A few weeks ago, I was deep in the depths of yet another burnout. I wasn’t sleeping properly or enough, but I wasn’t tired enough to sleep. I couldn’t concentrate on a single task. My hair had begun to fall out, fast, again. To be honest, I needed nary a journalling session or chat with friends to know why because recurring burnout is something I’ve dealt with for years.
Work 9-5, complete a 3-hour round trip commute, tinker away at my multi-award nominated blog, squirrel away at the print magazine I’d founded. I loved all the things I did, and everybody online complimented me on my work ethic and how I was practically superwoman for taking on so many projects, so what could be wrong? Turns out a lot. Back in 2012, a few months after graduating, I lost about a third of my head of hair, had localised psoriasis and a number of stomach issues. Unable to work things out, I saw a private doctor who told me I had a number of health issues caused by acute stress and burnout. It really opened my eyes to the lifestyle I was leading – in truth, I didn’t think anything of my lifestyle at the time.
In 2016, I chose to go freelance and take control of my own time after a few years in the corporate world (I worked in e-commerce/digital retail). And, as you know, it went brilliantly for me! I made more money than ever before, could dictate and structure my own work days, and it gave me breathing room to work on those fabled projects. But the burnout came back, and kept coming back.
It’s now 2020, and we’re somewhere along a yet-unending timeline of an unprecedented, once-in-a-lifetime health pandemic. Things are wildly uncertain for almost all of us. Burnout has clawed away at me. Like I do almost every week, I journaled through the last bout. I came to the realisation that my continued unhealthy attitude towards overworking largely comes from being a kid of immigrants and the ‘model minority myth’ and ‘invisible minority’ traits that’ve been given to me by society.
The Chinese community in the UK and US, largely immigrants of course, are typically seen as hard-working people who are self-reliant and -sufficient. In turn, that affects other non-dominant, non-white communities because, well, it labels them as lazy and unworthy. On top of that, it means that us first-generation British-Chinese feel obligated by nurture to work just as hard as our parents before us. If we work hard, we’ll get the same opportunities at our workplaces, right? Those equal opportunities promised to us in employee handbooks?
It’s now 2020. I work 9-5, my 3-hour round trip commute doesn’t exist because #COVID-19, I then tinker away at my multi-award nominated but not winning blog, I had to fold my print magazine, and I squirrel away at Yet Another Side Hustle. I absolutely, unequivocally love all the things I do, and I still feel that frisson of glee when an appraisal at work or with a client goes well. I work the extra hours. I go the extra mile with deliverables. My work is appreciated yet never shared. Sadly and frustratingly, I’m yet to ever get the promotion that I strive for. What could be wrong?
As I learn and unlearn more every day about systemic racism and white supremacist structures, I’m also beginning to learn to be kinder to myself. Perhaps the onus isn’t on me that I’ve not succeeded. In fact, those parameters of success were never made for me or with me in mind. Living within the measures of the ‘model minority myth’ means that though I may be compliant, that system was created to keep me in my place: below but not at the bottom. I don’t want to be complicit.
So where does my journey to breaking down these impossible standards go next? Well, I’m not sure. But every day takes down another brick, another flagstone. And I’m excited to embrace whatever’s next.