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Burn Bright, Don’t Burn Out

By Ashley Noseworthy


There is a deep irony as I sit here and write this article, glass of wine in hand, going through another cycle of burnout. This one is rough. Lots happening in life—moving and shaking, with not enough hours in the day. I have given this article a lot of thought over the past month, and I think it’s best to start from the beginning . . . 


My first dance with burnout, and I mean near-clinical, was when I was 17. I know, I know. Looking back as a middle-aged woman (I hate that term), I laugh. However, it was no joke at the time. I was in grade 12 and trying to do it all. From school to extra courses to student council, the cheerleading squad, the soccer team, the curling team, volunteering, and working. No wonder I would wake up every morning, be physically sick, and think, “Well, it’s just another day,” like it was normal. And while I tend to rarely use that word, normal, there is nothing homeostatic about vomiting every morning from exhaustion. I thought, “if I just push a little bit harder,” “if I just get through today, then I can relax.” If you’re reading this, I hope you chuckled, because no one on this planet has thought that and actually relaxed.

How did I overcome my situation? My mother (single mom, raised three of us on her own— - total superwoman) gathered the funds and brought us all on our first holiday abroad. It was a week in Cuba, and I lay by a pool and slept and felt at total ease. It reset me in a way I wasn’t aware I needed. It was an extreme and expensive version of self-care. She told me later that year that had I not gone on that trip, she was considering putting me in hospital for exhaustion. Here’s the kicker—I was commended by acquaintances and teachers for always working hard, putting myself forward, being dedicated, and committed. All to the detriment of my well-being.


Skip back to the summer between the third and fourth year of my undergraduate degree. Working at a cold-ocean research facility during the day (because it’s what I loved, and ultimately turned into a career), then busting my butt to get to my bartending job for another eight hours to make tips and pay for university. I was determined to leave my first degree with no debt, and I nearly destroyed myself in the process. But again, it wasn’t just the two jobs, it was also the million other extracurricular things I was involved with. The things you love but that can turn sour quickly as they steal time from you, and you eventually have no more to give.


I remember being late for a few shifts to my day job, always so incredibly apologetic and hard on myself with a very toxic inner monologue, “Ashley—do better. Be better.” My boss found some solo time during a daily task and asked me if I was all right. It was from a place of concern. No judgment, no lecture about employee responsibility, just genuine human interaction. I broke down a little and explained how tired I was. He understood, never judged, was firm, professional, but ever understanding. He taught me a lot that summer—about compassion and kindness.


I rode out my ridiculous schedule, pulled back on a few obligations, and claimed back more of myself. It was the first time I began to set boundaries around what I could possibly fit into my schedule while also taking care of myself. It was also my first realization that my most valuable currency was time. Which leads me to my first few points.


Time is a finite resource.


It is the currency of life, with value far beyond money. What you do with your time is your decision, but ultimately, if you try to do too much and use it all up, you have nothing saved for yourself. We live in a world of toxic positivity where we are measured by our actions and possessions. What do you do and what do you have? Do not confuse this with success or achievement. At the end of the day, if you’re lying on the couch totally exhausted, unable to enjoy the small moments in life, what do all of the accolades matter?


Balance is the true measure of success.


This one isn’t meant to make anyone feel bad. Hell, I’m near in tears thinking about how far I am away from the median right now. Balance is different for all. But to have enough in the proverbial tank for ourselves, for a career, and for those that require us (family, friends, acquaintances)—that’s true bliss right there. The needle will always sway, it will never stay centred. The goal is to not let it sway too far in a particular direction for too long.


Boundaries are key.


Do you too have trouble saying no? If so, we should form a club! Whether it comes from a fear of missing out on an opportunity or an experience, or feeling obligated by other life forces, I am always struggling to set better boundaries. And make no mistake, if you let yourself go too far down the road of burnout, those boundaries will set themselves for you.

