Morgan Roger's debut novel "Honey Girl" has garnered plenty of acclaim. Author Jasmine Guillory even named it one of her top books of 2021 when she visited TODAY.
The story revolves around Grace Porter, a Black, queer millennial who has just finished her Ph.D. in astronomy. To celebrate her degree, Grace — an overachiever and planner — goes to Las Vegas on a girls' trip that ends with her drunkenly married to a woman she just met. The deviation from her structured life sends Grace on a journey of self-exploration and fulfillment, battling feelings of burnout and constant fears about her future as she tries to decide what she really wants her life to look like.
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"I didn't even know that was going to be a theme," Rogers said. "I started writing it ... I work in academia for my day job and so once I decided that Grace was going to be an astronomer, then I had to be like 'OK, well, I know how academia works and I know what the pitfalls are and how people kind of get sucked into this lifestyle and how it becomes their one thing that they have to excel at,' so once I figured out that part of her personalty, it just kind of unraveled from there."
While people use burnout to describe many different situations, the term has an official definition from the World Health Organization (WHO): The agency defines it as "a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed." Burnout is characterized by three things: 1) feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion, 2) increased mental distance or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one's job, and 3) reduced professional efficacy.
Rogers said that the feelings she wrote about were ones that she had dealt with as well, but she didn't "see (herself) in the book" until she finished writing it.
"I realized I was kind of doing the same thing, thinking, 'You have to be the best, you have to live up to all your previous achievements, and you have to meet these expectations that have been placed on you, but they're not really your own,'" Rogers said. "I was like 'Oh, I have to get published by 30 or I'm a failure,' which is so ridiculous thinking back on it. But when you feel like that, you can keep working, and you put yourself down because you're not achieving it."
The concept of burnout has become even more timely amid the coronavirus pandemic, as many people continue to work from home while juggling major changes like having children at home or dealing with isolation. "Honey Girl" was written before 2020, but was released in early 2021, just before the first-year anniversary of the pandemic in the United States, which Rogers said has made the book "resonate" with some readers.
"We're all working and we're in a place where people are still focused on normalcy and being productive ... and I think it definitely adds to that feeling of burnout," Rogers said. "We don't actually get a chance to process our trauma or grief. Even if you haven't lost a person ... You've lost so much. You've lost your routines, you've lost your co-workers ... Just small things that you don't realize make up so much of your life until you can't do it anymore, and you don't know how those things look going forward."
For those who are struggling with burnout, Rogers advises trying to make a change — but doesn't necessarily advise getting married in Vegas.
"It's really difficult to remember that it's OK to take a break, and that taking a break, or even failing, is not bad," Rogers said. "Rest is essential to the creative process and essential to life in general, but I think we've kind of been conditioned to think that resting and taking a break and taking time off means that you messed up somewhere, that you didn't reach your goal, but rest is part of the journey."
One solution that many can benefit from, especially amid the pandemic, is seeking professional help, a process that Rogers was careful to detail in the novel. After realizing just how much she's struggling, Grace seeks out a therapist, although it takes several visits before she finally finds a situation that works for her. Rogers said that it felt most accurate to show the complicated route it can take to find a therapist who works for you.
"I feel like therapy only works if you're with someone that you feel safe with ... (and) it takes a while to find a therapist you feel comfortable with," Rogers said. "I don't think anyone really finds a therapist on the first try. It was really important for me to have Grace go to (several) ... Finally she finds one that fits and I think it's realistic, because I've had to go through multiple therapists, and most people I know who are in therapy go through multiple therapists. It was really just trying to depict mental illness and healing in the most realistic way possible."
Rogers said that no matter what readers take away from the book, she's happy to see it resonate.
"It's been wild, honestly," she said. "Just to see how much people respond to the book ... It's been really cool to see the different ways that people of all kinds of backgrounds have found pieces of themselves in Grace and the other characters. ... I think that if you can find yourself in any of it, then I feel like you're the audience for this book."