How My Favorite Movie Led To Introvert Burnout

February 26, 2023

I'm Jess. This blog is a collection of everything I've learned as I rebuilt my self-image from a burned-out-extrovert-wannabe to an at-ease-introvert-bookworm.
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The Devil Wears Prada is my favorite movie.

I don’t mean “favorite” in a casual, off-handed way. I mean “favorite” as in it’s something that’s become a part of me.

I watch it after a bad day at work. After a good day at work. When I’m meal-prepping. Sometimes I just play it as background noise.

I own three versions of it – iTunes, Amazon Video, and a good ol’ fashioned DVD.

There’s nothing I don’t love about this movie. New York City. The snarky dialogue. The soundtrack. The outfit montage. The Chanel boots (If you know, you know).

Meryl Streep Sunglasses GIF by 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment - Find & Share on GIPHY

It’s a comfort to me. 

And it also deeply fucked me up. 

Now, I don’t blame Anne or Meryl or Stanley – not even the author of the novel it’s based on, Lauren Weisberger. It’s no one’s fault, really. It was just a perfect storm.

I can’t remember the first time I saw it, but I can remember how it felt to see relentless, painfully hard work pay off for a young woman in communications. I finally felt represented.

If you’ve never seen it, I’ll give you a brief synopsis: 

Andrea “Andy” Sachs is a struggling journalist in NYC. She’s down to two job opportunities, one of which is as an editorial assistant at Runway, a major fashion magazine based on Vogue

Now, fashion isn’t her scene. She literally knows nothing about it. But she lands an interview, sells herself as smart and hardworking, and gets the job. 

Initially, she doesn’t care about her role as EA to Runway’s vicious yet painfully chic Editor-in-Chief, Miranda Priestly. Andy sees her job as a means to an end — eventually having a serious career in journalism. 

Her boss is toxic to say the least, and makes her life miserable. But even though she’s working nonstop, she resists selling her soul over to work. 

Anne Hathaway Eye Roll GIF by 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment - Find & Share on GIPHY

Her professional growth stalls as a result. It isn’t until she sacrifices all of her time, energy, friendships, romantic relationship, and even her personal style that she finds success…and the freaking Chanel boots! 

To me, Andy’s story was pure validation — and the absolute worst thing I could have ever seen at the time.

Before seeing Andy on the big screen, I had only ever seen one other person work that hard: my dad.

He worked nights, weekends, and holidays. He was never at my school open houses or honor roll ceremonies. He barely saw his friends. He had no hobbies outside of work. The only vacations* we took were to visit family in Cuba. 

*If you’ve ever traveled to see your family after years of being apart, or hauled bags of clothes and supplies to a third-world country, you’ll understand that hardly counts as a vacation. 

But his work paid off. He founded a successful small business, which grew to the point that he could buy a house, and then another. He was living the American dream, and I never went without anything…except time with my dad.

As a young child, I accepted his work ethic as absolute truth. I began working just as hard in school.

I read every page I was ever assigned, and never skipped or half-assed my homework. I stayed up late to study. Over holiday breaks, I read to get ahead. 

When it came time to choose between a demanding magnet program or AP classes, I chose both. Not one to waste my summers, I jumped headfirst into exam prep programs and took classes at our local community college for college credit.

My life in college wasn’t much different. When I wasn’t in class, I was at one of two places: the library or my part-time job.

Woman working on her iPad, notebooks near her, on a beautiful day.
Having a distorted work ethic can lead to unrealistic expectations, an underlying cause of introvert burnout.

I rarely cultivated friendships or participated in extracurriculars. When given the chance, I graduated a year early to get a head-start on my career in advertising. This was around the time I first saw The Devil Wears Prada

Imagine my delight when I saw a smart and talented woman rewarded for exerting that level of energy and sacrificing every bit of herself. What The Devil Wears Prada reinforced in me is that you can – and should – pour every part of you into a job and expect a massive return (particularly in the form of Chanel boots). So I did.

I worked late nights and weekends. I agreed to unrealistic deadlines. I let my friendships slip away while I sat at my desk…or on the floor of my small office when I was overwhelmed, which I often was.

I demanded more of myself. I’d show up to work early. Eat lunch at my desk. I pushed myself to finish tasks faster. There was no time for much else besides work. I sacrificed my health, steadily gaining weight. I barely took vacations.

Woman sitting on couch, laptop perched on her lap while she works.
Believing there is a correlation between your worth and your output leads to harmful tendencies that contribute to introvert burnout like overworking and pushing through exhaustion.