For the next decade, from that moment during my undergrad to the time I started my business, my burnout phases ebbed and flowed, but overall, I did well. I worked offshore for long periods of time—12 hours a day for weeks on end—it didn’t faze me. I genuinely enjoyed it. My master’s degree proved more difficult. I moved continents, I took on a part-time job, I did a little too much, stretched myself too thin. Are you seeing the pattern? Even I see the pattern, and I know the answers. It’s the follow-through, the pull-back, the implementation that’s the hard part.


Then I started my own business. “Because that’s always been known to strike balance in lives,” she says sarcastically. I love what I do. I wouldn’t be here unless I did. However, the cycle has come round again, and this time it’s extra bananas. Not only is business busy, but life has also thrown a few curve balls. These are happy ones. Getting engaged and planning a wedding is a happy time, but add an international partner to the mix and it’s my own version of 90-Day Fiancé. Which leads me to my next few points.


Prioritize!


Life will always throw curve balls (happy or sad or downright frustrating). For me to tell you to be prepared is ridiculous. That’s the beauty and chaos of life: unpredictability. We all have our list of what’s most important to us. This is about prioritizing YOU. You are an asset. So ensure you take care of the asset. I’m not about to sit here and write down all the things to do for self-care. Right now, I’m doing none of them, but I know how to find my way back, and that’s the key. If you know the way back to centre, you have a plan for betterment.


What fulfills you?


I ask this as a genuine question, so pause and think a moment. It’s likely to be a combination of things, and it changes through life. Sit; write it down. Keep it close and reflect on it during a quiet moment every now and then. Check in with yourself to ensure you’re at least doing one thing in your life that fulfills you. Even if all you can manage is the smallest of things, that’s still a win.


Lean! Hard!


This is a tough one for me. Leaning on those around you doesn’t come innately. I’m a do-it-myself kinda girl. That’s not a brag; that’s an undesirable trait. It’s taken many years and overwhelming moments to get to a point where I could ask for help from those around me, and you know what I learned? People want to help. In times of need, lean in. Delegate where you can (a skill I’m still learning), and be honest and human in your approach. People understand. They relate. And if they don’t, see my point on boundaries above.


So how does this end?


How do I close the loop of burnout and promise myself never to return? How do I get to a place of existential bliss? (I hope you laughed because I wrote that with ALL the sarcasm). I don’t. It’s not realistic. I try not to make those types of promises to myself anymore. Life will shift like the tides. It’s the constant in the chaos. But I can do a much better job of recognizing the signs, veering less off course each time, and implementing all those points I made above. I really strove for perfection when I was younger; the thought revolts me now. It’s impossible and boring and unrelatable. Be real about where you are in your journey of happiness, tiredness, burnout, and exhaustion. You can have all at the same time—I’m speaking from experience.


The point is that we move forward every day, small steps some days, giant leaps on others. That we recognize our passions and joys in life. It’s the spark behind our eyes that makes us burn bright. So do that—strive to burn bright, not burn out, because we are all so much more beautiful in the light.



Ashley Noseworthy is the CEO and founder of Edgewise Environmental—a certified, women-owned marine environmental consultancy focused on marine mammals, sea birds, and anthropogenic noise mitigation solutions. She holds an MSc in international marine environmental consulting from Newcastle University, a master’s certificate in project management from York University, and a BSc in biology from Memorial University. Ashley has spent over a decade at sea, working offshore on some of the largest energy projects in the world, including West Africa, the Arabian Gulf, the Arctic, and Eastern Canada. She is the 2022 recipient of the NLOWE Trailblazer Award and named one of the Top 100 Inspirational Female Founders of Ocean and Energy 2023 by the Ocean Opportunity Lab. Ashley is a fierce advocate of women in STEM and of breaking down boundaries in non-traditional roles. 

 

Contact Ashley at Edgewise Environmental Ltd., (709)770-0492, www.edgewiseenvironmental.com.



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