“Whatever you’re feeling, be good to yourself. If you feel lost, be patient with yourself while you find your way. If you feel scared, be gentle with yourself while you find the strength to face your fear. If you feel hurt, be kind to yourself while you grieve and slowly heal. You can’t bully yourself into clarity, courage, or peace, and you can’t rush self-discovery or transformation. Some things simply take time, so take the pressure off and give yourself space to grow.”

– Lori Deschene

The year 2020 was a transformative year for the majority of the world.  As society shutdown and quarantining was implemented, many of us needed to adjust to a new reality for the unforeseeable future.  Economic hardships, a mysterious virus, stress, and loneliness wreaked havoc on many individuals.  Essential workers, the heroes that kept our society running, were faced with potentially stressful work environments due to the highly contagious Covid-19 virus along with a demanding workload.  While the occurrence of workplace burnout throughout the Covid-19 pandemic is well documented, I had a very different experience.  For the first time in a long time, despite everything around me, I felt peace.  The pandemic granted me the opportunity to connect with someone that I neglected for years, myself.

Before the Covid-19 pandemic, I was an Athletic Performance Coach at a Division 1 institution in California.  I was passionate about my role as a performance coach as it allowed me the ability to live out my life’s purpose in my everyday work, mentoring future generations.  Collegiate coaching is a career that comes with many cons; job insecurity, long hours, travel, lack of financial compensation, high workloads, and challenges in career advancement just to name a few.  We were encouraged to have a “no days off” mentality, making sick days, vacations, and attending distant family functions nearly impossible.  Despite these cons, I loved my job as it gave me access to hundreds of student-athletes, who I trained, mentored, inspired, and loved with all my heart.  The unrelenting passion I felt for my job combined with the lack of a supportive work environment pushed me into a state of constant burnout.

Leading up to the pandemic I was working 65 hours per week between two jobs while simultaneously pursuing my Masters of Public Health full-time.  I was in a state of constant fatigue, continuously feeling drained and over worked.  If I was not at work, I was studying or doing homework.  My grades were slipping despite my best efforts, I was constantly sleepy at work, I rarely had time for myself, nor did I have the energy to maintain my relationships with my family members and friends which I hold very dear.  The scariest thing is that I internally normalized these occurrences, seeing them as necessary sacrifices on the road to success.

From a young, age we are taught the importance of working hard and how a sound work ethic can forge a path towards success.  I feel this holds more weight for Black Americans, as we are taught by family the need to work exponentially harder in comparison to our white counterparts just to achieve the same or similar levels of success.  Structures such as racial hierarchies and patriarchal lines make it significantly harder for certain communities to achieve success, creating structural inequities along our journey towards success.   As a Black man, I always felt the need to sacrifice in order to be on a level playing field with others.  Strong work ethics and passion will cause individuals to take on more work than they can handle, work unpaid overtime, and sacrifice other potential important aspects of their personal lives all for the sake of success.  We are not proportionally taught the importance of rest and how neglecting it can be detrimental to our health, nor are we equally allowed the opportunity to rest.

During the pandemic, I was fortunate enough to receive pay while working remotely.  I use the word working lightly due to athletics coming to a standstill, making the work I needed to do minimal.  For the first time since I graduated with my undergraduate degree, I possessed a manageable schedule.  The notion of availability was an unfamiliar one and I quickly realized how little I’ve indulged in my hobbies in the past seven years.  Previously I drew pictures, played video games, read books leisurely, played sports, and much more, but now these activities seem so distant and unfamiliar.  The pandemic provided me the time to rest, connect with the new Jay, and process the environment around me.

Alongside the pandemic, the murder of George Floyd occurred and protests erupted nationwide.  I am disappointed to say previously I would choose my own survival and ignore such occurrences, seeing them as “normal.”  The pandemic allowed me the ability to digest these reoccurring events and truly internalize how detrimental this hatred is to the BIPOC community.  I felt ashamed for ignoring the plight of my people for so long, being too emersed in my own reality to lift a finger and help create immediate change.  For the first time I was able to realize the anger, frustration, and overwhelming fear for my mortality that these inequities created.  These emotions are crucial aspects of myself that I needed to figure out and learn to harness as a Black man.  This new reality gave me much insight into changes that I must make and granted me a clearer direction in what I wanted to accomplish in my lifetime.  I read multiple books about Black history such as the autobiography of Malcolm X and Carter G. Woodson’s “The Mis-Education of the Negro” which sparked a fire in me to do more for my people.  Additionally, I prioritized important relationships that I neglected for years, relationships with my family, friends, and myself.  The pandemic allowed me the time and space to evolve and cultivate a new outlook on life.

I realize my experience throughout the pandemic was abnormal and is in no way reflective of the reality created for the masses.  Many did not have the ability nor means to rest and potentially felt more burned out than ever.  We rarely are supported by our employers and encouraged to take care of ourselves and the things dearest to us.  The pandemic highlighted the occurrence of workplace burnout in essential workers which has created a push for workplace self-care policies.  Workplace policies and culture should embrace the phenomenon known as “work-life balance” to best prevent burnout and simultaneously boost productivity.  If such policies were present during my tenure as a coach, I would have had the ability to maintain healthy relationships with my loved ones and spend quality time with myself.  Employers encouraging staff members to take breaks, mental health days, spend time with their loved ones, and vacations should be heavily incentivized practices in all work environments.  Additionally, organizations should utilize proven means of creating less stressful work environments to protect their staff members from burning out.  Colorful work environments, office instructed yoga sessions, less harsh office lighting, workplace green spaces, and the provision of healthy snacks are all proven means of boosting employee happiness.  With a bit of guidance and care, I believe we can normalize the phenomenon known as “work-life balance” and prevent workplace burnouts, and reclaim our time to connect with ourselves.

By Associate Project Manager and HOP Intern, Jayvon Moore, for HOP’s series of monthly staff blog posts.