Hello! Who are you?
Hey, I'm Hugo! I'm the founder of Tracking Happiness, so technically, this is an interview with myself. That doesn't mean that I haven't ever struggled with issues of mental health! I want to share these to hopefully inspire more people to share their own experiences in an interview like this.
I'm currently 29 years old and will turn 30 in May. I'm from the Netherlands and live together with my partner. I consider myself to be quite happy! I'm always trying to be conscious of the things I do and the way I spend my time.
But sometimes, my circumstances get the better of me and I'm unable to maintain my positive habits.
I've been working on Tracking Happiness for the past 6 years, mostly as a hobby while working as an offshore engineer. But roughly 2 years ago, I started working on it full-time. Partially because I loved Tracking Happiness, but even more so because I couldn't cope with my career in offshore engineering anymore.
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What is your struggle and when did it start?
I struggled with a lot of stress, restlessness, and insomnia for almost a year. I felt like I was in survival mode 24/7 and couldn't escape it.
It started gradually, but slowly took over a bigger and bigger part of my life. The biggest factor in my struggles was my career. I used to work in offshore engineering (think wind farms), and my relationship with my job caused my struggles until I decided to quit and step away from the field of engineering altogether.
My work as an engineer was always driven by multiple deadlines, unpredictable projects, and a lot of "crunch time". This, in combination with a cutthroat market, caused me and a lot of my colleagues to experience symptoms of burnout.
My struggles grew as I wasn't able to maintain my boundaries. I felt way too much responsibility and was constantly stressing about stuff at work. This caused my struggles to snowball into every aspect of my life.
- When I went for a run, I stressed about projects thousands of miles away.
- When I socialized with friends, I was thinking of ways to reach a deadline.
- And when I tried to sleep, I couldn't get my mind to stop worrying.
To be honest, it was the insomnia that impacted me the most.
I couldn't figure out why I couldn't sleep. I was tired as hell, but every time I closed my eyes, I became extremely restless and stressed. Some nights, I started seeing pulsating white flashes in the back of my eyes.
I tried lots of different things to deal with this: sleep meditations, counting to a hundred (and then back to zero), and listening to podcasts, but nothing helped.
Some nights, I would get out of bed, extremely frustrated, and would just go for a night walk. One particular night, I walked 8 kilometers (5 miles), aimlessly around the neighborhood. Somehow, these night walks helped, but I had a sneaky suspicion that this was not the right way to deal with my insomnia.
How did this struggle make you feel at your worst moments?
These struggles eventually resulted in somewhat of a breakdown, which was a pretty painful ordeal.
Now, I'm not one to show emotions quickly. But at the end of another 12-hour day, working at full speed to just reach the minimum requirements of yet another deadline, I arrived home feeling completely numb.
My partner was disappointed because I had originally told her that I'd be home at an acceptable time. Obviously, this wasn't the case, so I felt even worse about this. But I still tried to put on a brave face.
The final straw that broke my back was a call from my dad. He asked me if I wanted to join him for a football match this Sunday. Under normal circumstances, this would be a 100% yes, because I love to spend time with my family.
But I told him that I didn't have time. What I really meant was that I didn't have the mental headspace to even enjoy a football match anymore. But I obviously didn't tell him that!
And that's when it hit me. Why is this job defining my life? Why is this job making me feel so miserable? Mind you, this job wasn't fun. It wasn't meaningful. I wasn't proud of it. But still, it was kinda ruining my life.
After I hung up, I started to cry. I couldn't help it, but I cried like an 8-year-old. I'm talking about real sobbing, you know, the ugly kind.
That's when my partner realized the full impact that this job was having on me.
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Was there a moment when you started to turn things around?
After my little breakdown, I promised myself to slowly step away from the responsibilities of my job. If I missed a deadline, then why should that be my problem? It's the company's fault for not allocating more resources. I'm just a number, and in the end, my job shouldn't have this much impact on my life.
I want to say that this was the end of my struggle, but unfortunately, it didn't end there.
There were plenty of shitty periods after my little breakdown that I wish didn't happen. For example, I spent almost a full month on a project off the coast of Russia, working 90 hours per week, working on a project I hated.
Yeah, me and this job were definitely not a match.
What steps did you take to overcome your struggle?
To be completely honest, my struggles only really ended when I took full responsibility, and simply quit my job.
My partner and I had put away enough money in a savings account. So even though it was scary as hell, I quit my job and took some much-needed time off.
The lesson here is that some careers are just not good for you.
After I quit my job, I reinvented myself and my beliefs. I slowly distanced myself from my former career and spent all of my energy on something I actually enjoyed doing (which is Tracking Happiness!)
That said, I would've lost my mind a lot sooner if I didn't have my two most powerful mental health habits.
First, I've been journaling every day for over 10 years. This has been my safe outlet, a place where I can discharge my negativity and make room for positive thoughts.
Secondly, I've always maintained a healthy exercise routine. I've been running for years, and have come to love the act of pushing my body and letting my thoughts run free. In addition, at around the time of my breakdown, I picked up one of my childhood hobbies: skateboarding.
Spending time doing something I love - like skateboarding - never ceased to make me happy.
Have you shared any of this with people around you in real life?
I'm a relatively introspective person, and I tend to keep my feelings to myself. My grandpa taught me that you learn more when you listen, and it's something that has definitely had an impact on me.
But the flip side of this mantra is that I don't often allow people to help me.
As a result, no one but my partner knew that I was having a hard time before it was too late.
At work, I was always wearing a mask. My colleagues never got to see the cracks that were forming underneath my armor. And when I met my family or my friends, I tried to avoid discussing it with them because I was already so sick of it.
Even my partner didn't know the full extent of the impact, at least not until I broke down in front of her.
If you could give a single piece of advice to someone else that struggles, what would that be?
If something doesn't work, only you can fix it. If you're not willing to seek help or change your circumstances, you cannot expect things to change.
No one is responsible for your happiness, but you.
For someone else that's dealing with these issues: you only live once.
You don't want your deathbed regret to be "I wish I didn't allow my work to impact me as much".
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, YouTube channels, or other resources for you?
I bought an acupressure mat as a gift to my partner once, but I've grown extremely fond of it. Every night, before I go to bed, I read a book while laying on this mat, and it's incredibly helpful for me to relax and soothe my body and mind.
I don't read a lot of self-help books, but I find the mere act of reading to be a great mental health habit for me. I've recently enjoyed reading A Promised Land (Barack Obama), Disrupted (Dan Lyons), and The Ride Of A Lifetime (Robert Iger).
For more of my recommendations, go here!
Where can we go to learn more about you?
Read more about my background here.
Be one of the few people who follow me on Instagram!
Or connect to me on LinkedIn and say hi.
You can also subscribe to the mailing list of Tracking Happiness, where I send out 1-2 emails a week to our readers!
💡 By the way: If you want to start feeling better and more productive, we've condensed the information of 100's of our articles into a 10-step mental health cheat sheet here. 👇
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