How to Overcome the Millennial Architect Burnout

For those of you who had been with me since 2011 when I first started this blog, you might’ve noticed I’ve stopped blogging for over a year. Blame it on moving around a lot, working 70 hours a week, dealing with family issues...

Well, the truth is I was having a massive burnout - I know that’s something we all face from time to time.

For those of you who had been with me since 2011 when I first started Just an Intern, you might’ve noticed I’ve stopped blogging for over a year. Blame it on moving around a lot, working 70 hours a week, dealing with family issues...  Well, the truth is I was having a massive burnout - I know that’s something we all face from time to time. Read more on the Millennial Architect Blog.  | Joann Lui

I had to stop everything in my life including blogging to barely get ahold of my workload. Basically my work life balance was just not there. I realized after a long year of burnout that maybe you're feeling the same like I did.

  • You love what you do, but you start to feel taken advantage of at work.

  • You drink more coffee than your body can take, but you’re still lacking energy everyday.

  • You become easily irritated and impatient with people around you - it could be co-workers, clients or even your friends and family.

  • You dream about piles and piles of fabric samples piling up in your little apartment. (Yes it happened to me just last night).

  • Your head keeps spinning about work when you’re trying to fall asleep in bed.

I can go on and on, but the point is we all experience a burnout in one way or the other. And I want to help you overcome it because you deserve to actually enjoy the job and profession that you worked so hard for.

How I fell into a massive burnout

I started to suffer from tiredness all the time. This is not the kind you get from lack of sleep like you were in architectural school. I’d sleep 12 hours on the weekend to “catch up” on my sleep and yet still feel exhausted throughout the day.

I became a very negative person. This past year I've gone through major family and personal problems that threw me into depression and anxiety everyday. There were so much in my head that I had to take melatonin to fall asleep even when I was exhausted after getting home at midnight from work.

I stopped taking care of myself. Long gone are the days hitting hot yoga every day, or even eating a decent home cook dinner.

I feel like Revit was my one and only best friend. Instead of socializing, hanging out with my friends, or even just going to happy hour with coworkers, I was always just Reviting away.

I started to ignore my family. When my life wasn’t overwhelmed, I’d facetime with my parents in HK every day. Now? I couldn’t even bring myself to answer a text.

I failed my ARE exam. I've always been good at passing exams. So when I failed SPD a couple months ago - the first exam I ever failed in my life, I had a mini panic attack. That's when I realized I need to make a change. (Oh, and by the way, maybe you are struggling with your exams too… No worries! I’ll be sharing my experience through these exams soon, so be sure to subscribe if you haven’t already!)

“We’ve no kids to pick up from school, but we still need to live our life outside of architecture." - Click to Tweet

5 Steps to Overcoming your Burnout

Now you might’ve been like me, grinding away long hours and falling more and more into a burnout everyday. But we’re all in this together.

1. Stop being so perfect

If there's one thing in common of all architects - we are all perfectionist. We want those lines to be perfectly aligned, the Revit model to be perfectly organized and the entourage to have perfect shadows in Photoshop.

Stop it.

We will never be the perfect drafter, the best renderer, or the smoothest client negotiator. Because we simply can’t and shouldn’t spend 24/7 perfecting a rendering. That CD set is not going to be perfect; that’s why there are RFIs and submittals (and sometimes change orders).

I am not saying don’t do your job. Do it as best as you can without stressing out. A lot of time this is not your fault. It could be a client decision, a lack of staffing or there is simply just too much work and not enough time.

So first - shift your mindset from “I have to make it perfect.” to “I have done my best.”

2. Find your creative outlet

There are a couple things I love other than architecture - writing, branding, marketing and organizing. I started this blog as my creative outlet from my first job.

Let's face it. Real life architecture isn’t as fun as what we imagined in school. You'll need to find your creativity in other means to fulfill your soul.

Here’s a few ideas to start you off!

  • Design your own personal brand

  • Go learn about photography…

  • Join a competition with some of your friends

Do that one thing you love that you keep pushing off. For me, it's blogging that encompasses both my passion for writing, branding, marketing and architecture - and may be one day organizing!

3. Go eat a donut

You know that person in your office that’s always happy and smiling? You’re probably wondering why the hell is she so cheerful.

We have one here in the office. She seems like she has no worries in her life. She is always the passionate leader that’s cheering everyone on in her team. She’s always smiling no matter how much work we have to do.

Well, I found the secret (and all I had to do was go ask her).

“When you get older like me, you'll realize that taking a little break isn't going to kill anyone. All those deadlines will always get done one way or the other. So go eat a donut, go out for lunch, go to the gym. Believe that yourself and your team will get it done and it will be okay.”

That changed my perspective not only in architecture - but in life.

As we all know, it's architecture - not medicine. Taking a break isn’t going to kill anyone!

I encourage you today to step outside of your office, your studio, or wherever you’re working from. Go eat a donut, or pizza, or ice cream, or whatever. I won’t judge.

Just go out. Take a break. Breathe. It’ll get done - I promise.

4. Trust your team

You’re hitting a major deadline, and your boss gives you 6 not so experienced team members to help.

That’s good right? At least you’re getting help.

Well as it turns out....

  1. You’ve to get them familiar with this super complicated project.

  2. You’ve to teach them Revit which they know nothing about.

  3. You’re also teaching them how to do anything in a CD set.

  4. You’re answering SO MANY questions that you can’t even focus on your own work.

Sounds familiar? That was me last year. I was struggling so much between meeting the impossible deadline  and help them do their work that at one point I just wanted to give up.

But instead what I did changed everything.

I let go.

It took a lot for me to finally let go and trust that they can do it. Let’s just say I stopped being a control freak. (Stop being so perfect remember?)

Architecture is a team effort. You alone won’t build a building by yourself. If you can’t let it go and  trust your team, you won’t have a team.

You will be surprised what they can do when you give them freedom and guidance.

5. Go home

When was the last time you left on time from your job? When was the last time you left your studio before 2am?

The true moment I really stopped feeling burnout was when I started going home on time.

Believe me - it’s so hard to do. When I work normal hours I feel like I'm slacking off. When I'm in my bed at 11pm, I feel like I should've just left work.

Work life balance isn’t easy for architects especially those of us who are single, young, super eager to learn and do more.

Stop that guilty feeling in you that you need to keep working forever.

Stop the evil voice that’s telling you staying late means you’re getting more work done. (because really you’re not.)

Stop that mentality they embedded in us in architectural school.

Just Stop It.

Even though we’ve no kids to pick up from school, we still need to live our life outside of architecture.

So there you have it. Start shifting your mindset. All architects are workaholics - that’s how we got through architectural school.

Sometimes we are just so freaking obsessed with work that we slowly get burnt out without realizing it. But for all the hard work you put in, you deserve to have a healthy fulfilling life too.

Before you do anything else, today I want to just ask you to do ONE simple step…


Got your Pen and Paper ready? Okay...

I want you to write down a daily affirmation in your sketchbook (I know you have one).

It can be anything like I’ll be less of a perfectionist. I’m going home at 6pm. I’ll have lunch outside in the sun...

Sound weird? Try it anyway. I know your sketchbook is the most sacred place in the world - write it there so no one else can see it. Try it for 3 days, then comment below and let me know how it goes.

It’s a little practice I started with myself that changed my mindsets completely.

You can do it. You just gotta tell yourself you can.

Then go eat a donut (ok that’s two steps).

All the other steps will come with it.

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