top of page
Search

The time(s!) we've burnt out

Updated: Jul 26, 2023



Hi friends,


Today we're attempting to take on our biggest nemesis: burnout. That sneaky little devil is one we’ve struggled with dating back to our days as interns and still find ourselves in wrestling with to this day.


Our first experience came after a whirlwind 10-week internship at ESPN, when we pitched espnW on the idea of a social media series surrounding College GameDay and focused on engaging younger fans. We were thrilled (and mildly shocked) when they decided to have us travel with the GameDay crew each week to create content and execute the series. While it was a phenomenal experience, it also meant that in addition to taking a full course load from Monday through Friday at our respective colleges, we were also flying to the GameDay game of the week every Friday, capturing content from 5 am to end of games on Saturdays, and flying home and doing homework on Sundays. It was a lot, and by the end of the semester we were incredibly drained and in need of a break. While that wasn’t the last time we’d get burnt out in our careers, we have developed some ways to help prioritize our mental health since then. Read on for more!


Meghan

After traveling with GameDay during the fall semester of our senior years, I was forced to slow down during spring semester after having hip reconstructive surgery. The break was needed, but shortly after graduation, I jumped right back into the grind with my full-time role in the Stats and Info Group at ESPN. The transition back to overnight hours, varied shift times, lack of consecutive (or, depending on the season, any) off days, and at times 12- to 14-hour workdays were grueling, and left me struggling to adjust. For the first several months, I would come home from work at 2 or 3 am, unable to fall asleep, as I’d be too energized from having just worked a live show. Then I’d sleep until just before my next shift, leaving little time for workouts (something I’d done daily for my entire life) or social activity. While I eventually found a rhythm, it was a hard adjustment.


That said, the most burnt out I’ve ever felt actually came several years later while working for the Philadelphia Eagles. With a background in communications and sports analytics, I found myself in a dual role straddling the line between the front office and the business side of the organization. While my priority was the player personnel research I was doing to prepare for the NFL Draft, I also oversaw all communications, social media, and sponsorship for the team’s charitable foundation. The roles could not be more different and neither department was willing to acknowledge the time demands being placed on me by the other. Basically, I was juggling two full-time jobs at the same time with very little help. The spring was the worst, as I’d be swamped with research reports, pre-draft interviews, and prospect grading ahead of the April draft, while also trying to create a promotional plan, organize sponsor activations, and revamp the website for the team’s signature fundraising event in May. Not only was it difficult to split my days up, as I’d find myself jumping back and forth between two completely different tasks, I was also working from the time I got up until the time I went to sleep, literally. I didn’t have a social life, I was skipping workouts to do more work, and my husband (who has his own full-time job in sports) ended up handling everything around the house, including taking care of our two dogs. My weekends were often my most productive workdays, and though I’d try to limit myself to eight-hour days on the weekend, it was often impossible.


Bags under the eyes = late-season exhaustion

Eventually, you start to question what you’re doing. I was prioritizing work over everything, including the things I love the most like hanging out with my husband, seeing my family, playing soccer, going on walks, and even reading non-work-related material! I wasn’t sleeping well and my jaw was perpetually clenched as I worried that I wasn’t being the best I could be at either role while splitting my time between them. While there’s a certain expectation that you’re going to deal with long hours in the sports industry (one that I acknowledge and have handled in the past), this was a different level of stress, one that wasn’t sustainable long term, and I knew it. Eventually, I moved on to start my own company, Character Plus Consulting. Although I still have long days around draft season or jam-packed work trips to the NFL Combine or other events, I’ve made it a point to not let work define my entire life.


A couple of the ways that I try to set boundaries to better prioritize work-life balance and prevent burnout:

  • Create a routine and a cut off time –When Sam and I first started empowHERed, we were texting/calling each other at all hours of the day. Finally, we decided to start our work day with a call at 8 am and to stop texting about work-related items after 6 pm. After that, we only chat about friend topics. That allowed me to focus on my 6 am workout without feeling guilty that I wasn’t working on the business or responding to texts. I also try to have my day planned out in advance. I don’t just mean calls and meetings, but also blocking time to work on specific projects or my general to-do list.


