Conquering the “Second-Night Slump”: How to Avoid Career Burnout

Opening night in the theatre is equivalent to the rookie season of the #1 draft-pick athlete—an accumulation of nerves and anticipation that makes for an adrenaline-filled performance. However, the dreaded “sophomore slump” that plagues the hearts of devoted sports fans is also paralleled in the arts, with the curse known as the “second-night slump.”

The high energy surrounding the opening night performance supposedly loses its steam, crashing into a lackluster performance on the second showing. The excitement in the air seems to have thinned overnight. Like any self-fulfilling prophecy, the real curse is in the suspicion itself. The expectation of missing the mark can easily set you up for failure.

The novelty of a new beginning waning into a routine can be applied to many facets of life, including our careers. In the wake of the “Great Resignation,” people are questioning their careers now more than ever. The fact is, at any stage, everyone can be subject to career burnout. Mayo Clinic defines this type of work-related stress as involving “a sense of reduced accomplishment.” However, it’s unlikely we are actually less accomplished the further we get into our careers. With every project, we are increasing our skillset and ending up a more experienced version of ourselves. What if instead, we are misidentifying feelings of reduced “excitement” as feelings of reduced “accomplishments”?

The eager, wide-eyed recent graduate enters the work field full-steam ahead, buzzing with untapped ambition and drive. With desperation comes appreciation; thankful for every new opportunity once you finally land that crucial post-grad position and jump head-first into the “rookie season” of your career. New hires are often thirsty for experience, and every task is met with heightened energy as their passion is thriving in the honeymoon phase.

But what happens once you become settled into a career you love? As you grow into a well-seasoned professional, it is an unfair expectation to maintain that peak of excitement that accompanies a fresh start. The pressure to sustain a success streak is often what leads us to the breaking point. Overthinking our progress and trying to live up to false expectations will always leave us feeling lackluster.

We must remind ourselves that mistakes, doubt and stress are all natural. There may be phases in your career where you lack motivation, and others where you struggle to find a work-life balance. These chapters do not define your story. Whatever slump you find yourself in, there is a way out and giving up is not the only exit.

There is no force of nature keeping you from succeeding. Your mentality has the power to make or break how well you measure up to your own standards.

If actors and crews never brought up the second-night slump to begin with, no one would be in their head enough to convince themselves they would fail before the curtain rose.

To shake the negativity of the “second-night slump” during my time as a performer, I always pushed myself to treat the second night as my last. Instead of focusing on all that could go wrong, I directed my thoughts toward the audience. It was not their second night; they were not expecting to be disappointed or bored. Just the opposite. Our clients are no different. They entrust us to be passionate about their organization, because of our experience; because we’re not rookies at what we do. It would be a shame to project our own insecurities onto a client who believes in us.

I encourage you—do not give those small thoughts of doubt the power to rewrite your story. Your future is not the less exciting version of your past. Count every new chapter as a victory just as momentous as your first. What you accomplished is only Act I of your show. Take an intermission, refresh and reevaluate your goals to go into Act II as its own fresh start.