This is about one author's personal, anecdotal experience and should not substitute medical advice. If you're having health concerns of any kind, we urge you to speak to a healthcare professional.
One afternoon, I stared at my computer screen at an invitation to meet with my boss and human resources. It popped up on my calendar the day before with no context, but I had an uneasy feeling about what it meant. I was going to get fired, and it turns out I was right.
After the meeting, I immediately felt like a failure. My former bosses tried reassuring me that this wouldn't be a setback instead, we just weren't a good fit for each other. I struggled to believe this and fell into a spiral of negative self-talk.
I started that job about a year into the pandemic. It was at a nonprofit, and I was excited at the opportunity to make a difference in my community. I've always wanted a job aligned with my passions, including writing and social justice. Still, I felt like I kept missing the mark at work, which caused me to feel anxious whenever I turned something in. I dreaded each weekday morning. As a result, my performance decreased quicker. I poured myself into the job for eight months, logging on during weekends or late nights when needed. In the end, I spread myself too thin, which did more harm than good.
The reality is: This generation faces a lot of pressure regarding work success. "Young people are fighting against a wall of student debt that needs to be repaid and a culture where working long hours, weekends, and always being available is a badge of honor," Angela Ficken, a psychotherapist located in Boston, says. "There are pressures to succeed, have financial freedom, pay off student debt, help family, and those may lead to a knee-jerk reaction to work longer hours or not take breaks during the day, and that's when burnout emerges."
Burnout is a syndrome of chronic stress at work—like not having a work-life balance or taking on too many tasks—and the effects can wreak havoc on your wellbeing. According to research, burnout can cause insomnia, depressive symptoms, weight changes, and other health conditions, like cardiovascular diseases. Burnout can also cause people to be irritable, emotionally exhausted, and anxious. In a 2021 survey by Indeed, millennials were reported as the most burned-out demographic. About 53 percent of millennials were facing burnout pre-pandemic, and 59 percent reported feeling burned out recently.
My feelings of failure worsened when I realized that I would have to update my friends and family about being fired. I felt ashamed and avoided telling most of my loved ones for a few weeks. I felt the firsthand effects of the stigma of being fired, and it wasn't just all in my head. This stigma around being fired isn't an imaginary concept. According to Ficken, being fired is viewed by many as a failure because it makes you seem like the problem, despite whatever the complete picture paints. Losing your job can create feelings of self-doubt, and the uncertainty can also be stressful.
When I lost that job, I felt like I had lost part of my identity, too. I internalized the negative emotions, thinking that I wasn't cut out for the type of work I dreamed of doing. While it's easy to be hard on yourself after being fired, Ficken says it's actually the right time to go hard on self-love. "Being fired can be emotionally painful, even if you hated the job," Ficken says. "It's important to be compassionate with yourself in this difficult time."
After processing the initial emotions of being fired, I took time to rest and started to journal to help me reframe my firing, asking myself questions such as: What can I learn from this? What can I do better next time? How can this actually serve me in the future? Of course, it can be tough to distance yourself from the complex emotions at the moment. Still, when it happens, Ficken suggests talking to yourself the way you'd talk to your best friend if they were fired.
During my reflection period, I also had to release the fixed mindset that success is linear—that if you don't take the next step up, you're suddenly at ground zero. "All or nothing thinking doesn't leave much room for flexibility, problem-solving, or room to believe that you can achieve goals even with obstacles in your way," Ficken says.
It's been a few months since my firing, and I'm confidently ready to move forward. I enjoy waking up in the morning and working on projects I pitched as a freelance writer. I've written for publications I never had the time to focus on with my full-time job, and that's given me a sense of accomplishment I've never felt before. I'm not sure what my next career step is, but I trust that it won't define me even if I stumble again. It's all part of the process.
Salvagioni DAJ, Melanda FN, Mesas AE, González AD, Gabani FL, de Andrade SM. Physical, psychological and occupational consequences of job burnout: A systematic review of prospective studies. PLoS One. 2017;12(10):e0185781.