Free time, being busy, and burn out

I began my first job as a web professional when I was 19 years  old. I had just moved across the country (central Indiana to Seattle) to  pursue a career in either design or development. I hadn’t quite figured  out which one was going to work out for me at that time. Six months  after I was hired, I was told they’d have to bump me down to part-time  work. A couple weeks later, I quit. I was burnt out, and I told several  people I never wanted to be a web professional ever again.

Seven years later, and I’m about to wrap up my third consecutive year  back in the game. I spent four years working part-time minimum-wage  retail; that’s how much I did not want to be burnt out again.

I handled every aspect of my first job in the worst possible way

I disliked my boss, but I wasn’t forthcoming with my concerns. I  thought I should be getting paid more, but I didn’t ask for a raise or  ask how I could earn one. I didn’t try to get better.

I failed to have hobbies outside of work. I didn’t do anything  outside of work, and I lacked a local social network because of that. I  would come home from work, sit around on the computer, watch television,  and go to bed. Then I would wake up and do the same thing the next day.  Nothing I did outside of work was fulfilling in the least. I was also  restricted to taking the (admittedly, great) Seattle transit system  anywhere I wanted to go. That meant no late nights out, because the  busses stopped running around 11pm or midnight.

How I’m doing it now

Whenever I’m unhappy with something at work, I let people know.  Thankfully, I have great managers who want to work with me and help me  grow and learn new things. I am paid what I am worth, and that goes a  long way. (Even if I’m not much of a material person, it’s great to know  I’m valued.)

I have hobbies outside of work that I look forward to improving upon.  I train my two dogs, help other people train their dogs, play board  games with my friends, attend meetups, go hiking and camping. None of  these things are expensive for me (by volunteering with the dog training  facility, I’m able to take classes for free), but they make my “free  time” outside of work so much more rewarding. Having conflicting  interests actually made me feel less stressed and burnt out.

What exactly is “free time”?

Unfortunately, time isn’t actually free. We get a set amount each  day, and we have to decide how to use it. None of my time is free. Even  if I’m watching a movie, that time goes into enjoying that movie (or  feeling like I’ve wasted time on watching a terrible one). If I spend my  time playing with my dogs, I’ve used it wisely, because we’re all  happier for it. If I spend my time sitting in front of Reddit for three  hours, I may or may not have wasted time, but I’ll bet that I could have  used that time a little better. I think what people really mean by  “free time,” is “me time.” Time to work on hobbies, personal interests,  and whatever else you fancy that isn’t strictly required.