The Effects of Burnout by Callum Underwood
Posted: 9 Sep 2022
Callum Underwood wrote a tweet thread about his burnout, and has kindly agreed to have it published on our website as one of our industry stories.
I’ve been off Twitter since February, and wanted to give some insight as to what’s happened, since I basically just disappeared.
In short: I burnt out, hard, but I’m ok. I’ve left Robot Teddy for my health. I’m not sure many will care, but it is perhaps cathartic to write some things down.
After a week of daily panic attacks (and months of struggle), I informed the teams at Robot Teddy, Thunderful, and IndieBI that I would be taking some extended leave to figure some stuff out. I’d done too much for too long – and it caught up with me. I was CEO of Robot Teddy, CSO of IndieBI, and doing consulting on the side.
I felt unstoppable, and enjoyed piling more onto my plate. My better friends warned me, but I ignored them, I thought I knew what I was doing.
Two to three weeks off turned into two to three months, turned into six to seven months without working. What I thought was a mental health break turned into a full breakdown followed by months of burnout, and attempts to repair my brain and body. I became a hermit from the industry.
When I took time off I had developed IBS (helped by not eating much), was having panic attacks (helped with meds), consistent anxiety
(sort of helped by meds), along with daily headaches and occasional palpitations. I was in constant fight or flight mode. RSD in overdrive.
To talk more about the burnout – everything became a trigger. Decisions which were easy six months ago became major points of anxiety. I had stopped working for fun and was working to not drown, and I was drowning hard. I had a very illuminating conversation with a friend about burnout a few days before I stopped working.
It helped… so much to put things in perspective, and gave a label to the various mental and physical issues I was experiencing. It’s one reason I took things seriously.
During my time off – I spent a LOT of time with my wife and kids (two – aged 6 & 3). It blew my mind how busy I became with family and village life, and more than anything showed me how much I’d been missing by working so much. Seems obvious in hindsight. I was juggling so much at work, and genuinely enjoying almost every aspect of it (my management skills leave a lot to be desired, I believe). I just lost sight of what was a normal workload, and was always chasing the next win.
Over Christmas I negotiated a deal which covered key staff salaries for 3 years. I lasted literally a day before thinking “what’s next? Need another win”. Looking back, I’m kind of disgusted with myself. I couldn’t even give myself 24 hours of celebration before I moved on.
So… I burnt out, hard. Spent 7 months trying to fix my brain (therapy, touching grass, avoiding any and all work-related things (including twitter)), and body. Not surprisingly, the IBS chilled out a LOT, and the headaches and panic attacks stopped. I told Thunderful that although I had recently been acquired by them with Robot Teddy, I needed to leave for my own health. To their credit, they’ve been nothing but consistently kind about it. Robot Teddy is literally named after my dogs. I never thought I’d sell, never mind leave.
It’s very bittersweet – my clients were mostly people I’ve known for years, and I grew very close with them. The fact that all of them said congratulations when I said I was leaving to look after myself says a lot I think. It’s no secret most my self validation came from my work. To wrap up; I’ve left Robot Teddy, I’m going to work on IndieBI 2-3 days a week, do some small solo consulting, and most importantly, make sure I pick up and drop off my kids at school every day, and spend more time with family.
Finally – one regret was always being too busy to say yes to people who could have really used a yes, and not taking enough time to focus on what’s important.