  • Schedule breaks – As part of that daily plan, Sam and I both try to incorporate daily walks or mental health breaks as we call them. Unfortunately, they don’t always happen (for example, it’s 4 pm while I’m typing this and I haven’t gotten up from my desk in hours). Sometimes work gets in the way and it can feel like you can’t squeeze in even a quick 15-minute stroll around the block. And although I’m guilty of that mindset, I’ve never regretted making time for a quick break and I’m usually more productive than I would’ve been otherwise.


  • Gratitude journal – I resisted this one for a long time because it sounded like one more thing to add to my to-do list. But writing down a couple of things I’m appreciative of each night before bed has helped pull me out of the day-to-day grind and given me a greater appreciation for the work that I’m able to do. While back-to-back-to-back meetings or the grind of an NFL Draft season can leave you drained when you’re in it, having that time to take a step back and be grateful for the cool opportunities you’ve had because of your job is a great way to help put things in perspective.


Lastly, I want to be honest and say that this whole “not allowing work to take over my life” is still very much a work in progress for me. For example, I’d love to add meditation to this list but that would mostly be a lie. I have a daily reminder in my phone to write my goals and meditate after my workout, but I usually have a hard time fighting the (absurd) feeling that I’m behind and need to jump right into work. So I snooze the reminder and skip it more often than not. But hey, baby steps are better than nothing!


Sam

Like Meghan, I’ve struggled with burnout for much of my career. As a young 20-something, I found myself living my dream in Boston, overseeing social media for the Boston Red Sox. My excitement kept me going, never pausing to consider the possibility of burning out. The demanding hours during the season seemed like something my body would adjust to, and I assumed I'd be fine, especially given the culture of nonstop work, with everyone around me forgoing breaks, vacations, and self-care. The constant feeling of exhaustion and reliance on coffee and energy drinks became the norm, despite my sporadic attempts to incorporate exercise and healthier meals into my routine. Unfortunately, these efforts never lasted, and I found myself trapped in a cycle of coffee, work, minimal sleep, and repeat.


During my extremely rare off days, I would find myself confined to bed, desperately trying to catch up on sleep while relying on takeout. It took several years of enduring this draining routine for me to come to a startling realization: I was in my early 20s and my life was entirely consumed by work, leaving me with no energy or time for anything else. This not only highlighted the lack of balance in my life but also brought to light the fact that I was in the worst physical shape of my life.


The realization, combined with other work-related challenges (which we’ll talk about later), prompted me to take action and seek a change. Although it didn't happen overnight, I eventually made the decision to prioritize finding a better balance. It took years of effort, but I am now fortunate to be in a fantastic work environment where self-care, exercise, taking breaks, and even taking vacations are encouraged and embraced by everyone. I am still living my dream of working in sports, but now I have found a way to do it in a healthy and sustainable way.

 

We know this is a very real concern in the sports industry and it can’t always be easy to prevent it, especially when you’re working for a team or in sports media. Live sports often dictate your schedule and require long hours. Still, we hope that after reading this you’ll recognize the need to prioritize your own mental health and well-being. Those who don’t often end up leaving the industry altogether.


Again, this will likely be a work in progress, an ongoing challenge for the Type-A overachievers that thrive in the sports industry. We get it and we’re right there with you. So please, feel free to share your top tips for avoiding burnout. And remember, no matter what the challenges, you’re awesome and you belong here!


48 views1 comment

Recent Posts

See All

1 Comment


Sorcha O'Donnell
Sorcha O'Donnell
Jul 28, 2023

The struggle is real! Awesome post touching on a really relatable issue, its encouraging to hear that there are so many ways to tackle burnout!

Like
bottom of page