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Columns, Opinions

Rebecca Aman: How I learned to embrace burnout

By
Guest Columnist
Saturday, May 23, 2020
This article is part of the series Commencement Magazine 2020

My stomach full of pumpkin pie and turkey, I sat on the floor of my childhood bedroom writing and rewriting an email. Yes, it was Thanksgiving. But as an Opinions Editor for The Herald, I didn’t take days off. We had received a time sensitive op-ed, and I knew I had information the writers would not want to hear: We wouldn’t be able to publish their op-ed without significant additional fact-checking.

 As an editor, I had two conflicting goals. I wanted The Herald’s opinion section to be a place for constructive dialogue and a platform for members of the Brown community to speak their truth. But I was equally committed to maintaining The Herald’s integrity as a newspaper that publishes well-written, respectful and factually accurate opinions. As an opinions editor, I felt a dual responsibility to The Herald and to those who submitted their opinions for publication. 

It was easy for this sense of responsibility to devolve into unmanageable anxiety, and eventually burnout — especially when any missteps live on the internet forever. During my junior spring and senior fall, The Herald was responsible for many of my happiest memories, but also many of my most stressful ones.

This stress was familiar. Three years earlier, my stomach was also in knots. It usually started to hurt around lunch time. Crew practice did not start until 2:30 p.m., but I knew what I ate would impact my performance later. I wanted to succeed, but I was also motivated by fear: Fear of letting down my friends, fear of disappointing my coaches, fear of not making the cut to compete. Sometime during the spring semester, I lost all passion for the sport. Not wanting to leave my team in a lurch, I continued rowing long after my love for the sport dimmed. I quit the team on the first day of practice sophomore year. In hindsight, I should have quit well before the end of my first year.

During my last week as an editor, I edited five columns, rather than my usual three. While the other editors offered to help, I decided I wanted to put my all into The Herald for one more week. By the last day, I was absolutely exhausted and ready to become a regular opinions columnist again. While that last week almost broke me, I finished the week proud of all I had contributed to The Herald and the Brown community. Looking back, I wouldn’t have done it any other way.

As I reflect on my time at Brown, my experiences on the crew team and as an editor for The Herald stand out. On a surface level, these experiences seem similar: moments of joy and friendship, followed by bouts of anxiety. But upon deeper reflection, clear differences emerge. At The Herald, I was fundamentally happy. Even during my toughest moments, I continued to have faith that I was contributing to something important as a member of The Herald.

I wish I could say that I have learned to have a healthy “work-life” balance during my time at Brown. Instead, I have learned that not all burnout is created equal. When I’m part of a team, I’ll always worry about letting people down. When I have a goal, I have a tendency to push myself too hard. At Brown, I’ve learned to live with burnout, to be happy while going full throttle. 

I am not sure I will ever outgrow anxiety. But I’m glad I’ve learned to find happiness while experiencing burnout. Because when given the choice between boredom and burnout, I will pick burnout any day of the week.

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