’ve realized that understanding my friends’ “friendship language” is really important to nurturing friendships. It is SO EASY for people to feel like they are communicating, but in reality, the signals they send are sliding past each other, not quite received.
I know there’s nothing you can do to change anyone else, but the best way you can know you’re being clear with your needs/wants with friends is explicit verbal messages. “I need time with you. I miss you a lot.” Next time a friend misses a date because of something unavoidable, create a replacement plan right then and there. It’s so much easier to re-plan when everyone is motivated and thinking about it rather than “We’ll talk about it later.”
Also, I know this is really hard for us introverts, but try and send out MORE invites to the people you really want to spend time with. Even if you get turned down, don’t stop trying. It’s really painful for you right now because it seems like you feel very alone, but you are worth spending time with and I hope you know that.
I just read The Five Love Languages for Singles and I found it really helpful – I’d say to take a lot of it with a grain of salt because the author comes at things from a Christian-counseling perspective, and I disagree with his objection to casual sexual relationships, but I will say that it was helpful, especially since I’m in relationships, both romantic and friendship-wise, where we speak different ‘love languages.’
i’m an introvert too, and i second the advice for the change of scenery. i can also recommend, from experience, that finding an activity to do on a semi-regular basis can help. about 4-5 years ago, i was feeling very burned out and stressed and most of my close friends had either moved out of state or had kids or were just far enough away to make casual, spontaneous hangouts too hard. i wanted to do something other than be at home every day, but didn’t know what. so i decided to do an afterwork sports league in my city, low on skill, high on enjoyment, where you hang out at a sponsor bar after the games. and a very casual acquaintance from my college days happened to also say she was doing this, so i joined her team. from there i renewed our friendship, and met her other friends on the team and other people in the league, and their friends, etc. it didn’t happen overnight. it took me more than a year of participating before i even really felt like we were ‘hang out outside the league’ friends, but the regular interaction allowed me to get to know everyone at my own pace and just have somewhere i could go and be part of a group and on the edges of conversation, to share when i had something to say, to sit back and listen when i didn’t, and i could head out early from the bar if i was tired or not in the mood. but right from the beginning, i started feeling better and i knew that i had needed that something new, regardless of whether we all became good friends. it was just nice to have a thing to do and be with people who were separate from my stresses, even if we weren’t close.
I just joined an RPG metope for this very reason. It’s structured enough that it’s not so taxing for my introvert-ness (I can be very outgoing when I have a role to play) and it’s just a fun time. Plus I’m interacting with people that I wouldn’t normally interact with, which is cool.
LW, you’re doing a great job noticing and articulating your complicated feelings around a complicated milestone.I second everything above about finding a change of pace and directly telling your friends what you need/want. Take a long weekend – you’ve earned it!
The one thing I’d add to this answer is to be careful of your self-assessment as a “lifelong introvert.” I said something similar to my therapist during our very first session…having appointed myself the amateur therapist of my friend group, I knew the Myers-Briggs inside and out, and I KNEW my introversion was something essential to my being. But he told me that a great many of his clients come in with the same declaration, only to find out after several months of therapy that they are less introverted than they’d believed – they were instead holding on to some deeply rooted beliefs about social interaction that made it exhausting for them. Whether you’re introverted or extroverted, meeting people shouldn’t fill you with dread. Therapy encouraged me to look at the social anxiety I didn’t even realize I had — I was saying some pretty mean things about myself to myself, and was therefore allowing myself to feel judged and criticized in even the best of relationships.
Two years into therapy, I still consider myself “mostly introverted,” or maybe “ambiverted,” but I’ve stopped feeling much affinity for those labels. They’re accurate only as far as they are useful, and I’ve come to believe that in most cases, the introvert label is used as an excuse to avoid and disengage. As you follow the Captain’s advice and put yourself out there, you might benefit from examining what you’re feeling in social situations and following those feelings back to your beliefs. Please believe that you are deserve your hard-earned career accomplishments and deserve to be loved fiercely by a great many people. Good luck assembling your Team You!
I 2nd this ^^^
Going into therapy a few years ago I introduced myself as very introverted and disinclined to associate with anybody on any level. However what I found out was there was a lot of other things going on that exacerbated those tendencies.
I am still very introverted, but it’s easier for me to make ‘small talk’ and have light conversations with people who happen to be doing the same thing as me at the same time (ie other mums at school events).
Sometimes I still need/want to crawl into my hole and hide from the world, but it doesn’t happen as often or for as long as it used to.
