Episode 106

The Burnout Whisperer

Has 2020 got you feeling totally burnt out? This week on Overtime, burnout expert Erayna Sargent stops by to remind you that you’re not alone, and shares powerful tips to help you begin your burnout recovery today.

I like to debunk common myths about burnout, and I always say this to people: Nothing is wrong with you. Something is wrong with your situation.

But first, we’re giving you the 411 on a hilarious new website that lets you send emails directly to a dumpster and watch them burn…Yup, it’s a thing! Plus, we’re laughing out loud over a hilarious Design Twitter argument that recently sparked between a couple of designers, and you’ll never believe why!

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Meg: Hello, hello, hello, hello, hello! Welcome back to Overtime! This is Dribbble’s weekly podcast where I give you design news plus some very helpful tips to create your very best work, and I am your host, Meg “2020 Is Almost Over” Lewis, and this week on Overtime, I feel like a giggly baby experiencing the world for the first time because everything is making me laugh this week. I find out that I could send an email directly to a dumpster and watch it catch on fire, and I look at Twitter and start crying laughing over a Design Twitter argument, don’t worry, I’m going to break it down for you in a moment. Oh, but on a serious note, something more serious and actually helpful, I’m bringing burnout expert Erayna Sargent [on] to talk to us about how we’re not alone and what we can do to begin our burnout recovery. So, let’s go!

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I’m so thankful for somebody who sent me a link to this because they thought I would like to cover it on this podcast, and the answer is yes, yes, I would. The company, which is that email service, email client, what is it called? I don’t know, doesn’t matter, it’s not about that. They have launched this website, the URL is literally, go to that URL right now and see what I’m talking about. During, kind of, I think classic business hours quote unquote, they have a live stream going of a conveyor belt that goes from a printer to a dumpster. And what happens is, you send an email to their email address, which is, and you see the email get printed from the printer, slide right onto that conveyor belt, and then basically the email says cheese for a photograph and you get to look at the email for a second, everybody does who’s watching the live stream. And then it gets sent on his merry way right into the dumpster, and as soon as it drops into the dumpster, the dumpster lights on fire and you get to watch the email burn away, and it is the most cathartic experience.

I have yet to send an email because I’m just, I guess I feel a lot of pressure about what to put in that email because the whole world will probably be able to see it – well not the whole world, however many people are watching this stream, of course. But I feel a little self-conscious, I don’t know why, about what I would put in that email. But I can imagine if you put in a little secret and just watch it burn, or just complain about something and let it burn, watch it burn – oh, how cathartic! Oh, that sounds so nice.

It’s really funny to also see what other people put in these emails. I saw one the other day that was just a picture of a Canon digital camera. So, they say it can be plain text or it can be an image attachment, your choice, they do have a PG-13 rule. But you know, I’m a huge fan of these little fun internet experiments, and I think it’s silly and nonsensical, and I’m a huge fan of that, especially this year because we all need a little bit more silly and nonsensical [stuff]. And if you’re like me, and you’re like, “Hey now, just burning things for fun, for really no reason, that’s probably pretty bad for the air.” That’s what I thought, and the answer is yes, it is. Yes, it is bad for the air. Yes, it is, indeed. There’s no untruth to that. But what they’re doing is they’re offsetting the COT emission… COT? What is that? Cougars or Tigers. They’re offsetting the co2 emissions they’re creating from this dumpster fire by three times using an organization called Cool Effect. So, if you, for any reason, are using a lot of co2 emissions yourself, and you want to offset those suckers, then maybe using Cool Effect is a great idea for you.

Yeah, I don’t have any more to add to the story. I just think it’s fun and it’s been fun for me to watch a little bit off and on throughout the workday, and I don’t know how long it’s lasting. I hope it’s going to be still up when this podcast is out because I actually don’t know how long it’s going to be up. So, I hope it’s still up but if it’s not still up then just let my words describing it to you be all that you need.

