The story of my crippling burnout and the realization that I’m not where I belong


I first encountered classism in the third grade. While all my classmates read silently after lunch on Friday, I, a gifted child, went to my special program down the hall. We did artwork, made movies, learned things the other kids weren’t learning. Why? Because of meaningless standardized test scores.

Back in 2009, I didn’t realize that being able to sit at a computer and read a story or do a few math problems correctly didn’t make me better than my classmates. But really, how could a nine-year-old come to that realization? I wasn’t good at sports, but that didn’t matter. I thought I was smarter than everybody else because everybody told me so.

I wasn’t. I just happened to be good at standardized testing.

Now all I have to show for my time as a “gifted” kid are piss-poor study habits. I never had to work at anything academic. I got a scholarship to my university because I had a good ACT score, but my grades had taken a nose-dive during my freshman year of high school. My dad died in a plane crash, for fuck’s sake. A couple of my teachers were understanding, and I’ll always be grateful for that, but the rest expected me to pick up where I left off. I was only gone for a week because the homework kept piling up.

That was a turning point for me. I’d always had close to a 4.0 GPA, but I just couldn’t do it anymore. At 13, I was dealing with far bigger issues. I have to believe that’s when the burnout began.

In grade 9 I almost failed a couple of my classes. One of them was English, which until that point had always been my best subject. I managed to bring them up a little before the end of the year, but grade 9 was the difference between a full ride to my university and the partial scholarship I ended up getting because my ACT score was carrying my academic career.

Thank goodness for standardized testing, I guess.

When you live like Rory Gilmore for the better part of your life, you think the world is full of open doors. You think you can do anything. When I was 17, I got my pilot’s license just to prove a point. I played the violin in orchestra and the bass in jazz band. I was pretty good.

Then I stopped playing.

Have you ever had a hobby that got just a little too serious to be a hobby anymore? I have. Violin stopped being fun when I got old enough to realize I had competition. Bass stopped being fun when everyone in band decided they hated me because a girl in my class orchestrated a complicated scheme to frame me for something I didn’t do. And flying? Flying was supposed to be IT. Working as a professional pilot was my dream, for a while. But then I started meeting people in the industry and they were the same as my bullies were in high school.

I don’t fit in. I’ve never fit in anywhere.

I got an internship at the international airport during my senior year and for a while, I did fit in. Everybody made me feel so accepted and I have zero bad memories of my time there, even though I witnessed some unpleasant things. I check the website almost daily for permanent openings, but the low turnover rate means I might have to wait years.


After my internship ended, I graduated from university with a degree in aviation management. I worked at another airport for a while, but when I started crying every time I had to go in, I knew I couldn’t deal with the negativity anymore. So I applied to work at Walmart. And I had a great time.

I made some friends and it was so nice to interact with normal people—not the inflated egos you constantly encounter in aviation. I just put stuff on shelves, found items for people sometimes, and went home.

As much as I wish this were an inspiring story about how I overcame my burnout and found myself again, I didn’t overcome so much as I awoke, I guess. How am I meant to find my place in the world when all I am, biologically, is a hunter and gatherer? Evolution taught me to use tools, not to pay off credit cards.

Humans are the most invasive species on this planet. Some people like to think they’re above all the other animals that share it with us, but no. That’s all we are. Animals. But instead of fighting for territory with tooth and claw, we build nuclear weapons.

I don’t have a dream job. I don’t want to “build my personal brand” or shake hands with people I don’t care about. I don’t want to sit at a desk or be stuck inside a cockpit. I want to climb mountains, grow my own food, walk across glaciers. But I need money to do that. And to get money I need a job.

So mostly I want to scream.

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