Loneliness and burnout are big issues here, and even without other things at play I’d recommend seeing a counselor/psychologist to work through things. Does your school or workplace have a program you can access? Even just calling a helpline to talk to a human being about how your feeling could be good for you.
If you were comfortable sharing your location perhaps an Awkward Army meetup could be arranged?
“Two years into therapy, I still consider myself “mostly introverted,” or maybe “ambiverted,” but I’ve stopped feeling much affinity for those labels. They’re accurate only as far as they are useful, and I’ve come to believe that in most cases, the introvert label is used as an excuse to avoid and disengage. As you follow the Captain’s advice and put yourself out there, you might benefit from examining what you’re feeling in social situations and following those feelings back to your beliefs. Please believe that you are deserve your hard-earned career accomplishments and deserve to be loved fiercely by a great many people. Good luck assembling your Team You!”
Just wanted to push back a bit here. It’s true that introversion, like extroversion, can lead to bad places if taken to an extreme. It’s also extremely helpful to have that permission to be able to say, “I’m an introvert; it’s time to get some space!” I personally am an introvert who loves people, and I’ve had people-intensive jobs (including one where people would come stay at my apartment in work-related activities). The introversion is more about how I recharge; knowing this about myself makes it easier to realize when I need to step out and get some space, even if it’s just taking a book to the bathroom for a few minutes or going for a walk alone (something I do every year a few times at our big family reunion [which lasts for a week; I love my family, but that’s a lot of togetherness!]). You could argue that it’s disengaging, but it’s with a purpose and makes it so that I can survive a large gathering with some recharging; the other option, I have learned, is a meltdown. Which gets increasingly embarrassing as you get older!
Seconding/thirding/etc. the massage idea, or if that feels too intimate, pedicures are another way to get human interaction that lets you keep your clothes on.
Also, if you enjoy singing at all, I heartily recommend joining a choir (most communities have them, though you may have to do a little work to find them). It’s the perfect way to be an introvert in a large group of people, because everyone has something to focus on that is occupying all of you at the same time, but you still get to see a lot of people (not to mention, every choir I’ve been in has been SUPER HAPPY that a new person is joining them). Over time, you might make one or two friends, but it’s also totally normal to just show up and sing without more than a few hellos to people as you take your seats.
I second joining a choir! I’m a pretty hard-core introvert and I joined my community choir in January this year. Everyone was thrilled to have me there and I have a couple people I chat with briefly before we start practice but I still don’t know most people’s names and I’m okay with that.
It’s also togetherness with rules! and a purpose! and not a lot of time (therefore not a lot of pressure) to talk.
My boss just received her PhD. And didn’t say a word to anyone for three months! She was just sick of school and making presentations and the reading and writing and all of it and just wanted to be DONE. It wasn’t until her boss found out and directed her to put the “Ph.D.” after her title….and others saw it and started congratulating her and bringing cards and gifts that she started to come out from under it. Her graduation ceremony happened about 6 months after she finished her studies. Only then, seeing the pride on her husband’s face and hearing how much she inspired her children to pursue their goals, did she finally, fully realize how awesome her accomplishment was. She relishes it now and it’s cool to see how motivated she is to jump back into her work and be a leader in our field.
So please, do follow the Captain’s advice and ASK for those celebratory get togethers. Ask for the cocktails or the brunch outings. Take yourself on those day trips or have a spa day. You are burnt out and unmotivated. Give yourself a break – and ask, ask, ask if you need/want others to help you! If they bail, go by yourself, for no other reason than to get away from “it” all.
And congratulations on completing this step of your journey!!
One thing I would add to Cap’s suggestions about socializing in general is to look into volunteering in your area.
What do you like? Working with kids? Animals? Trees? Kicking a disease’s butt? None of those, but you might like helping with “other things” like social media or fundraising or answering the phone or organizing/cleaning things?
I am in a similar situation to the Ask Polly LW linked here – I’ve relocated in a big way three times over the past five years. And I am so bad at approaching people. And small talk. And crowds. Volunteer work has been a life saver for me.
Depending on where/what you are doing, you don’t even need to have other people to plan it (i.e. animal shelter…. show up ad play with animals). If someone else is there, you have easy small talk to get you started (i.e…. at an animal shelter, talk to them about said animals). and they are always happy to see you and have you around (because they need volunteers) and you get to feel like you have a social life. And after you see the same people X amount of times, you might suddenly realize you’ve made a friend or two. Even if it’s just “that person you coordinate giving cats baths with once a month because it’s really a two person job and then you guys treat yourselves to ice cream afterwards.”
