One chapter ends, another begins

Earlier in the week, I shared a bunch of thoughts on Twitter about where my work has been heading. I wanted to share some of those thoughts here as well, since it's a big part of why I haven't been showing up as much lately.

To sum up a (very long) story, a few years ago, I burned out. Quit my job, left my career behind. It sucked. I made a bunch of mistakes that kept me from recovering faster, trying to start a freelance business too quickly and not giving myself enough mental space to properly decompress.

A year or so after all this happened, I gathered some of my thoughts and published a little blog post about burnout. I mostly wrote it for myself—I wanted something to look back on down the road and see how far I had come. I figured if only a handful of other people ever read it, and found some value in what I had to say, it was worth publishing.

What happened instead was overwhelming. Hundreds of thousands of people have now read my story. People still email me every week—years later—sharing their life stories and asking for advice on overcoming burnout.

Taking the wrong path

Here's where things turned south.

Being the entrepreneurial type, I searched for a way to turn this interest into a business. I built a landing page for an email course on overcoming burnout, wrote the first email in the series, and started collecting subscribers. I also began outlining what would hopefully turn into a paid online course about recovering from burnout and finding a fulfilling career.

Then, everything stalled.

The more I dug into what I was trying to teach, the more I started to realize how the answer to burnout isn't found in work. "The problem with holistic, all-consuming burnout," explains Anne Helen Petersen in her article on how millennials became the burnout generation, "is that there's no solution to it."

There's no 12-step plan to recovery. No set of quick tips that can help you bounce back. Burnout happens to everyone for a different reason—everyone has different lessons they need to learn, and everyone has a different path they need to walk.

So I ended up stuck. The more emails I got from subscribers, the more I realized I was in over my head. How could I claim to have the answer to a problem they themselves had to solve? Just because I shared my own struggles in public didn’t mean I had all the answers.

So I stopped trying. I wrote the first email in the course, and never finished the rest. I published a few editions of The Ongoing then didn’t make time to do more. Where I used to be excited about getting emails from subscribers, I started seeing it as a burden.

It's not to say I lost interest in burnout and meaningful work—far from it. Instead, I'd lost faith in my own ability to help. I kept fighting the feeling that because I had experienced it first-hand, I was obligated to teach and to help others navigate the same journey.

Yet, the overwhelming response to that original post made me feel obligated to continue down a path that doesn’t fit my goals. A path that doesn’t fit my values. A path I feel like I “should” be walking down.

Which, ironically, is the exact problem that caused my burnout in the first place.

One chapter ends

Over the last six months, I’ve slowly realized that I’m not a teacher. I'm a terrible coach. Nope—I’m a doer. I’m happiest when I can take control and organize things my way. That’s my strength, and that’s where I can have the biggest impact.

It’s taken me a long time to realize that, and even longer to accept it.

Giving up on building a course and teaching how to recover from burnout feels like a betrayal—to both my subscribers and to my past self. I'm letting down hundreds of people that were expecting "the answer." I'm letting myself down for not finding that answer for them. There's no easy answer to be found.

Perhaps to some of you the decision feels more straightforward than it does to me, but it’s not as simple as shutting down a failed product. Burnout touches on so many more aspects of life than just work—it's intertwined with our social lives, our relationships, our behaviours, and our self-worth.

I’m all for sharing ideas and pointing people to the right resources. But teaching burnout isn’t my path. It’s time for me to leave that chapter behind to clear space for bigger and better things, and to let go of the burnout course and The Ongoing as a separate brand.

Now, this doesn't mean I'll be disappearing—far from it. The truth is, I’m just as interested in personal development, mindful productivity, and sustainable work as I ever was. I'm excited about sharing more thoughts and ideas with you every week—just not under the pressure of building a business and monetizing those ideas. I want to share stuff I truly care about—not just to make a buck.

I've also had some great chats about burnout with a handful of people who are far smarter and more qualified to teach than myself.:

- Jonny Miller is in the midst of launching the Curious Leaders Academy, facilitating masterclasses and providing coaching services to help startup leaders become more resilient.

- Anne-Laure Le Cunff has a stellar weekly newsletter called Maker Mind, where she helps makers practice self-care, and cultivate your curiosity.

- Haley Bryant's newsletter, Start Again Today, filled with actionable ideas on how to think and feel better.

- Dr. Emily Anhalt is building a modern in-person mental health experience with Coa, and sharing her thoughts along the journey.

If you don’t follow them already, you should.

An update on what lies ahead

So what's happening instead with my work? Well, my content marketing consulting biz is growing so fast I can barely keep up. Last week I onboarded my first contract writers to help spread the load. As things grow from a freelance business into a tiny agency, I want to prove to the world that building a sustainable and profitable business doesn't mean long hours, excessive workload, and a lack of sleep. It's unhealthy—and it's unnecessary.

Instead, I’m baking sustainability into every aspect of the business right from the beginning. I'm limiting the number of hours I'm spending on work each day, and creating clear physical and mental boundaries between work and home. I'm finding ways of reducing distractions and dedicating more time to deep work. When I'm not working, I'm giving all my attention to my wife and kids, and making more time for what really matters. And, I'm planning to share everything I discover along the way.

But most importantly, I'm content.

In hindsight, the success of that post has taken me places I couldn’t have imagined. It built relationships that turned into contracts with some epic clients. It unlocked a new career in writing and content strategy that I never expected. It helped me build a sustainable independent business.

The more important benefits, though, are the ones that are often harder to quantify.

Writing taught me to believe in myself.

To untangle my personal identity from my work.

To value myself.

To understand the difference between passion and making a difference.

To believe I can change.

It sounds subtle, but that shift in beliefs is the true reason I overcame burnout.

So I guess change doesn’t mean failure after all. It’s just one chapter ending and a new one beginning. I'm a different person now to where I was a few years ago—but I'm sure that person would be proud.

This is my promise to keep moving. To accept change as it comes, and to always keep pushing forward, even if that means giving up on looking behind.

I’m doing my best—and I'm glad you're here with me for the ride.

Every week, my free newsletter The Ongoing highlights new ideas, stories, and links from around the web on balanced ambition, mindful productivity, freelancing, and making time for what matters. No freebies, giveaways, or gimmicks—just my best writing, straight to your inbox.

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