Dear Zaria: How do I deal with burnout while searching for a climate-oriented job?

Dear Zaria: How do I deal with burnout while searching for a climate-oriented job?

I graduated college this spring with majors in Environmental Studies and English, and I’m struggling with burnout and disillusionment with the job search.

There’s the stress of finding/applying to jobs, the stress of not being/feeling qualified (where does one get the first years of experience if nobody will hire them?!), and then the climate stress on top of it all, making me feel like nothing I do is enough and none of the jobs are making a big enough difference.

I know that climate change is not something I alone have to solve, obviously, but it has to be solved (passive voice alert) somehow. Add onto this a personal cocktail of disability that makes computer work depressingly tedious but physical work painful, and I’ve been in existential limbo for a good year trying to figure out my future.

This is not me asking for someone else to do my job search; I just worry that if I can’t find a job in climate, I will use up all my “spoons” at work and won’t have time for climate work and will feel stressed/guilty about that. I’d love to work at a bookstore, but I worry I’m “giving up” by not having a more explicitly climate-focused job.

So, I guess, TLDR: I’m struggling with disability and not “doing enough” to fight climate change and it’s hindering my “career.”

Dear Readers,

This feels like a particularly timely topic.

It's now become widely known and accepted news that the job market is in a frenzy.

Many people are experiencing the feelings and emotions you are; it’s frustrating trying to find a job, let alone one that allows you to live out your purpose. Understandably, you may feel overwhelmed while navigating these feelings amidst transition and change.

I want to say this first: by simply caring about the environment and allowing this value to guide your decisions in life, you are doing enough for the movement, whether you land a climate-oriented role or not.

To repeat: you are enough, just as you are.

As a recent college graduate living in our current social climate, I'm sure it feels like a no-brainer that your workplace should reflect your intimately-held principles and beliefs. There are so many social causes to rally behind and invest in — why shouldn't you work somewhere that cares about what's happening in the world or being a good ally?

And, for many of us who care about the environment, it feels important to be in careers that encourage and motivate us to achieve the sort of change we so desperately want to see in the world. It may even seem like this is the ideal thing to do and the way to combine passion, purpose, and skill.

But, should we score a purpose-aligned role, this doesn't mean that the threat of burnout might not be there — in fact, you might feel more burnt out working in a purpose-oriented role simply because you're emotionally invested.

Or, you might lose the spark you once felt for activism. Now, along with all your other job responsibilities, it feels like work — something you now associate with deadlines and meetings instead of community and love.

I say all this to say: do what works for you.

Maybe that looks like existing peacefully in a non-climate-oriented role that leaves you with enough time and energy to focus on advocacy after work hours.

That job at the bookstore might even give you the stability, and power you need, to channel into climate activism without feeling drained or guilty.

We can seldom predict how taking on a new role will affect us. So, it's always easier to prioritize what feels aligned with where we are currently in life and our needs — physically, financially, spiritually, or otherwise.

Any contribution to the climate movement is a win, whether talking about the environment is your day job or not. No donation to efforts addressing the climate crisis is ever too small.

Good luck to you on your search and journey. May you find the proper role, with plenty of energy left over, to do what brings you comfort and joy and meets your needs.