Once I took two weeks off to travel the Northeast via Amtrak, yet I worked the entire time I traveled. I told myself I was doing the right thing, that I was doing exactly as Andy and my father had done. I waited for my rewards.

While I didn’t get the Chanel boots, I did find myself being praised and promoted. I was given raises. I pushed into more strategic projects and worked with bigger clients. I traveled once or twice a month for a year. 

I once traveled from London to Miami, and within hours, was on a flight to Arizona. I leapt from one company to the next. I was living the dream…right?

Emily Blunt Fml GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

I don’t know which thread was the first to come undone, but I quickly unraveled.

Nausea began washing over me before each meeting. I cried all the time. I worked through back cramps so bad I struggled to breathe. I second-guessed everything I produced. I would stare at data until the numbers swirled together. Nothing was good enough. I wasn’t good enough.

The hard-working, confident woman I had once been was gone.

I didn’t recognize myself.

What happened to me?

I’ll tell you: I worked myself into burnout, then through it, again and again. At one point, my doctor expressed such concern that they questioned if I could switch careers altogether. 

Oh My God Omg GIF by 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment - Find & Share on GIPHY

Looking back now, it’s no surprise. I lost myself. I chose to ignore myself and my needs for years and years and years. I somehow conveniently forgot the end of my favorite movie (more on that in a few paragraphs).

Here’s what you need to know about me: 

I am an introvert and a Highly Sensitive Person. I can only stomach so much stimulation at a time. I process energy differently, and my threshold is lower than other people’s. In order to recharge, I need to rest and engage in stress-reducing activities.

This is not unusual. Myers-Briggs estimates half the world’s population is introverted. Yet we live in a society that shines a light on extroverts. Phrases like “Girl Boss,” “Hustle Culture,” and “Sleep When You’re Dead” have been printed on countless posters and t-shirts. 

And while these taglines have since been canceled, what’s done is done. It doesn’t change the fact that this mindset was pushed onto an entire generation.

So I pushed harder. I slept less. I over-caffeinated. I didn’t just deregulate my nervous system, I fried it.

At one point, my whole life felt like an out-of-body experience. I wanted to stop, to change, but I physically couldn’t. It’s like when you have a million windows open and your computer gets stuck.

I like to think this is how Andy felt when she pushed her friends away to answer a call from Miranda, or how she felt in Emily’s hospital room after telling her she’d be going to Paris in her place.

I’m not sure what pushed me over the edge, but one day, I decided to quit my job. Escape seemed like a good route. In fact, it felt very much like one of the last scenes of the movie, when Andrea walks away from Miranda mid-Paris Fashion Week and tosses her Blackberry Sidekick into a gorgeous fountain.

Soon after quitting my job, I started my own business. I was successful…but also miserable.

My brain, fully aware of what had happened, watched in horror as my body took over and pushed forward for a few more months.

Once again, I just couldn’t stop. Despite being in full control of my time for the first time in my career, I was so quick to give it up.

I felt like a complete and total failure.

Sometimes, I wondered, “Was there an alternate ending where Andy snatches her water-logged Sidekick out of the fountain and rushes back to Miranda’s side?” It was like the worst case of déjà vu. And so it went.

It’s impossible to say when my real “throw the Sidekick in the fountain” moment came about, but one day – after months of suffering – I finally found the confidence to throw my metaphorical phone into the rushing waters of a fountain.

I began to honor my introversion. I took my business apart.

I released clients that held too many meetings, which drain me of my energy. I stopped answering emails straight away. I fired clients who had undercut my rates. I refused to work on evenings or weekends.

I also started calling my personality by its name. I’ve started to tell my clients that I am an introvert and Highly Sensitive Person. I’ve started to ask for what I need to protect my energy and my peace.

Books have healed me. So has journaling, going to bed early, and taking hour-long walks at the end of the day.

Woman in bed, stretching her arms overhead.
Resting and recharging without guilt can be a challenge, especially for high achievers who have made overworking the norm, but it’s key to preventing and recovering from introvert burnout.

I know this is all so privileged. But I also know this is human. Unlearning. Healing. Reconnecting. Grounding. Releasing the shame and forging forward with self-awareness and self-love.

My hope for every person in this world foregoing stress-relief, rest, and fun is that you stop. Stop today.

Ask yourself: Who am I, and what do I need? Put it into words. It doesn’t have to be perfect. It just has to be spoken into existence, so it can start pulling you back together.

More Articles About Introvert Burnout:

5 Causes of Introvert Hangovers and Introvert Burnout

What Is Introvert Burnout: Why It Happens & How To Spot It

How To Recover From Introvert Burnout

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