A few weeks ago, I was writing an email when I caught myself mixing up “their” and “there”. Not only that, but I’d also misspelled two other words and left one sentence incomplete.
Well, this is it, I thought. I’ve finally hit the wall. Burned out. Peaked.
This past week, a college friend and I reminisced about our school days: working hard, playing hard, going out every night, and still finding a way to pass our finals. “We were so smart back then,” she sighed. And so energetic. I went home that evening and crawled into bed by eleven, the new default bedtime for my elderly, depreciating self.
So, yes… two years out of college, at the ripe old age of 23, I am now officially over the hill. In the parabolic chronology of life, I’ve already surpassed the tangent point, the point of no return. Just a few years ago, I was juggling five classes, two extracurriculars, a term-time job, and an active social life. Now, I have one job, no classes, and a schedule interspersed with lengthy midday naps. Gone are the days when I could forgo the spell check and formulate coherent sentences on the first try. I can’t quite remember the quadratic formula and I definitely don’t know how to graph parabolas anymore. All I know is that I’ve passed the peak. Pretty soon I’ll be forgetting my own name and calling people “loosers”.
Sadly, we all must go the way of old geezers a la John Madden. (A gem from last night’s Super Bowl: “If you can become a head coach at any age, you can coach when you’re young.” Thanks, John.) A friend recently sent me an email about “Kitchenheimer’s“, the phenomenon “when you’re in the kitchen going around in circles because you can’t remember what you were doing there.” In the email, he wrote, “I bet this happens to you all the time.”
It does. In my defense, I’ll pull an anti-Benjamin Button and blame it on accelerated aging. But for everyone else, I hope you fare better than me. Here’s a roadmap to what the future holds from a work perspective, as you traverse across the x-axis through the parabola of your long and storied career.
(1) Hustlin’: Young, eager, energetic, and bright… full of vitality, ambition, and grandiose ideas.
You are still in this phase if you can do any of the following:
- Make it through a week of work without drinking coffee
- Get really excited about networking, company dinners, and conversations about “synergy”
- Need less than 6 hours of sleep to function
- Start a foundation to save polar bears in your free time
(2) Peaking: Slowing down, spacing out, and taking more bathroom breaks… The only hope is to hover around the top before the rapid freefall.
You may be peaking if you do any of the following:
- Consider work with a combination of bemusement and utter apathy
- Spend at least 15% of your time at work on fantasy football/eBay/Perez Hilton
- Take more than 20 seconds to remember the work you did yesterday
(3) All Downhill From Here: Lethargy, complacency, and embracing monotony… Work has become as exciting as pressing a button every 108 minutes. Boop.
You may be on your way to sloth-ville if you do any of the following:
- Volunteer to be laid off even though no one asked you
- Think daily about pulling a Milton from Office Space
- Derive your greatest joy by stealing something from the office every day
Now, this same graph can be applied to other aspects of life as well: for example, that loving feeling. Just like productivity, acuity, and energy, our loving aptitude should decline as we age. Then again, with technology these days, a trip to the pharmacy can extend the hustler stage and keep you at your peak for much longer… (pun intended).
So, will there ever be such a development for our work lives as well? Can I come back from futility and rid myself of spell check dependence once again? Will the Type-A ambition return? Will quadratics be superseded by cubics? (If you get the last reference, then be assured that you are definitely still hustlin’.)
I’m hoping yes. Forget about Kitchenheimer’s… If John Madden can make it work, then I should at least be able to save some polar bears before it all goes downhill for good.