If you need somewhere to start, a really good volunteer resource is http://www.volunteermatch.org/
LW, I don’t have anything concrete to add to the Captain’s and other commenters’ advice. But I feel ya on the post-success burnout. Seven years ago, I finished a Master’s program from a fancy East Coast school (the same one CA is also an alum of, if I recall), and instead of being proud of myself for doing so at the tender age of 23, I pretty much immediately set up camp in the Fuckits. Part of this was because I did not have a solid set of next steps–I’d started the Master’s program intending to apply for the Ph.D. after my first semester, but a whole accumulation of Life Stuff (mother had died the last year, relationship was on the rocks, etc.) made me realize, halfway through my second, that I needed the break from school I hadn’t really taken after graduating college. I mean, there was a break of sorts, but I spent it sorting through my hoarder mother’s estate, so it was more of a “break.”
I did have a good set of professional options available after I had that M.S. in hand. The degree and, even more importantly, the name of the school listed on it would have practically guaranteed me a sweet federal job with sweet federal benefits, as long as I was willing to commit to the East Coast for a while. Problem was, I was kinda sick of the East Coast–no offense to the region or those who dwell there, as I still relish my visits, but I missed the Rockies. Thus far, my beautifully printed degree has been most useful as a wall decoration while I’ve worked in jobs ranging from ski instructor to freelance writer to occasional cat sitter. It’s taken me seven years to find a focal point for future academic studies, and that has less to do with advances in the field in which I got my Master’s (though I wrapped up just as a subject on which I’d written a couple papers was taking off…timing!) and more to do with a shituation a friend of mine found himself in that seems rife with misinformation that maybe I could help correct with the right tools.
To finally arrive at the point, LW, it’s okay if you feel burnt out. It’s even okay if you feel burnt out for a long time. That doesn’t make your achievement any less impressive; it simply means, to borrow a metaphor Neuroturtle touched on, you’ve reached a summit in a long slog of a hike, but like many summits in the Rocky Mountains, at any rate, it’s kind of windy and not as pretty as the trail guide made it out to be, and you know you can’t stay there forever, but getting off it–whether to the next, bigger summit, or back to the trailhead–looks daunting right now. And that’s okay. You’ll get it figured out when you need to. Right now, do what you have to do to take care of yourself.
I feel you so hard! I kind of went through this when I finished my MA and I have a mini-version of this experience every year during my birthday. I am usually the planner in my friend group but I don’t want to plan my birthday, so what would happen is I would mention I didn’t want to plan it to friends and then…nothing would happen. If I ended up seeing anyone it would still be at my instigation and more often than not I would spend the day feeling angry and out of sorts.
I am also an introvert, and introverts get lonely! Humans are social creatures and we have enough research to know that loneliness is very stressful and hard on your body. I feel like this particular incident is kind of secondary to the larger issue in your letter – namely, that you are feeling isolated and disconnected from your friend group.
It is okay to ask your friends for their time, or to plan something together! And yes, some of the commentariat has pointed out that you may need to cultivate some new friendships if you are consistently finding yourself cancelled on or overlooked by your current friends. Your friends may also genuinely not realize how this is affecting you, and it is okay to let them know that you need some friend time. Asking for what you need is hard and can be scary but it does get easier with practice.
I am also going to recommend that you maybe think about whether or not you might be dealing with a touch of depression? I am not trying to armchair diagnose, but I have chronic depression and my feelings of loneliness/sadness get stronger when I am having brain chemistry problems, and sometimes it’s completely unrelated to what is actually happening in my life – as in, I can be surrounded by friends and still feel lonely, anxious, and sad because it’s what’s going on in my head, not what’s going on in my life.
Seconding volunteering – I really like OneBrick.org. If they’re active in your city you can sign up for one-off volunteer events that are just a few hours. If you have local arts centers or museums that need docents or info desk staffers, that’s fun too, and a low-key way to get some interaction into your day.
LW, I really hope that you know that you do have the right to ask friends for things like hang-out time, emotional support, etc.! We are all rooting for you to find you Team You.
Elizabeth Gilbert has some interesting stuff to say about the post-success…not-euphoria? Success, failure and the drive to keep creating
Another thought is that some of this is a phenomenon known as “event drop.”
Usually found after big parties or long awaited social things: you’ve been prepping, working hard, doing all the things to get to the finish line. Once you finish, it’s hard to imagine that you’re done. Plus, real life is right there waiting for you to take care of it.