Okay, this next topic that I want to talk about is something that made me laugh harder than I’ve laughed in a long time, and it’s design related so I can’t, I can’t wait to talk to you about it. And also, because of it, I’ll get into the nitty gritty soon, but just know that this is actually the story that I’ve done the most research on because I knew the least about. So, wow, what a verbal clickbait I’ve given you? Can’t wait [for you] to see what it is.

Okay, so if you’re on Twitter at all, then you are aware of the concept of Design Twitter. What is designed Twitter? It’s basically like, the design industry’s little slice of Twitter. And like most communities, it’s been kind of historically bombarded with usually the loudest voices. And usually the people with the most power or the loudest voices are usually the ones that reign supreme in many communities, but it certainly happens in Design Twitter. So, the thing that I want to explain about this interaction with Design Twitter that I saw is, normally I would say nine out of ten times, something happens on “Design Twitter” that’s of note, it’s usually some dudes arguing with each other. That’s, I would say, the majority of instances [and] occurrences that happen of note on Design Twitter is exactly that. And there are a lot of beautiful, beautiful, beautiful pockets of Design Twitter that are extremely supportive and uplifting. And my pocket of Design Twitter is just generally me tweeting about my diarrhea or my favorite cereals. I don’t really necessarily tweet that much about design, so I’m not sure if I’m necessarily part of Design Twitter, but I am a designer, and I’m on Twitter.

So anyway, what I want to tell you about today is an interaction that occurred a few days ago that made me laugh so hard, and it is classic Design Twitter of a few dudes that are arguing with each other. But then something absolutely hilarious and beautiful happens. So, I’m going to explain to you first how little I know about the people involved in this conversation, even though I probably should as somebody who’s hosting a design podcast. So, the first person that’s involved in this conversation is Michael Bierut, who is an important person in the design industry, but I never took a design history course, so I don’t really exactly know too much about Michael Bierut other than that he exists and is somebody important in the design industry. The second person involved in this conversation is Erik Spiekermann, who again, I’ve heard that name. I know Erik Spiekermann is somebody important to the design industry but had no idea what he’s known for or literally anything about him. So, it was a funny interaction to me just because I had no previous context of these people. Now, the other person involved is Dan Cassaro, who is one of the original founders of Young Jerks, which is a design, branding, illustration, small agency. They make amazing work. They’ve been around for a while, but they haven’t been around as long of a while as Michael Bierut and Erik Spiekermann. So, Michael Beirut, Erik Spiekermann, and Dan Cassaro. These are the three gentlemen who are involved in this interaction.

So, let me just break it down for you and tell you exactly what happened. It begins with a tweet from Michael Bierut, and Michael is sort of showcasing a new font that he designed, and Michael Bierut tweets, “Atkinson hyperlegible is a free font developed by the Braille Institute with Applied Design, which maximizes the difference between similar letterforms to help readers with low vision.” Okay, so as you can imagine, what’s going on here is it’s a typeface, there’s a photo of it – a photo… Can you imagine taking a photo of a typeface on your computer anyway? It’s an image of type. Oh, my gosh, my words. I’m so distracted by how funny this is to me. Okay, so then Michael attaches an image of the typeface. And someone, Jesse Godfrey responds, “This is awesome work,” with a little hand clapping emoji. And then to that response, Erik Spiekermann, who says, quote tweet, “Not awesome, old hat. I’ve been designing my typefaces like this for decades: top serif on I, bottom swoop on L, 8 with loop instead of two circles, etc. Check ITC Officina, FF Meta, et al.”

So, what I’m reading here is that Eric is saying, “I’ve been doing this my whole career.” And then, I believe, Eric is, you know, implying that he designed these other typefaces a long time ago that use these methods. So, essentially breaking it down here, what happened was Michael Bierut was celebrating something that he did with a real institute, you know, helping create a font for readers with low vision, and Erik Spiekermann is saying, “This is not awesome. I’ve been doing this for way longer than you,” which is a bit of a butthole move, to be honest.

