How I Avoid Burnout: Anne Beaulaurier, Antarctica Field Camp Manager

Exercise in the middle of the day, and give everyone the benefit of the doubt.

Cabin fever, overwork, social isolation—as field camp manager at the National Science Foundation’s McMurdo Station in Antarctica, Anne Beaulaurier has dealt with it all.

Scientists come to McMurdo to undertake long-awaited experiments that their careers depend on—often with detailed plans that implode because of weather or logistics. Beaulaurier handles maintenance, watching over a dozen or so scientists who live in tents. That means she deals with everything from flight coordination and weather tracking to making sure there are supplies and food and beverages and functioning wastewater basins. The job lasts from October to February. “It’s officially nine hours a day, but I’m the first responder for anything that happens,” she says. Think hiking four miles to troubleshoot a heater problem. Or managing the accidental delivery of 1,000 pounds of food. Sound exhausting? It is, but here’s how she avoids burnout:

  • Change your perspective. Beaulaurier regularly has to abandon days of work because of changed plans. “One perspective is that you’re undoing your work and redoing it. The other perspective is that you’re pivoting to this new plan. I find that taking things moment by moment”—and enjoying those moments—“is extremely helpful in not getting frustrated.”
  • Find some “me time.” Beaulaurier books exercise or outdoor time even when she’s busiest, and she prefers midday over end of day. “It’s like hitting a reset button. The more intense the situation, the more critical it is for me to get exercise.” She suggests aiming for the same time daily, so other people know you’re unavailable.
  • Buy noise-canceling headphones. Any shared space is incomplete without them, particularly when you need to work in a homey environment. Beaulaurier likes the Bose QuietComfort line.
  • Be creative. Extreme environments require creative outlets. She knits, a hobby she’d previously declared herself too busy for. “I needed to create that atmosphere for myself.” Or try something that will engage your brain. “Crossword puzzles are hugely popular in field camps in Antarctica, as a way to keep your mind working and thinking in different ways.” She likes the one in the New York Times.
  • Respond with grace. Your mantra: Conditions aren’t ideal for anyone. Everyone is stretched past his comfort zone. “I give them the benefit of the doubt—and remember that maybe I have more space to give them when it comes to interactions.”

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