It’s partially adrenaline-drop, partially now-what (or moving sign-post), anti-climactic with an unsatisfying denoument. Hydrating, making sure you eat/sleep enough, and low-key visits with a friend or 3 are all typical things to do to help yourself get past this slump.
p.s. The real world should give people Summers off for when they achieve Adulting-Goals!
Event-drop is definitely real and a weird feeling. I had it hard when I finished the house-buying process last year and I didn’t expect it at all. It felt so out of left field – like, I should be happy and relaxed because I’m done with all of this Thing, but I wasn’t. Self care is very helpful in those moments.
Absolutely. A musician friend of mine refers to it as ‘adrenal-IN, adrenal-OUT’, and finds it is very common after gigs. She has a well-rehearsed self-care regime to bring herself back to equilibrium (involving knitting and tea and cake and gardening). After a huge event, the knitting, gardening, and tea-and-caking may need to go on for some days!
LW, my suggestion is orthogonal to everyone’s advice so far, but if you are having difficulty feeling excited about your life, it may be time for some substitute feelings.
Have you read a romance novel lately and fallen in love with one of the leads? Picked up a great comic book that made you laugh so hard your sides hurt? Watched a scary horror movie and let yourself scream? Cried over one of those art films where nothing technically happens but it’s so beautiful and everyone is so sad and why is life like that? Picked up some porn that is 100% tailored to your interests?
Sometimes great art (or terrible art that pushes your buttons) can help jump start your feelings, be cathartic, and help you restore your emotional balance a little bit. Feeling these things without them being anything about you can be a real relief, and, for me, at least, it doesn’t exhaust my social energies because no one is making demands on me.
Oh, this is a GREAT suggestion. I’d never thought about it in those terms before, but yes–sometimes if you’re feeling a bit distanced or numb, jumpstarting your feelings with a work of emotionally intense art (and I’m using the term ‘art’ fairly loosely; pop culture media totally counts) can do wonders. I know that when I’m feeling a little off in my relationship, sometimes reading a sweeping tragic romance and bawling my eyes out can help a lot, as counterintuitive as that might be.
When my Evil-and-Never-To-Return-After-That-Behavior MIL stayed with us for 3 weeks, I read about 2 Highlander romance novels a day from Kindle Unlimited. So many kilts. It was really helpful, though. I had alternative emotional agendas to sink into when I needed a break from her toxicity.
When my marriage was ending, I read _Wolf Hall_ in a way I hadn’t read a novel since I was a teenager, that total absorption of being half in the everyday world and half in the world of the book. It was a life vest, and ever since I have felt like Hilary Mantel is secretly my very good friend.
Also, that linked essay (“My mother showed me how to hit the jackpot”): yep, I cried!
“Terrible art that pushes your buttons…”
The hate-read (or hate-watch, or hate-listen) doesn’t get nearly enough credit. A couple months ago, I read a book whose central premise I knew going in to be that feminism is ruining women by forcing them to deny their true, submissive nature, and that we’d all be better off if we returned to the pre-second-wave-feminism era and embraced our true desire to submit to a chivalrous gentleman because evo-psych/biology! Naturally, I loathed every word. I composed long counterarguments in between readings, sometimes delivering them to the author out loud, punctuating each nail in her poorly-constructive argumentative coffin with nicknames like “dingaling” and “nincompoop,” and ya know? It was an odd sort of uplift from the wallow I’d sunk into over having just passed a milestone birthday, that feeling of smug intellectual superiority.
A Goodreads review I have written: “This is the best fantasy/romance between venomous spiderpeople and werewolves I have read this week!”
Ha! I might need to see if my local library has a category of venomous spiderpeople/werewolf fic for some…promising times to come later this year. Something tells me it might be in the general vicinity of that antifeminist romance memoir I found in April.
On a side note, this is giving me inspiration to come up with a decent pseudonym so I can finally write the Trek/Dragonriders of Pern crossover fic I quite literally dreamed up a few weeks ago…
. . . we need a title for this magical piece of fiction, Captain. Please don’t leave us hanging like this!! 😉
Just remember when you’re 5 books in: You asked.
Aw yeah. Serial hate-reading is the best hate-reading.*
Signed, someone who had to put away her computer so as to avoid checking out the website of the aforementioned antifeminist romance memoirist
*So is cereal hate-reading. As long as it’s still crunchy, because there’s nothing like snaps, crackles, and pops to punctuate the hisses and sputterings also emerging from my mouth.
