The dark side of accomplishment
Everyone aims to accomplish something, large or small, and our lives are often driven by a sense of accomplishment. It’s when we make this a core part of our identity that the feeling of excitement and joy can quickly turn to darkness.
I've been trying for a while now to put into words how I felt after 2016. It was a massive year for me, quite a lot happened. I was involved in a bunch of community events as well as personal projects. I am a very lucky person, I have had a lot of opportunity in my life and I work hard to accomplish my goals. Unfortunately this does not shield me from my own shortcomings and the standards that I hold myself to.
Among other things a large part of 2016 was dedicated to organising the inaugural Mixin Conf AKA #Mixin16 💜 (It ran on October 26th). Mixin was the first conference i’d organised and we poured our hearts and souls into creating an event that we could be proud of.
After the conference I was burnt out, there is no denying it. We all worked really hard to bring Mixin to life and after it finished I was exhausted. For a moment I was happy and excited. I had the sense of accomplishment that I desired and seeing the team and the attendees inspired and energised by the event made it even better.
Once it was done and dusted and the speakers had gone home I started to feel ashamed; everyone else was excited and enthused and I wasn't. I felt used up and I had completely lost interest in everything. I believed that after the conference I was supposed to be pumped, ready for more exciting challenges, and because Mixin was a success I felt like I should be feeling on top of the world!
But I didn't.
I was drained, I had absolutely no energy and I was incredibly sad and insecure. This feeling was magnified 10 fold by all the other commitments I had in the lead up to Mixin. I invested a lot of time into putting on the conference, running community events, releasing and writing blogs, mentoring, learning and to top it off, I also changed jobs a couple of months before. All of these things came with their own accomplishments and achievements. But all of this success, which I should have been proud of, was lost somewhere in my burnout.
Of course, post Mixin would have been the ideal time for a break or even a breather but instead I made the mistake of piling more stuff on.
Instead of being excited and happy about my accomplishments I felt empty. It was like the lights were on but no one was home.
I no longer felt any joy about the web or the community. The things I loved and enjoyed all of a sudden made me stressed and anxious. The simplest things became difficult. I lost my enthusiasm to learn and my willingness to share and participate disappeared.
Then I felt guilty.
I had a Meetup group to run, people were asking about Mixin and future events, I had work and I’d made commitments. People had started to have expectations about how I did things, the demands of the community events I was involved with increased, the expectations of the audience changed and things that were once fun became chores. My best was no longer good enough. When I did participate in community events some people started to notice my complete lack of enthusiasm and they would ask if I was okay.
I lied, as you do.
Then I didn't even have the energy for the charade anymore so I started saying that I wasn't okay. People didn’t know what to do with that. We aren’t really prepared to deal the response "I'm not okay" so it was often awkward. I totally understand this and that just made me feel worse, because I felt bad for making people uncomfortable.
I decided that I had clearly overloaded myself so I should make some changes, less work, more "me" time, I actually enjoyed the moments I had, at first. But it didn’t really work, I still felt empty inside. I was deeply sad and getting worse.
It did not matter what I tried. Nothing was pulling me out of the darkness that was suffocating me. It was taking away all the things I loved, all the things that made me who I was.
I had based my self worth and my own belief of who I was around my accomplishments and my involvement in the community. If I wasn’t doing something, who was I? If things weren’t perfect I was a failure. If I didn't know what JS framework was the new hotness I was worthless! I had come to believe that if I wasn’t involved I wouldn’t matter anymore and I’d disappear.
I had decided that my accomplishments were my identity and I was only as good as my last achievement. I had become a ball of insecurities that quickly turned into paranoia. I started to despise everything about myself.
I had set myself up for one hell of a fall and when it happened not only did I hit the metaphorical ground like a tonne of bricks but I dragged the building down as well, just to finish myself off.
This was when that horrible darkness completely engulfed me and any shred of love I had for myself disappeared. Any sense of accomplishment I had was gone. Everything that I had based my worthiness on no longer existed.
I cried a lot, i’d put on my "I'm okay face", I was tired all the time and with every day I hated myself more and more because the less I did the less I achieved and the more of a failure I felt I was. I had created this maze for myself and I couldn’t get out.
I realised that if I didn’t take a step back I wouldn’t survive. I realised it didn’t matter if others thought I was only as good as my last achievement or accomplishment. I came to understand that the passion I poured into the community was not who I was, it was just something I did because I wanted to help and make things better. I believe I achieved that, and encouraged others to step up and improve how they were doing things. This was enough, and I wasn’t required to continue doing it forever.
At this point I was just about ready to quit everything completely. But I didn't do that. Instead I finally let go of this idea that I had to be involved and in control; I took a step back and re-assessed my commitments. I said no to things and I held myself accountable to that.
Not long after I had made these changes (and committed to them) I woke up one day and I didn't feel deeply sad anymore. I knew it was okay to feel sad, and I knew that some of that feeling was still lingering but I also knew that it was time to turn some of the lights back on.
I felt like I'd found part of myself again. I wanted to do things, I had ideas and I wasn’t tired all the time.
I realised I needed to take better care of myself; the same way you work on relationships - you have to work on how you view myself and make sure you're not setting impossible standards or commitments. I realised that who I was, was not dependent on how others viewed me and while this is something I still struggle with daily, I'm definitely in a better place now.
If you are suffering, or you need help, reach out to friends, family or seek professional help (Beyond Blue is a good place to start https://www.beyondblue.org.au). You don’t have to suffer. I am lucky to have such a wonderful and supportive husband and a very smart and kind friend. Without them I would have never found my way.
Thanks to my husband Ray, your support and love is a gift.
Thanks to Amy, Ben and Phuong who stepped up to help out so I could have a break.
Thanks to the web, for always changing and moving forward.
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Other posts:Being a better person › The collective workplace › Community and culture › My experience in accessibility › People creativity and the web › Thinking outside the div › The only bad question is the one you didn't ask › Chapter One: Overflow Hidden ›
Contact me on Twitter @mandy_kerr, or email me