Our Beating Burnout blog shares the real life burnout stories of real people. We focus on how burnout impacted them, how they overcame it and what advice they would give people to prevent it.
In January 2022 we sat down and spoke with Jasmin. Here is Jasmin’s story…
Can you tell me a little bit about yourself?
I’m Jasmin, the CEO and Co-founder of deidei.
We’re a diversity, equity and inclusion consulting agency that supports organisations with their DEI journeys. I studied international politics at university and have a background in communications and marketing. I have been working in the DEI space for the past 4 years.
I was born in Tampere, Finland, to a mixed family – I'm a “third culture kid”. And I love dogs. One visited our office earlier today and it was the best thing ever!
Can you let me know what happened in your situation?
It started early on in my life. At school, I was known as a “kympin tyttö”.
[A note from Stef: “kympin tyttö” doesn’t have a direct English translation but it means something like “the girl who scores 10s” i.e. an overachiever.]
Since then, once I have achieved something, I have to quickly move on to the next challenge. I am also someone who likes to be involved in lots of activities at the same time. At school I worked at a cafe, at university I worked at Ikea and when I began working I was still writing my final university thesis. This behaviour is not just the result of my own characteristics. My experiences as a marginalised person in the Finnish society has shaped the way I think, feel and act.
Growing up as a woman and a person of colour, from a cultural and ethnic marginalised background, has meant that I have had to deal with a lot of minority stress throughout my entire life. Discrimation, gaslighting, tone-policing and structural inequalities have been commonplace for me – and this has been exhausting. Navigating this throughout school and university was difficult enough. Unfortunately, when I entered the working world it didn’t get any easier.
A couple of years back, I ended up with really bad burnout. I don’t know how to quite explain it, but it was like all the little streams all came together to make a much bigger river. My learned need to overachieve, being involved in lots of activities at the same time, the minority stress I have faced my entire life, difficult company cultures, the pandemic, these were all of the little streams. The much bigger river was my burnout.
Is there anything else you remember about that time?
Yes. The strange thing is that my burnout symptoms did not appear until a few months after entering a new, safer working environment. Before then, I must have been in survival mode. It wasn’t until I felt safe again that I started to feel the cumulative effects of the experiences I had gone through.
I remember starting my work, one day in summer some years back. As I opened my laptop and started touching the touchpad, my hands were shaking and I was crying about everything. I couldn’t open Slack. Every part of my body was preventing me from working, both emotionally and physically. Every obstacle that came my way felt super heavy. I was having trouble speaking and remembering things. My cognitive function had been severely affected. It had gotten that bad.
Eventually, I called a doctor and was given sick leave immediately. I was tired all of the time, no matter how long I slept for and I remember thinking: “will I ever be the same?” The symptoms didn’t go away immediately, even during my sick leave. Thankfully, most of my symptoms have now gone away.
I’ve been managing my burnout for the last few years. The recovery does take longer than the time you get for sick leave, so when you return to work you also need to make sure that you are working in a more sustainable way, and that the culture around you is much healthier.
What are you doing to successfully manage your burnout?
Unfortunately, most of the tools I did use were taken away during the pandemic. But regular exercise, like yoga, has been really helpful for me.
This might sound twisted, but becoming an entrepreneur has also been a tool that has helped me recover from my burnout. Sure, it can be really challenging at times, but the freedom and autonomy I now have has made my recovery much easier. For starters, I am more in control of the environment I operate in. It’s psychologically safe and I have been able to play a big part in that. This has felt extremely liberating.
Have you been able to address your “kympin tyttö” mindset?
Trust me, I’ve tried. But I have come to the conclusion that it is a typical gender role that many women internalise at a very early stage in society. My marginalised ethnic minority background has also created more levels of it. I have felt like I have had to work twice as hard in order to be qualified, taken seriously, or even just accepted.
I am still decoding these internalised conceptions that I have had since I was a child. It’s continuous work for me. I am making progress, but at the same time, society and working life has to evolve too.
Is there anything in your story that you wish would have gone differently for you?
I wish I would have had tools and knowledge at an earlier stage, to recognize situations where my experiences had been gas-lit, minimised or questioned. Often in situations where I raised structural issues, I ended up being viewed as the ‘difficult woman of colour.’
To be in those situations creates psychological unsafety and is emotionally exhausting.
[A note from Stef: I asked Jasmin what being gas-lit meant. She told me that it’s when someone makes the other person question their own reality. It’s a very subtle way of manipulation. For example, if I were to tell my manager that I think I experienced some racism. They might say that it was only a joke and I shouldn’t take it too seriously.]
What advice would you give people to prevent burnout?
If you belong to an underrepresented group, find inclusive leaders who will act as your allies when work becomes difficult. These are people who will stand in solidarity with you and are committed to building inclusivity with you. Through my own experiences this is one of the key factors that has helped me manage my own burnout. Now, I am lucky to be constantly surrounded by people with whom I feel psychologically safe.
How can you identify these people?
That’s a good but also a very hard question. For me those people have been the ones who have an ability to reflect on their own actions, receive feedback openly, learn new things, unlearn old things, recognise and mitigate their biases, and stay accountable.
Anything else you want to add?
I really want to send out a message to all leaders and emphasise that inclusion, equity and psychological safety are important components in preventing burnout. They are not mutually exclusive. They all contribute to one another.
We need to speak more about how to manage the long term effects of burnout and how we can change the way companies work so burnout doesn’t happen in the first place.
For as long as unsustainable working practices, unsustainable ways of looking at efficiency, and toxic leadership exist - burnout will always be a problem.
If you felt inspired by Jasmin’s story, or just want to say thanks, you can.