Okay, so where does this get funny? Why is this funny, Meg? It’s funny because enter Dan Cassaro. Dan is a hilarious person and he does not care what anybody thinks about him. He does not care about offending Erik Spiekermann, whoever that is, or Michael Bierut, or anybody for that matter, but Erik Spiekermann definitely deserved to be punked a little bit by Dan Cassaro. So, Dan then responds to Erik Spiekermann’s sassy quip and says, quote tweet, “But I don’t think you’ve ever drawn a Bofa like that though?” And Bofa is a capital B-o-f-a to spell it out for you. So, at that time, when I was reading this exchange, I also I think I fell into the trap because I was kind of like, “Oh, what’s a Bofa? Is that like a typographic term I’m unaware of?” Because clearly, I don’t know anything. I don’t know who any of these people are.

And Erik Spiekermann, much like me, responded to Dan Cassaro and said, “What’s a Bofa?” And then the magic happens. Dan Cassaro responds to Erik Spiekermann with just a simple screenshot of – [you] know, whenever you’re on MyFonts, or a font website where you can choose a font and you type in your sample text, and so if you’re trying to choose a font for a brand called “Cougars Or Tigers,” you can type cougars or tigers, and then see it in all the fonts? – so, Dan Cassaro responds to Erik Spiekermann with a screenshot in all of Erik Spiekermann’s fonts, that says, “Bofa deez nuts.”

Ah ha, the beauty of the setup, the beauty of the fact that Erik Spiekermann was being a butthole and Dan said, “Have you ever drawn a Bofa like that though?” and Eric said, “What’s a Bofa?” And then Dan responded with a screenshot of Eric’s own typefaces saying “Bofa deez nuts.” It’s just pure comedy gold. And the reason why I had to do so much research on this story, and the reason why this story is going on for far too long, is because I really wanted to know the origin of Bofa deez nuts, the origin story.

So apparently, in 1992, Dr. Dre had an album called “The Chronic,” which you might be very familiar with, which contains a track titled “Deeez Nuuuts.” “Deeez” with a bunch of “E’s,” “Nuuuts” with a bunch of “U’s.” And there’s a track called “Deeez Nuuuts” in there, and at the beginning of that track, there’s a little skit where a man suddenly yells, “Deez nuts,” at a woman over the phone, I believe. And so that’s where the world believes that the origin of “deez nuts” came from.

And the interesting thing here is there’s no Bofa involved. So, Bofa was not involved with that at all, but eventually, [from] some unknown origin, Bofa started being brought into the deez nuts conversation, likely and possibly just used to mislead people. So, you know that classic children’s joke you make where you’re like, “What’s under there?” And the person says, “Under where?” And then you get them to say underwear? It’s this. It’s the same mechanism, right? So, you ask somebody something about Bofa in a sense that makes sense to them. And if they Google Bofa, they’re like, “Oh, shoot, what does that mean?” [If] they google it really quickly, the Google search results for Bofa turn out Bank of America. And even if you have the Bank of America app, the app itself says Bofa. So “B of A” turns into Bofa. It’s just beautiful. So, whenever you Google Bofa, it takes you to Bank of America and does not explain to you what Bofa is, so Erik Spiekermann may have thought that Dan Cassaro was just asking a Bank of America-related question. I don’t know.

So now, [the] Bofa deez nuts joke is just hilarious because you really want to use it on someone who might be unfamiliar with the joke itself, which it appears as though Erik Spiekermann was unfamiliar with the joke.

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Meg: Okay, you’re ready to talk about something a little bit more helpful and useful? Probably, you might be. So, as you know, I am dealing with burnout in my career for the first time ever and I’m scared and it’s confusing, and I don’t know what to do. So, I decided to, both selfishly and as something that might benefit you, bring in an expert. So, after a personal battle with burnout proved that the recovery could be as hard as the condition itself, our guest today, Erayna Sargent, founded a company called Hooky Wellness to help individuals and teams understand and navigate the individual and collective and systematic elements of burnout. Erayna is able to leverage her 15 years building consumer brands and combines coaching with design thinking and mental wellness to basically provide a very approachable path to real results for dealing with burnout. And it’s so exciting, it’s such an exciting opportunity, such an honor to have her here with us today. It’s burnout expert, Erayna Sargent. Hey, Erayna, welcome! How are you today?