Thank you! Now my [adult] daughter and I have something trashy and fun to jointly mock and/or appreciate! ❤
Also, should you have this as an option, you can kill 2 birds with one stone by finding another friend/acquaintance (maybe someone else in your program?) who is willing to read the book with you. Then you can discuss it, and hate on it gleefully, or share your opposing views on How It Is Fine Literature/How Much It Sucks, or whatever. I personally find that if I read a book I hate, it’s even BETTER to hate it by sharing it with friends! (I have one friend who is willing to be my designated complain-to person if I need, and I do the same for her. Sometimes we both read the book, but that’s not usually needed….)
This is BRILLIANT. I have one friend who is usually my media sounding board in any event, but considering my circle includes a staggering number of humanities majors with masochistic tendencies, this could definitely be A Social Thing. 😀
I did this with Twilight. Sharing the awful was the best reading decision ever.
I am very shy and hate initiating conversations with strangers (I am also not very good at it). So I found joining meetup groups very helpful when I needed to make new friends. As a matter of fact, the very first meetup group I joined was a group for people who hate meeting people. Somehow just knowing that everyone felt as horribly awkward and nervous as I did made it much easier to talk to them. The other groups I joined were activity-based, which also made it easier to talk to people because you have a shared interest (and thus, topic) already.
Though I did not end up making any close friends through the meetups, I think I’ve gotten used to the idea that meeting people is not so scary, and i picked up some new hobbies. I do have closer friends now, people I knew before, but just doing the meetups helped me figure out how to get closer to the friends I did have.
I was having a similar problem for a while, where I was trying to be social and nurture friendships and getting nowhere at all. It turned out that I was trying to be friends with the wrong people. They did not want to be friends with me. Which is their right, of course, but they were actually pretty passive aggressive and nasty about it, when you get down to it. It just took me a while to notice because the culture of where I live now is different than where I had been living before I moved here.
I gave up on those asstrumpets and started focusing on enjoying myself at community events and meeting my work goals; and in the process I met two women (one at a friend’s show, one at a short term job) who are now my best friends. And I have a bunch of other smaller-dose friends so that I don’t usually have much trouble getting someone to hang out with me if I make plans well enough in advance.
And, another nice bonus is that every so often one of those people who were too good to be friends with me pops up in my facebook feed and I think to myself “Huh, I actually don’t like this person or care what they think” and I get a nice little burst of satisfaction out of unfriending them.
Oh, and now that I have friends who are actual friends, I can totally call them up when I need them. In fact, I did that yesterday when I was feeling stressed out and depressed about work BS, so I texted one of my besties and she invited me to hang out with her and her kids at a park today. So we did. And I feel loads better.
There’s that thing people say about when a bunch of people don’t like you, you are the common denominator — and sometimes that is true — but other times, it’s just that they are a shitty bunch of people and you need to be hanging out with a different bunch who doesn’t suck.
Good luck and congratulations on your milestone!
Congratulations, LW! You have done an amazing thing!
I don’t have much to add to the Captain’s and everyone else’s advice, except for this: read in the bath. No, seriously. Take some sort of cheesy novel, something you don’t really have to concentrate on too hard, run yourself a nice warm bath (with bubbles or essential oils, if that is a thing you enjoy!) and just settle in and read for a while. This does of course come with the caveat “don’t drop your novel in the bath” but I find it to be extremely relaxing.
I have totally completely been there. I have one suggestion that you can completely take or leave, but it worked for me!
As an introvert, I have a very hard time attending meetup groups and organized events. It feels like there’s a pressure to perform socially. I’ve found a lot more success with organic friendships by becoming a regular at a local pub. There are some downsides to this, of course – it costs money, and not all pubs have the kind of atmosphere you might want. I wonder if you could take some of your work, a laptop and some books maybe, to a coffee shop or public house. Scout a place that has a lot of tables, good lighting, enough outlets, etc. Sit at a table or booth if you want privacy. Sit at a high top or the bar if you want company. Pretty soon the staff will know your name and greet you when you walk in. Then you’ll get to know the other regulars and they’ll ask you about your career, and tell you about theirs. Soon you will have a circle of friends who it is convenient to see. They will live in your general area and be happy to celebrate with you, cry with you, or help you move.
This may sound incredibly cheesy, or like it is the setup to a sit-com plot, but it’s what I did and it’s what worked for me. It may not work everywhere – I live in Milwaukee, WI which is well known for its midwest hospitality and numerous pubs.
