‘My cup is empty’: It feels like the entire world is burned out right now
Jacinda Ardern is burned out, Law Roach is burned out; are we all suffering from post-pandemic exhaustion?
Celebrity image architect, stylist to the stars, magic maker; Hollywood’s most powerful fashion man has decided to retire and burnout’s to blame. This is becoming all too familiar a tale…
In fact, almost two months ago to the day, former New Zealand prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, also announced that she’d be stepping down from her position – citing burnout and “enormous pressure” as motivating factors behind her decision.
Six challenging years on the job had taken their toll, she explained. “I’m leaving, because with such a privileged role comes responsibility – the responsibility to know when you are the right person to lead and also when you are not. I know what this job takes, and I know that I no longer have enough in the tank to do it justice. It’s that simple.”
“I am human, politicians are human. We give all that we can for as long as we can. And then it’s time. And for me, it’s time,” she added.
Celebrity stylist and fashion designer Law Roach has announced retirement:
“The politics, the lies and false narratives finally got me. You win … I’m out!” pic.twitter.com/loh5e5vCd9
— philip lewis (@Phil_Lewis_) March 14, 2023
Fast forward to March and Law Roach just repeated a similar refrain. “I am 100,000% retiring,” he confirmed to The Cut. This, in spite of the fact that, like Ardern, he was pretty much at the top of his game – recently winning the CFDA Award for Best Stylist and having dressed some of the biggest celebrities at the Vanity Fair Oscar Party (including, Hunter Schafer, Kerry Washington and Hailee Steinfeld).
So, why now? “Isn’t it always best to leave when you’re on the top?,” he laughs. More seriously, the decision has been “building for a while”. “I looked up one day and honestly realised that I’m not happy. I haven’t been happy, honestly, in a really long time.”
“You know what? I’ve done everything. I’m very grateful that I’ve been able to move and climb in this industry the way I have. But I can’t say that I didn’t do that without suffering,” he added. “And I think as Black people in this country, it’s embedded in us to suffer, right? We feel like to be successful, we have to suffer. You suffer through things to get to the other side. You know, you suffer through earth to get to heaven. You know what I mean?
“And I think that’s just in our DNA as African Americans, and I’ve been suffering for years, and I woke up… I made that post because I felt like I couldn’t breathe and me releasing that and letting the world know that I’m done with this was the first time that whole week that I really felt like I took a breath, a deep breath.
“I don’t wanna suffer no more. I don’t wanna be unhappy. I don’t wanna be at the beck and call of people and their teams. I wanna take some time and figure out, you know, how to live.”
He is, at his own admission, an “extreme empath” – another factor that contributed to feelings of burnout, and something I can most definitely relate to. Not one to do things by halves, he would pour his entire heart and soul into each project, but his commitment to excellence was a double-edged sword; it made him good at what he did but left him feeling depleted… with no fuel left in the tank as Ardern so eloquently put it.
However, Roach has come to realise there’s truth in the old adage that if it costs you your peace, it’s too expensive. It feels redundant to say that your success should not come at the expense of your happiness, but so often that is the case. “Let me know when your whole life goes up in smoke. Means it’s time for a promotion,” Nigel tells a naive Andy in The Devil Wears Prada – a line that has, in hindsight, shaped how I personally have viewed prosperity for so much of my life.
According to a recent employee wellbeing report carried out in the UK, 35% of those surveyed said work-related stress was having a negative impact on them. High numbers of employees also reported experiencing symptoms of anxiety or depression – 60% of respondents said they regularly feel anxious while 56% admitted to experiencing symptoms of depression.
Burnout is not a new thing though. A New York Times article published two years ago claims the condition dates back to 1973, or at least that’s when the phrase was coined. By the 1980s, everyone was burned out… forty-odd years later and we’re still burned out. “To be burned out is to be used up, like a battery so depleted that it can’t be recharged,” the New York Times article states. “In people, unlike batteries, it is said to produce the defining symptoms of ‘burnout syndrome’: exhaustion, cynicism, and loss of efficacy.”
A 2020 U.S. study on the topic found that three in four employees say they’re burned out, with things only worsening during the pandemic. We thought life would improve once we were out the other side, but so desperate were we for normality that we sprinted toward the finish line not realising that this is a marathon, not a race.
And so here we are, three years later, out of breath and with no reserves to keep us going.
The sheer exhaustion of merely existing has taken the majority of my own energy stockpile as of late. Trying to keep my head above water while simultaneously dodging problems disguised as water balloons has, to use Roach’s analogy, left me gasping for air. Rent is extortionate, monthly bills are almost unpayable and the opportunity for career progression is extremely limited. All of my friends are emigrating and I feel stuck in a system that is essentially pushing me out the door (more on that here).
If there’s strength in numbers, the burned-out are arguably the strongest of all though. That might seem like a counterintuitive statement, but with so many of us feeling this way, it’s clear that we’re no longer the minority. Beyond the “we’re all in this together” mentality, Law Roach and Jacinda Ardern have shown us that there’s power in saying “I can’t do this anymore”.
Quitting does not equate to failure and “boundaries” is not a dirty word to be retired from your vocabulary. Walking away is no longer a sign of weakness but a public proclamation that you will be protecting your peace above all else – and that is something to be admired. So, while I don’t know what the solution to burnout is (if you do, DM me), having role models like Roach and Ardern to learn from can only help.
Photography via @luxurylaw