Burnout?

“I Went Full Nomad and it Almost Broke Me”

I clicked this article cause I relate to the title – I took a remote job and left my home country. Though I wasn’t travelling while I worked, the experience was similar.

This guy asks “So why did going nomad lead to a magnitude 8 burnout?” I was hoping to find out what a “magnitude 8” burnout actually looks like, but I didn’t get it from the article.

I’d just finished a business meeting with a person I consider a role model. After taking a long pause to examine me he simply asked “but seriously, are you ok?”

What made his mentor ask if he was okay? What does low energy mean for this guy? What came between the realization and the recovery?

For me it was burying myself in social media, reading books, and binging pirated TV shows. I had a pattern of beating myself up for not going out and making friends, taking on or finishing projects, or even doing basic tasks like laundry and cooking. When the voice of self-abuse started – usually the moment after my partner left the room, and sometimes even before that – I’d whip out my phone to quieten it. Many days I’d sit at the kitchen table for five or six hours, scrolling feeds and watching shows, waiting for my partner to come home and give me enough motivation to pretend to be human for a while.

I kept thinking, how can I be stressed? All I’m doing is sitting in the kitchen. There’s no stress here. I’m succeeding in my goals, I’m where I want to be.

But I was living in someone else’s house in a country where I had few friends and didn’t speak the language. I had just started a new, remote job which was mentally demanding, and had no one, not even co-workers, to talk to about it.  The man I moved in with was a brand new relationship as well, and we didn’t have time to build a strong foundation before we started piling stuff on top of it. These are like the 5 most stressful things you can do in life, only topped by “death of a parent” or “death of a spouse”.

There was actually one bit in the article that had substance:

The term ‘burn out’ is dangerously misleading. It suggests visible fire and smoke. In reality the Big Bang when you realise the situation you’re in comes much too late. Burning out is like being the proverbial lobster in hot water. As the temperature rises your self-awareness and ability to save yourself erodes.

I stopped stopped doing my two healthiest activities – writing and cycling – except on rare occasions.

I left the relationship, which was healthy, and with an incredibly high-quality human, and went home, though I didn’t want to. Because I couldn’t recognize myself anymore and didn’t know how to get back to myself except by returning to the last place where I felt like a human.

That’s what it looked like for me. It took me way too long to recognize it, and by then it was too late.

“I wasn’t making friends.”

This wasn’t true, I made friends every time I went out, just about. However, I wasn’t very good friends with myself. It sucks to hang out with someone who tells you that you’re awful all the time, and I was hanging out with myself all day. Couldn’t I forgive myself for that?

“I wasn’t taking on or finishing projects.”

My partner and I opened a business together, and it was successful. Even if it hadn’t been successful, it would have been a bloody brilliant try. I made the website and worked on social media. I supported my partner in his heroic efforts. But besides that, I had one very important project – working on learning Danish. That one would take years to finish, but at the beginning I had no business taking on anything else. Couldn’t I forgive myself for that as well?

“I had no one to talk to about it.”

I had one person there who very much wanted to talk to me about it, my partner. I was so afraid of showing him the ugly side of me, but the more I tried to hide it, the more surface area there was to show.

My healthy perspective evaporated in a cloud of self-abuse.

Call this stress, burnout, depression, whatever it is, it’s real, it’s heavy, and it doesn’t go away if you just grit your cheeks, squeeze your ass cheeks together, and wish for it.

I think the guy in the article is trying to sell a book or something, but I don’t think it’s for me. Instead, I’ve found help from counsellors, cognitive behavioural therapy, meditation, and a few books that are less scammy than that one. For me this has gone way beyond “yeah, I feel kinda stressed sometimes” and into “I’ve fucked up my life repeatedly and will continue fucking it up until I get industrial strength help.”

But I’m getting there. If this is what burnout looks like for you too, there is a way a out.

Even though these last couple months have been just about the most painful of my life, I’m getting something out of it. The job, the man, the foreign country, and the new language did not make me depressed. They were pressure on a problem I have, but that problem was in me the whole time, bubbling up at different times in my life, for a month or six here and there.

I’ve left jobs, been fired, ended friendships, and moved house because of it. My emotions get out of control and I make an impulsive choice to damage a relationship. Instead of taking time to calm down and communicate, I panic, thrash, push until minor damage becomes permanent (or at least permanent in my eyes). I’ve done it at least six times that I can think of, but this most recent one was by far the worst.

I swear I am not going to repeat this pattern. I’m getting help. I’m doing the exercises. I’m unfucking myself. I can see it working, and I’m going to succeed. The motivation to not hurt people I love anymore is very, very strong. I’m going to count myself among the people I love as well.

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How long does it take to fill up a shipping container?

Here's a thing you can do.

Danish Modern Design is a style of furnishing and interior design that became a part of pop culture in the 60's. I mostly know it from Mad Men and the waiting rooms of high-end chiropractors. It's popular right now in Victoria and has been for about seven years. It's likewise popular in Denmark, the source.