Erayna: I’m good. I’m excited to talk with you, so thanks for having me.

Meg: I know a lot of people can benefit from your wisdom today. And since you specialize in this, you are the burnout whisperer, you are the leader of the anti-burnout movement, you know probably the most there is to know about this. So, I’m so excited to finally ask you some very basic questions that I have for myself, but hopefully a lot of others can benefit too. I think the basic question that keeps going through my brain as I’m experiencing this is, is what I’m feeling burnout? Or am I depressed? Or maybe am I just at a low because I’ve been beaten down by this year? What do you define as the difference? Is there a difference?

Erayna: Yeah, and I’m so excited that you’re bringing this conversation to the community of designers, both from personal passion, as well as like, this is an industry that gets hit hard and often ignore some of the common signs and symptoms. In a past life, I worked in office furniture, so interior design, and graphic design, and space [were] my thing, so I’m so excited.

When it comes to burnout, you’re absolutely right, you’re not alone. In a normal world, and basically, based off of 2018 data, 77% of the workforce was already reporting symptoms and signs of burnout on an annual basis. So, it’s 92 million in a non-pandemic, non COVID-year, we’re experiencing burnout. So no, you’re not alone. And when you look at what is going on in the world, the core of burnout is really a misalignment between expectations and reality. Burnout, by definition, is the state of emotional, mental, and physical exhaustion in the plainest sense. And so, burnout isn’t something that’s acute, it doesn’t just pop up like, “Oh my god, where did this come from?” Burnout is a series of smaller symptoms and signs over the course of weeks, months, and even years. So, often we end up in the situation where we’re like, “How did I end up here?” But it’s because we are so conditioned to ignore the signs.

So, when you think about elevated stress and more serious mental health conditions, burnout falls in the middle, because stress, you can sometimes combat that with your common self-care practices, take a bath, do facials, all the stuff that I love [and] is near and dear to my heart. When you get into burnout, burnout is a deeper, more fundamental change. That’s where you’re going from, “I feel off,” to when you take a step back, you recognize, “Oh, that’s real.” You are not quite yourself, because you’re not. There’s an internal personality shift that could be fundamental beliefs and value shifting. And so, as someone who has recovered from burnout or found my way to beat it, I will say once you start to hit those severe stages, you notice. When you say, “I’m not myself,” you’re like, “No, I mean it.” So, for me, it was a matter of the types of jobs I wanted weren’t the same, the types of projects weren’t as fulfilling, the things that I was doing no longer quenched my thirst. There was something missing. And so, burnout was really my path to transformation. And I hope we can get more people to think about it that way because it’s challenging, but when you get to that other side, it can be amazing.

Meg: That’s a really great way to look at it: just listen to your body, do what you need to recover, and maybe this is a great opportunity to listen to that and to say, “Okay, maybe I do need to have this fundamental change about the type of work that I do. Maybe this is my body just letting me know.”

Erayna: And sometimes you need fundamental changes, like, there’s something in your situation that needs to change. So, whether that’s relationships you’re in, jobs you’re having, types of projects you’re having, you can see fundamental shifts. In the earlier stages, that often starts to show up as emotional or physical exhaustion, where truly by getting more sleep, taking more breaks, doing more self-care – in the earlier stages, if you do those preventative actions, that can help and that can negate the acceleration of symptoms and signs.

Meg: Okay, that’s so good to know, I feel like I’m doing the right things. I also think it’s interesting because, and you can validate whether or not this is normal, for me, some days, I hit very low points where the signs are there, I don’t feel like the same person. The things that normally motivate me that I know are aligned with my purpose don’t feel right anymore, I don’t even feel interested in them anymore. And then, you know, two days later, I’m feeling good again, and so I think like, “Oh, I’m cured, it’s fine, it’s over.” And then two days later, I’m back down again. Is that normal?