Yes! I live in Seattle, which is (in)famous for the tendency of locals to not talk to each other (“Seattle chill”), and even so I’ve made some good relationships at the bar of a friendly local restaurant. (I’ll be honest, tipping well–a notch or two above the ‘standard’–makes a difference; if the bartender/waiters/whoever know coming in that you are going to be friendly and undemanding and tip well, they’re likely to start welcoming you faster. But just being a pleasant regular is also sufficient in most cases.)
Some posters mentioned the importance of touch and I’d like to speak to that. I don’t actually call myself an introvert, just a loner. But I recognize the need to be touched, so I get regular pedicures, get regular massages when I can afford it. And most important, I take ballroom dance classes. I cannot stress enough how wonderful dancing is for your body and your mind. It’s touching and being touched with your clothes on. It can be exhilarating. And you can’t help meeting people, though you don’t have to take it any further than you want to. Most studios also arrange regular parties where you dance for the fun of it (i.e. not in a class), sometimes in the studio, sometimes out at a club. It hits all the buttons. Give it a try.
Cautious yes for dancing. The organized touching is lovely. And also! Some dance scenes are very touchy and emotionally intimate off the dance floor, which can be hard for someone who is slow to warm up. Find a group that is right for you!
I’m a big dancer, and I totally second this! It gives you the chance to get to know people, have physical interaction, and eventually develop friendships. If you are concerned about what M Dubz said (not sure what your feelings are about touching), some dances that tend not to be super touchy-feely are swing, lindy, and hustle; Country Western and Night-Club Two Step are also good. Foxtrot and waltz aren’t touchy-feely in my experience until you get to higher levels (which if you’ve made it that far, you’re probably okay with touching people more, but if not you can still totally keep some distance). Rhythm dances like salsa, cha cha, rumba, or merengue (or samba) tend to depend on where you’re dancing. Just in case that helps!
A+ for “join a choir”. But be choosy – since I became old enough to drink, I’ve been in five different choirs, and only one of them was social enough for lots of them to go get drinks after rehearsal. The other four were “show up, sing, leave” deals. Before you join, ask whether there are any social things outside of rehearsal.
“It’s okay to flash the “Hey, I need you!” symbol in the sky.”
Can’t agree with this enough, no matter what the reason is. Especially as an introvert. I think people get used to us being pretty good handling shit on our own, so they don’t assume we need people unless we ask, or they don’t want to step on our toes if we’ve set helping or supporting boundaries in the past. I just finished with my small introvert wedding this weekend and during a medium level crisis we had (changing the venue last minute) my dad kept kindly and quietly reminding me I could keep asking for help. He knows me, and he knows my preferred way is doing it all myself until I can’t anymore. I did ask for help (a lot of help) and it was terrifying and gratifying. I’m glad I took the risk at a moment when I was feeling especially vulnerable. The logistical help was important, but even more important was the feeling of care and love I got from my community.
Disregard this next part if it doesn’t apply to you. I also sometimes feel silly “making a big deal” out of milestones and good things I did. Partially that was how I dealt with my introversion, shyness, and loneliness as a youth – cultivating a “too cool” attitude to hide the difficulty from both myself and others. In that circumstance I find it helpful to acknowledge that it’s happening, to me for sure and to another person if possible. And then to put my ego in check, and just power through admitting that I need something and doing what I need to do to get it.
LW here. Thank you all for your thoughtful advice and comments. I’ve been planning to visit my family over the upcoming long weekend, and I took the Captain’s advice to invite myself to a friend’s in another city the weekend after next. She seems excited! We’ve just gotten tickets to a concert. I’m also hoping I can talk my mom into joining me for some spa services this weekend, but in the meantime I plan on replacing the dreadful job I did painting my own nails with a nice manicure.
I really like the idea of Friday Night Meatballs. One thing I miss a lot about college was cooking jointly with friends/roommates and hosting dinners. One of my college friends lives locally, and because I once drove her around the city all afternoon to file some paperwork, she gifted me with her grandmother’s secret meatball recipe (they’re really good, you guys). That’s being super literal, but it’s funny how that wording related to my life.
I actually requested a transfer at work to my college city about three months ago because a couple of slightly-more senior team members had transfers approved there (where previously we had no team members in that office). I know one of them had to lobby for months before getting a yes, so though I haven’t received an answer yet (well, I got a flat no first, which changed to a maybe), I’ve continued to indicate interest and I’ve kept following up. I may have to actually threaten to leave with a job offer in hand in my city of choice to spur them to action, though. I’m not necessarily ruling that route out, either.
