I burnt out at EAG. Let’s talk about it.

I spent my weekend at EAG London 2022, my fourth EA conference so far. Like always, it was an intense ride, but unlike always, I ran out of road at the end of it. I burnt out.

My plan was to start EAG on the Friday, spend my time with lots of 1-1s, and then on Monday morning, head off on a retreat. Up until Sunday, everything was pretty good—I had a fun and productive time, and generally everything was panning out like the other conferences I’d been to.

My first major mistake was on Saturday evening. I was massively tired when I got home, quite late after a bit of an afterparty, and because of this, forgot to set my alarm.

I woke up really late on Sunday and realised that I’d missed some stuff already, and hadn’t even left the house. But instead of getting up, I laid in bed and thought about quitting EA, saying to my boyfriend I wasn’t going to go to any more of the conference, and generally panicking. I was pretty much over this by the time I got on the tube, but the first big red flag missed.

However, the rest of Sunday was pretty good as well. The first 1-1 I actually turned up to was amazing—like emotional CPR—which is good, because otherwise I might well have just gone home, unable to do the rest of the conference.

In fact, by the end of the day, I felt pretty great. I’d had a couple of really amazing 1-1s, been convinced on a very important issue that previously I’d been deliberately not confronting (getting an ADHD assessment), and those Beyond Burgers!

I even ended up going to an afterparty (the Repugnant Conclusion, in case you’re wondering), in pretty good spirits. When I got there, it wasn’t obvious at all that there was a party going on inside, and I didn’t want to ring the wrong bell at 1030. Normally, I’d have gone home awkwardly at this point (I spent about five minutes considering this), but eventually just rang the guy throwing the party and he let me in—not something I’d have done if I didn’t feel really excited to do; and the party was spectacular.

Just before I left the party I realised three things: I hadn’t even packed for the retreat, I’d have to wake up at 8, and it was already 1am. That’s when I decided to go home, and my feelings started going downhill. That meant going outside before the Uber actually got there was a big mistake, and to cut a long story short, I ended up waiting around half an hour for the bus home.

The wait was not at all good, and my feelings really started running away with me. By the time the bus actually got there, the thought of going on the retreat the next morning was literally filling me with dread—it was too much effort, there would be too many people, and it would just be so hard. I rang one of my friends, also going on the retreat, distraught.

There were two basic choices—go on the retreat, or not go. The trouble was, neither of them worked in my head -unstoppable force meets immovable object. Even though I had no words for how much I did not want to go, not going was, in my mind, a total failure, to be avoided at all costs. This became the crux of my burnout.

Almost as soon as I got home, I finally broke down completely, and had a really bad night. It took till the next morning to send the “pulling out of the retreat” message , and it was genuinely one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done (I woke up at 8, didn’t send the message till past 930, wrote in a separate app, and turned notifications off for Messenger before sending, so I didn’t have to even see the reply). At some point in the morning I locked myself in the spare room, and didn’t come out until the next day.

Not pretty.

I hope I don’t regret putting this on the internet.[1]

This appears to be a symptom of ADHD, by the way. It’s called Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria, and the thought of deliberately doing something that might bring someone’s opinion of me down (pulling out of the retreat) was literally unbearably painful. Really awful.

I’m fine now.

I want to say two things with this post. One, I had not expected to burn out, and certainly didn’t expect it to be like this. Everyone knows all the advice already—self-care is important, EAG has quiet rooms, it’s ok to not do stuff you can’t—and yet, none of this really made a blind bit of difference.

I did all this stuff, and still burnt out. It came down to doing lots of the wrong thing (I am strongly considering whether I’m cut out for community-building), and avoiding what, in retrospect, were clear red flags.

Two, to other young EAs in particular, it’s fine. One of the things I thought on Sunday morning, feeling like I wasn’t going to be able to come into EAG, was that, fundamentally, I’m just a kid, and the idea that I do what I do is crazy. People my age tend not to have as much responsibility as young EAs very frequently take on. Somebody said this exact same thing back to me in the conference—he literally said “you’re a child, and it’s ok to cancel commitments”, which was maybe the single most helpful thing anyone said that day. They were totally right. If you’re a young EA reading this post, chances are you’re under a lot more pressure than you realise.

I never thought I would burn out, and I certainly didn’t expect to burn out working at the rate I was working at, but I did, and it was bad.

But in the end, it was also fine.. I’m better now, it turns out I’m not in trouble for not going to the retreat, and I feel good again. Most of the pressure was, in retrospect, artificial, and it’s now basically all gone.

Maybe you’re not actually under the amount of pressure you think you are. Maybe it’s pressure you’re applying to yourself. If you think this might be true, think about it more, and realise that this might well be a bad idea in the long run, and take this as permission to let some of it go.

Oh, and—try not to burn out.

My heartfelt thanks to Nathan Young, Jacob Trefethen, and Alex Lawsen, who made this post possible

  1. ^

    No, Mum, I’m fine now.

    Yes, I’m looking after myself.

    Yes, I know you’re nagging.

    No, you don’t need to worry about me.

    Love you too.