Erayna: Oh, very much, we are conditioned to have a problem and a solution, and especially in our culture, we want immediate solutions. Burnout isn’t quite that way. Just as long as it took you to get into it, it can take you that long to get out of it. So in my experience, like mine started three years ago, I was in a toxic work environment, started to deal with the everyday microaggressions that were a whole ’nother level, which caused me to doubt everything about myself and my experience and my degrees and all of that, and so I did what most people do first: I started working harder, which you typically work yourself out of things, so why not? This has worked for my career and gotten me to these elevated levels I never thought I could achieve, but at a point it doesn’t work.

So, I changed my situation. I was like, “Alright, it’s time for me to change out of CPG or consumer goods, I’m going to go into tech. It’s the shiny new toy. Everyone wants tech, right? So, I moved into tech, and I was very quickly like, “I hate this.” Not for a matter of it’s a bad job, what I wanted to do had changed. And so, for instance, in the world of brand management, I prefer to tend on innovation and design and that stuff. When I moved into this role, it was a job I could do and do very well, but it was all about pricing, promotions, analytics. And so, what I find is often people are in those situations and in these roles, which yes, they’re grateful for, but they don’t recognize that it’s not the right role for them. And so, when you’re in burnout, especially in the later stages, you have no choice but to start to recognize it. And the more you fight against it, the harder it can become.

So, the first thing I always say is you will be okay. If you are experiencing true burnout, you will be fine. If it is something else, if it’s just stress, you will be fine. If it is a deeper mental health condition, you will be fine. All of it requires taking a step back, being real about where you are, and finding the support to help you through it. So, I like to debunk common myths about burnout. And I always say this to people: nothing is wrong with you. Something is wrong with your situation.

Meg: Yes. That’s such good advice. So, these kinds of questions, I keep hearing you state all these questions that maybe we should be asking ourselves. Is that kind of your introductory advice for somebody who wants to start the path to recovery is to ask themselves these questions?

Erayna: Yeah, so the thing about burnout is no one can beat it for you. Point blank period. You can go to all the therapists in the world, you can go to all the career coaches, you can go to all the yoga classes, but no one can do the work for you. And so, when it comes to it, what I fundamentally believe, and it has been proven by therapists who have done all the papers and books that I’m dissecting and researching, self-awareness is the foundational element of beating burnout. Understanding and being real about who you are, what you want to do and what you’re doing, where you want to go, and what else you’re doing in the situation; that is big. And by being honest with yourself, which we are not really good at doing, being honest with yourself is truly, truly the key. And it is the hardest, I always say, “It’s simple, not easy.”

Meg: Mmm, I like that. So, I’m really curious to know, because you also work with teams, and it seems to me like, you know, a lot of the things that we think about, you know, workforce and capitalism and you know, people are just telling us to keep working, keep working, keep working. And it almost shocks me, but doesn’t surprise me, that companies and brands and corporations probably hire you to come in and help their workforce and to help their company culture. So, what does your programming look like for teams?

Erayna: Thank you for asking about that. So, like many people, when I first started going down this deep burnout path, I was like, “Oh, this is an individual problem.” It has individual symptoms and signs, but it is a much larger problem. Burnout is a result of systematic, collective, individual issues, or situational misalignment. And so, when you come at it, when it comes to the point of how we beat it, we need to beat it at each level. And so now, especially post-COVID, in this world and year of great burnout conditions, we’re at this point where not only do we have to get in at an individual level, we need to figure out how to collectively navigate this, because communication is broken, empathy is gone, people are beyond stressed and are walking around as exposed nerves, not understanding how they can trigger someone. And so, we have accelerated the burnout experience for pretty much the world.