My department also implemented a rotation program for folks of my job grade last year, with varying success. (Two people, unhappy with their placement, have sought employment elsewhere.) I have a wonderful manager and her boss is great too, so I was previously not interested at all, but rotating is standard in my industry and required at many companies (though my newly met professional goal now means I would not be required to do this at most jobs in the future).
Two weeks ago I had to attend a conference, and it reminded me how much I actually do like my job as I got to consider professional and ethical issues with folks in my profession who are in other disciplines that I have studied but do not practice currently. There are a lot of interesting areas and I know I am missing out by not volunteering to move. This opportunity won’t come up again until next year, but I am starting to be swayed towards participating. I have good performance reviews and I will be more attractive to other managers because of my new designation, so I think that may enable me to negotiate which area I’d rotate to (rotating to managers with a less good reputation was a chief concern).
And this is probably not what Captain had in mind under the camp of “connect with others,” but one colleague I’m close with and I will be taking the same assessment this fall (she unfortunately just learned she was unsuccessful at her recent attempt). She has encouraged me in the past to form study groups, so I plan on approaching her to be a study partner so we can quiz each other. I’ve gotten pretty good at quizzing myself, but I’ve often wished for someone to prompt me helpfully without divulging. We can also take practice assessments and grade each other as we get further along.
I had been taking full advantage or my free time to do all the reading I wanted but was prevented from doing and I attended a few events I simply wouldn’t have had the time for while studying. I was slipping on that front this month, so I want to make an extra effort for the next two months. I also keep telling myself I will at least break out my instrument to play for myself, as it’s been virtually untouched for the past four years. When I moved here, I planned on joining a community band, but inaction proved to be the most convenient route. If I can at least start playing regularly again, I think it will remind me what I loved about it, and how much I enjoyed playing with a band.
I appreciate everyone who’s weighed in with their own experiences, thoughts, and congratulations 🙂
So glad to hear that things are going better! Good luck on everything, and I hope things will keep moving steadily in an upwards direction.
Hi Letter Writer!
Just chiming in here with congratulations. Sounds like a LOT of steady, determined work. A toast to your commitment and achievement. Fancy desserts for all those hundreds of hours. You rock. Truly.
LW, you mentioned that people were urging you to celebrate but did not offer to join you, and it sounds like you assumed that since they didn’t offer it meant they weren’t interested. You don’t have to wait for other people to offer! If someone you would like to spend time with prompts you to go out to celebrate, you can take that as an opening to invite them to come with you. I suspect some of those people would love to come and just thought it would be rude to preemptively invite themselves.
Thanks for checking in, LW. It’s good to hear that you’re taking action.
I sympathize with your letdown. The night after I took my second set of prelims in grad school, I only had two friends left in town, and they weren’t in the mood to go out, so I hung out at home feeling sorry for myself. It was largely my fault—I didn’t make any plans beforehand because I knew I wouldn’t want to be social if I did badly. Still a bummer.
Hi LW. You mentioned not being able to get in touch with friends, and while I don’t know this is an issue, it’s a possibility. So: I’ve found that it is totally OK to contact people you haven’t contacted for a while. It used to be something I was super hesistant about, where if I hadn’t called someone in the last few months I could Never Contact Them Again (TM), because of that neglect. It took a while to get over, and once I did, I found that nobody ever minded hearing from a friend they’d lost contact with a year or two ago. So contacting old friends you haven’t seen for a while is potentially an option, particularly given the excuse of having something to celebrate.
If it’s not an option, then good luck with whatever it is you do find that works for you.
” if I hadn’t called someone in the last few months I could Never Contact Them Again (TM), because of that neglect.”
This is a little bit like the idea that if you’ve ever said yes to something, or allowed someone to cross your boundaries, that you’re never allowed to say no in the future.
Just as you can always say no after having previously said yes, you can also say yes after having previously said no.
After all, however will you rekindle a friendship, if you’re not allowed to reach out again?
There are certain similarities, and I suspect that one of them is that it’s a surprisingly common hangup and not just a particular to me weird hangup. I labored under it for years, and it was not particularly beneficial in my life.
Hey LW, I don’t have much in the way of advice but I wanted to add some solidarity – I too just finished a Big Thing that took lots of work and dedication and felt pretty meh about it. Others around me are doing the nights out and the Facebook posts and I pretty much hugged my boyfriend, texted my mum and then got on with life.
Part of it for me, I think, is that I am decidedly Not Done. I have lots of other things I want to accomplish, and this is a step along the way. An important one, but still just a step. This was end game (or at least end game for the next 10 years) for a lot of people who are being more celebratory than I.
