EMPs are an energetic bunch. Fresh and eager, it’s easy to just keep working, and working, and working. Some of the most common advice to EMPs is to work or intern wherever you can, to get as much experience as possible, and to demonstrate that you’re dependable and passionate about the field. But there’s a point at which it can become overwhelming, and we start taking better care of our careers than ourselves. Burnout is common, but usually avoidable. Here’s my look at the three most likely times in an EMPs career path for burnout to rear it’s ugly head, and a few suggestions for how to combat it.
During the job hunt: When you’re searching for a job it can completely consume your waking hours. Time blends together and it can become easy to slip into “constant job hunt” mode. What I mean by that is you reach a point where time spent job hunting, and time not spent job hunting looks the same. Days and evenings and weekdays and weeknights become static, with all time spent at home feeling the same. The lifestyle you develop during the job hunting process can be just as discouraging as months of searching. Most of us know what it looks like, sitting on the couch with your laptop next to you and television re-runs on in the background, trying to remember which version of your resume focused on education instead of research, and retooling your cover letter to emphasize that jobs requiring repetitive data entry in front of a screen really wouldn’t be a problem, you swear. I was always amazed at how many times I could refresh the AAM Job Board, the AZA Job Board, and Global Museum in a single day.
After a point, this process becomes monotonous and unproductive. Instead, I would recommend treating your job hunt as a job itself – spend 7-8 hours maximum on it every day, and then let yourself relax. Take your search to the public library to change-up your surroundings and help yourself focus. Try a free project management software on the internet, and keep a routine schedule to your searches and applications. And then watch tv in the evening and go out with friends on the weekend. There’s no reason to feel guilty about taking some time for yourself while searching for a job; that’s what’s going to help you keep up your energy and stay positive during an often stressful time.
Treating your search like a job will also help you transition once you’re hired somewhere, though that process can have its own pitfalls.
Accepting a new job: I was lucky to find a job at a museum in the small city I live in recently. I had interned there in the fall, and then been offered a job at the new year. It was thrilling and exciting and I couldn’t wait to get started. When I got the call from the Director, I almost said that I’d be in the next day to start! It would have been so simple: I already knew everyone, I had been unemployed for a few weeks, and it was just a few blocks from my house. Why not just dive right in? Instead I took a breath, thought it through, and said I’d start the next week.
Taking that extra time to myself was important. I found there was an unexpected shift in perception from job-hunting to job-prepping. I took time to clean up my house, make sure my professional wardrobe was up to snuff, and finish a few projects that were lying around. I made sure that the blog here was taken care of for a couple of weeks. I cooked and baked, because I knew that dinners were going to be a little shaky once I started work.
After having waited to get work, it was really tempting to start immediately. It would have been the wrong decision, though, and that extra time to prepare helped me make sure I was well rested and going into the job feeling rejuvenated.
Settling into a routine: This has been hardest for me, and I’m making new discoveries about it all the time. In starting my job, I was given a list of responsibilities and a few beginning projects. But within a few weeks I was project managing a major grant, leading our self-study assessment for MAP, acting as community liaison for a festival taking place in April, and exploring education, marketing, and grants plans for 2013. Luckily, my museum was already using a project management tool, called Action Method, and that immediately helped me in keeping track of everything I was responsible for. Seeing it all written down and ordered in a timeline made the list feel much more approachable, even as the number of tasks quickly grew to near 100 by the end of my first month.
Learning to leave work at work has been a hard one for me too. Without any question, sometimes long hours and sacrifices are necessary when you have a program or deadline coming up. Sometimes the work just needs to be done right then and there. But on most days? I can put the research down and not worry about it, it can wait until tomorrow. It doesn’t matter that google is accessible from my phone, or that I can just e-mail myself the grant. I’ve had to work on putting things down and not carrying the weight of them home with me, and instead making sure I relax in the evenings. I’ve told families and friends I’m still searching for my “new normal,” but I’m confident that with these strategies I’ll get there sooner than later.
Do you have any advice for EMPs looking to avoid burnout? Are there any tricks you’ve picked up during your job hunt, or in starting a new job? Or, are you the sort that can keep going full speed without pausing? Whatever your methods are, we invite you to share them in the comments.
Stay tuned for Friday when we should have a few special announcements about upcoming series here on the EMP blog!
This post was contributed by Caitlin Lill, EMP Blog administrator.