And so, when it comes to the teams, I already recognized this as a little bit of a problem, is I looked back to my past bosses I worked with, and I realized, “Oh, they weren’t necessarily bad bosses or managers, they were completely burned out.” And so, it has become, it’s actually a personal mission of mine to support managers. There are good managers out there. We don’t often see them or don’t feel like they’re there, but they are trying, and they are in dire straits right now, or they’re trying to juggle it all. And so for my programming, there are two levels, I offer my Navigating Burnout workshop, which is a one-on-one on burnout, it gives participants a common language, it helps give you practical tips and tools that are based in mental wellness, that is my core. I’ve been working with companies like Google, I’m talking to Microsoft, I’m talking to nonprofits and other entities, because this is all encompassing. It’s every industry, all levels, everyone needs a new language. Then, I also do custom programming. So, whether that’s full-year programming or other deeper, specific workshops. I’m also creating a team collective program, which leverages a design thinking process to help the team understand the unique burnout amplifiers and points of stress on the team and develop a roadmap to navigate through it.

Meg: You said it so beautifully, and I just keep replaying it in my mind, as you are still talking. You said, “People are walking around as exposed nerves not realizing how they can trigger someone,” and that is just the epitome of everything that happens in my career, as I’m sure it’s everyone else’s in life as well, especially this year when we’re all just beaten down so much. We are all exposed nerves, and we’re just doing stuff that’s triggering each other constantly, and then it’s just making it all worse and worse and worse. And it piles on top of itself. And just every single little treasure of information that you shared with us has been so impactful for me.

I just keep thinking Erayna needs a podcast, but you have a podcast. So, you have a podcast called Content Club. Is this what we can expect from Content Club? Because I need to know.

Erayna: Well, the funny thing is, I’m actually not the host of Content Club. I have a friend, Erinne Brown, who is a life and career coach that hosts it for me. Content Club was really my brainchild, Content Club was my version or spin on a book club, but for content in all forms, specifically in mental wellness. So, helping you understand what’s out there in the world to help you navigate burnout, what you could be feeling, what is going on in these new trends in wellness. So, each episode is inspired by a different piece of content and we’re joined by an expert. So, for example, we talk about performance in the workplace, and we talk about it from the inspiration of the Ron Artest/Metta World Peace documentary, where he talks about his mental health challenges and his work with his therapist. And we dig into that and talk about how you can bring performance concepts into the workplace and be like a top athlete. So, we talked with sports psychologists about that. We also talk about psychedelics, because that’s a whole ’nother path that we could talk about another day. The world of wellness is broad, it can be overwhelming, so let’s curate it. Let’s learn together. This is all stuff I want to learn, and I want to help people learn it themselves, so make it easier.

Meg: I think just hearing someone who’s an expert on this tell me that I’m going to be fine and this is normal, that is everything I need to at least start this process. So, thank you so much Erayna for being here. This has been phenomenal. Where can everybody find you on the internet?

Erayna: Absolutely. So, from a company standpoint, follow Hooky Wellness. It’s our handle on Instagram, and I will be soon opening a Clubhouse for Hooky, so excited about that. Follow us up for practical mental wellness tips, real life information, Content Club. Send me DM’s and questions about what you really want to know. That helps me create the content. And on a personal note, I am the burnout whisperer on all handles, so Instagram, Twitter, Clubhouse, and I’m really excited to just keep the conversation going, make it approachable, share what I’m learning, and bring in other experts around me. So, I created a burnout battle team, that’s what I recommend. So, it’s a therapist, a coach, wellness, and then your cheerleaders. That is what I’d say: create that core community and create those resources in your life, and they will help you start to build onto those questions you’re asking yourself, so it’s an amazing place to start. I’m so excited to see your journey.

Meg: Yes. Well, thank you.

Erayna: Thank you.

Meg: Thank you so much for listening to this episode of Overtime. If you want to continue the conversation on the internet, use #DribbbleOvertime, or of course tweet or tag me. My handle is @yourbuddymeg. Okay, bye-bye, hear me next week!