Danes are bonkers about weird-shaped lamps, stuff made of teak, and interesting chairs. They create them and sell them to each other, then will them to their children, who resell them to other Danes. It's a whole world of fascination that I failed to notice in my life before 2017, because I was living in shared houses with degenerates who couldn't be relied on to keep plastic plates and cups in good condition, let alone fine furnishings (I admit, I was as degenerate as the rest of them). I cultivated non-interest to avoid wanting things I couldn't have.

Teak with the original upholstery

However, in the past year I helped open a Danish vintage and retro furniture store, in Denmark no less. I learned how to identify a Bumling lamp and a Bretoia chair, and god help me, started to appreciate them. When I returned home from Denmark, my first acts were to gift my father a Louis Poulsen lamp that I brought home in my carry-on luggage, and refinish my parents' teak dining room table.

Next I started thinking about a business plan that my partner in Denmark suggested to me. You could fill up a container with stuff for relatively cheap in Denmark, ship it here, ideally have every item sold before it came off the boat, and make a little money and a lot of entertainment. 

This idea gave me a fantastic excuse to go to each store in Victoria that buys and sells Danish modern furnishings, or anything remotely similar. I made friends with the owners, showed them a photo album, and tried to gauge whether they could be customers or not. Here's the catalog I showed them.

Easy Livin' is on Mason Street in an old brick warehouse. The owners are a couple who refinish stuff at home in their basement. Their style is middle-high end and they can sell small dressers, dining room tables in the winter, and some ceiling light fixtures. Cheryl didn't think she could use most of what I showed her, as it's too literally Danish, like traditional farmhouse type stuff, as opposed to Danish modern. Good tips, and she recommended me several other places in Victoria as well as Vancouver.

A teak vanity with mirror, one of the items Cheryl liked.

Trig Vintage is also owned by a retired couple who run the place more as a hobby than as a moneymaker. They have more inventory space than some of the other places I looked at, and a big showroom on Fisgard Street. Their style is lower end and more eclectic than Easy Livin', and more closely matches the style in my photo album. I didn't get to talk to the owners themselves, but their employee Roshan was enthusiastic about my plan. He thought I'd be more successful in Vancouver though. 

The Fabulous Find, further down Fisgard Street, is the most high-end of the lot – the owner, Trena, is younger and almost exclusively interested in brand-name designers and expensive pieces. She had a blue table painted with an extraordinary design that I'd call "unique", except that the shop in Denmark has one just like it in red. Nothing in my catalog got her attention, but she wrote me a list of designers she's interested in and told me to send her any other pictures of stuff I come across, and she'd be happy to give me prices.

Charmaine's, on Fort Street, had the most inventory, most variety, and also the most customers of any of the shops I checked. Unfortunately, the owner was busy the day I went there, and I got two jobs and started working more than full time before I had a chance to talk to her.

Arne Jacobsen "Ant" chairs

I also had a long conversation with the owners of The Old Attic in Saanich. Although most of their stuff is on consignment, not really Danish at all, and they don't buy much stock, they had plenty to share. The owner there gave me a long list of stuff she could move easily, a list that included "decanters", "copper lamps", "weird brass stuff", "records, as many as you can give us", and "mailboxes".

On January 3rd I have an appointment in Vancouver, so I'll probably stay for a couple of days and give the shops there the same treatment. Then the question is – how much is this all going to cost, how much money can I hope to make, and do they balance each other out? It's a simple math problem, but there are a lot of variables.

The Arne Jacobsen "Aegte" chir

For instance, what's the tariff? Here's the schedule of customs tariffs, which is rather detailed. Chairs, for example, are taxed at 9.5%. Lamps and lighting fittings are taxed at 7.5%. Wouldn't it be nice if there was a category for just "used furniture"? But it seems more intricate than that. 

What does a shipping container cost? We priced one at $15,000, shipped, back in March, but I've written to some other companies for quotes. You can apparently buy your own and reuse it if you do this a lot. When you're done, I suppose you could live in it, furniture and all…

And how do you get your stock? If my partner in Denmark is still on board, I can get help with that. He gets his stuff from people who bring it to his premises and sell it to him, from estate sales, and from containerpladsen auctions. Containerpladsen is the dump, in Danish. It's more than just garbage – it's next-level recycling as well. Plastic, metal, compost and paper are separated out. As well, anything that's still useful, like books, bikes, clothing and household items are saved and sold through a little shop located in the center of the dump. Anything valuable is put up for auction on the dump-run website. I love containerpladsen so much I could write a book about them, and maybe I will. But the point is, my Danish guy has got a good eye for craftsmanship and excellent negotiating skills, as well as a 700 sq. meter warehouse for inventory. So it could work.

My dad's Louis Poulsen lamp

I'm not too worried about sharing this killer business idea with you all, because a) ideas are worthless until you put in the work and b) lots of other people are doing this already, which shows that a market does exist. So if you want to try stealing it out from under me, here's the website of the containerplads auction, which is brilliant, and deserves another book: http://www.genbrugsauktion.dk. 

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