Íse Murphy

Quitting burnout

My career began in major events, after earning my events management degree and building my event experience, with London 2012 Olympic & Paralympic Games. I loved it. I loved the buzz, the team work, the excitement of all working towards one goal. I didn’t for one moment consider the impact it would have on both my mental and physical health.

I also didn’t care.

I was there to prove myself, to prove I was the hardest worker, the most dedicated professional, so I could be selected for the next event. I came in early, left late and routinely worked weekends.

That seems to be the life of working in events; often we are expected to work long hours – but the balance lies in that it’s short lived (if we freelance on contracts). Once the Olympics and Paralympics were over, those who worked on it could rest for as long as we wanted until we took on our next contract.

Still, even with the opportunity to rest after every event, I found myself unable to sleep through the night, my mind racing about things that seemed so important at the time. During the day I felt scattered and shaky. My mind and body could never fully rest.

In every city I lived in, I joined a gym, signed up to whatever healthy eating diet was around at the time, meditated and took Pilates classes to stem this uncomfortable feeling in my body.

By the time I finished another major sport event a few years later, I immediately flew to the Middle East to start work on a contract the very next day. It was too much — my body and mind dug their heels in and wanted to stop. Yet I had agreed to work on another major event the following year, and it was that experience which pushed me further over any personal edge I thought existed (working through the night with no sleep only days before the event). My body was so stressed it stopped functioning normally.

So I quit work for the rest of that year.

After years of punishing (and rewarding) work, I took time out to be with myself, my mind, my body. This time for reflection allowed me to see how cruel I was being to myself. I forced myself to work when I was clearly putting my health at risk.

All for what? So an event can happen? What are we, martyrs?

That year, I promised myself I would never put my health at risk again. Instead I would use the skills I learned and incorporate them into my life to bring balance – meditation, mindfulness, Pilates, healthy eating, time spent in nature, cycles of rest and time alone, less coffee/alcohol etc. I even began training as a Pilates teacher as it improved my mental and physical health in such a powerful but gentle way, I wanted to deepen my study of it and share with others.

However, a few years later, I broke my own promise.

I started what I thought was my dream job, but what I found instead, was burnout.

As this was a full time job, the balance of rest after a period of intensity didn’t really exist. The events were relentless, one after the other, month after month. We were expected to work every event. I found myself trying to fit in by coming in early and leaving late. My body was angry at me and I could feel my stomach turning as I forced myself to work in a way I no longer agreed with.

I had openly advocated for boundaries between work and home, taking time to rest, and working efficiently, but found myself not even actioning my own beliefs.

I became angry, resentful, and I knew why. Anger is an alerting system to let us know our boundaries are being crossed and I was the one crossing them. I was not in agreement with this way of working yet I continued to partake in it. So I had a choice — either accept the status quo or bow out.

I curtsied and exited stage left.

It was a choice that made itself, as my body would shake and shudder as I tried to overrule it and continue working. (What I found out years later, when reading Gabor Mate’s Myth of Normal, that staying in a “bad” job is worst for our health than having no job.)

At first I felt sad and defeated, that this job was what I thought I always wanted, and it turned out to be far from what I dreamed. As I reflected, I realised what unfolded could only ever have gone this way and what this job did give me was the greatest gift possible: I no longer needed to prove myself, to anyone.

The only way I can describe this feeling is as if shackles have been lifted off my body and I am free to move around without watching for anyone catching me out. I didn’t need to break myself to prove my worthiness or commitment.

Prioritising health over burnout can be seen across the globe. In China there is the Tang Ping (lying flat) movement. One of my favourite authors, Cal Newport, discusses the benefit of deep work and career downsizing (Newport, 2021). Burnout has become so prevalent that globally it’s costing $300 billion annually and the World Health Organisation is predicted to class it as a pandemic within this decade (Bretland and Thorsteinsson, 2015). There is a quiet movement of people worldwide waking up to the reality that what we have accepted as way of living and working is not conducive to a fulfilling and joyful life.

So I left the job to prioritise being over doing.

No doubt there is always something for me to do, however in balancing the need to financially care for myself, I wanted to create space to be.

Doing nothing is hard work. When we hit the brakes on the high octane life we were living, the hamster wheel in our minds keep whirring for a while. The little gremlins on my shoulder didn’t know what to do with all this space and tried to convince me I needed to do something, so I gave my mind a toy to allow myself to stop and unwind. These toys can be anything to occupy the mind so we get a break. I started studying Human Design, I wrote, and practiced and taught Pilates.

Decisions like these are not easy to make and change the trajectory of our lives, but I believe they are important if we want to improve the quality of our lives. It’s a message to ourselves to say ‘I accept myself for who I am and I am making a decision to prioritise my health so I may be of better service to myself, others and this world’

Taking a decision such as this is a step in the direction of kindness towards ourselves and ultimately others as the way we currently live and work in this relentless society can be described as cruel.

I believe the way we change the world for the better is to change how we treat ourselves. “Hurt people hurt people” and so forth. If we want more balance in the world, we need to find balance in our lives. If we want more kindness in the world, we need to be more kind to ourselves. If we want to stop judgment and cruelty in this world, we need to stop judging and being cruel to ourselves.

"If a single leaf on a tree changes colour, the whole tree is no longer the same"

By take a decision in your life to bring more balance and kindness will not only help you, but inspire those you care about to find the confidence in themselves to also do the same.

And I believe that is how we change the world.


Bretland, R. J. & Thorsteinsson, E. B. Reducing workplace burnout: the relative benefits of cardiovascular and resistance exercise. Peerj 3, e891 (2015).

Newport, C. Why Are So Many Knowledge Workers Quitting. The New Yorker (2021).

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#inner safety #self care