Also, like you, I am more introverted than most. One of the more important things I have learned in life is that I am happier if I don’t make comparisons to how other people react or experience things. My feelings are mine and they are okay as they are. I agree with the suggestions to do some nice things for yourself, either socially or alone, but maybe you should do them because regardless of what you have just achieved you are awesome and lovely and deserve nice things and happiness. If this feels anticlimactic to you that’s okay, don’t force yourself to celebrate it – but it’s never the wrong time to celebrate *you*.
Hi OP. I feel you.
One of my extroverted friends hosts weekly and monthly get-togethers and they are pretty awesome.
Weekly we have a dinner out at a local diner. It’s easy, folks can get what they want and come and go as they like. Monthly she hosts some kind of pot luck at their house. It’s all really low-key and has been the foundation of a great group of friends for me since I moved away from home.
I’m insanely introverted and generally don’t like people and I never would have thought I’d like these things. It can still be hard to get myself to go sometimes when I’d rather just be home, alone, reading a book and drinking a cup of tea with my cat, but I also think it’s the reason I’m much less likely to sink into melancholy spells.
Sometimes getting out of the house is important.
This is more of a long-term thought process, but if you start to feel burnt out by it all, you might consider moving to a related less-test-focused/demanding company.
You mention that your current company doesn’t allow breaks. I think that’s unwise of them, and probably leads to a lot of burnout- but it’s possible you can make a mini-sabbatical for yourself by switching companies. It gives you a chance to take a few weeks (or more) off in between to rest, and you can get a change of scenery and objectives.
I mostly mention it because actuarial science has a similar test-driven atmosphere. I didn’t go far in the field, but I started at a consulting company where everyone was driven to test test test. It wasn’t even the worst of the consulting companies – it gave a certain amount of time off and tried to accommodate. But still, everyone was pushing for that highest exam and you had to pass a test every 2 years, I believe, to keep your job.
When I left, I interviewed with an insurance company to do in-house analysis. Many of the people I spoke to had stopped at the first level, ASA, and took some time off of studying to focus on work/family/other priorities. The job was more 45-50 hour weeks instead of consulting’s 55-60. It’s still a lot, and it’s still a demanding field, but it can make a difference in how much energy you have outside of work to focus on you! To make time to hang out with friends, to take care of your body and mind, and everything else.
I know if I were still in consulting, I’d be having a rough time finding energy to do the things that make me happy. But I’ve prioritized being happy, so I’m no longer in that environment. You’re assuredly not exactly me, but in case there’s some similarity, I thought I’d suggest at least exploring a change in company.
Sometimes the let down after a big accomplishment can be a reminder to keep reevaluating yout goals and priorities. It’s very common to feel it, and often it’s nothing more than tiredness or losing the focus of a goal, but sometimes it’s because you’ve been sacrificing a lot for a goal, or rearranging your life around a goal, and when you get a chance to look at it closer, you’re not so sure the goal was actually worth the sacrifices that you gave it.
Oh, LW, I feel you. Like you, I was embedded in a (partially self-created) world of putting life on hold while achieving the Very Important Things. I achieved them… But I also used it as a reason to let my relationships slide a bit. After all, I was so intensely and importantly busy, so people had to understand, right?
I then got very, very sick. I had to stop work and rebuild my health from pretty much zero. One of the big lessons I had to learn here was that if you take away the Very Important Achievements, there still needs to be a life there. I was SO LUCKY that my family and friends and husband were still there for me to reconnect with when I needed them. If it had happened five years later, maybe I would be less lucky.
I have rebuilt my life. I am still a type A, achievement-oriented person; but I also now recognise the insuperable value of relationships and the people I love. It’s an ongoing process, but I now actively make time for the range of things that (for me) make life good – health, friends & family, non-achievement style hobbies where the doing is more important than the outcome, as well as work, which I still do to the best of my ability… But slower. I do it part time (which I know is not always an option, so I appreciate my luck there too).
Ultimately, it’s ok to strive and focus for a short while. That can be great! But for me, I needed to learn that I could *enjoy* my life. Not just on holidays or in the short moments between stresses, but all the time. It’s not about having crazy fun always – but making time for a good life. Life is not something we should put on hold indefinitely. It is ok to take longer to get somewhere if you can enjoy yourself on the way. You can give yourself permission to live happily, whatever that looks like for you.
You’re already ahead of my learning curve: you didn’t have to almost lose everything before you noticed a problem.
Good luck, LW!
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