Inside a Perfect Storm Burnout

"Conflict is change trying to happen"

Burnout happens to all of us, at different times in our life and for different reasons. Where we're at personally greatly impacts how we react to these challenges as you'll see from this story. Learn how I went from contemplation to action in deciding to leave my job.

Calm before the storm

I felt like my consulting career was in hyper-drive. I was at the top of my game, and reassured with performance review feedback and bonuses that I walked on water at work. Ambitious, competitive, and keen to take on a challenge, I was eying my next promotion. Work was my identity, that is until I went back to work from maternity leave. Having ignored the warning signs that something needed to change, I got my wake up call.

The project role may not be setup for success

The project was a long-term program with a relentless and respected leadership team. The leadership, including three senior-level leaders, asked me to step up to a stretch role requiring me to operate at the next level. It proved such a demanding role that the previous person didn't last long. With a big account on the line, tensions naturally were high for the leaders to fit a strong and structured consultant for the position. I recall thinking this is the kind of opportunity that will test anyone to the limits, and I gladly accepted the role.

What would you have done?

I started experiencing feelings never felt before

Within less than two weeks that November, I started to notice a sense of overwhelm that I couldn't shake. I thrived in high pressure, so imagine my surprise when for the first time in my career, I stopped functioning.

What does it look like when your job becomes overwhelming?

My confidence and ability to make decisions was affected

My top performance degraded each week. I felt unsure, uneasy and continuously second-guessed myself. My energy levels and focus weakened to the point I no longer managed my time. My usual speed to complete tasks took much longer than before. I developed a short fuse, to put it nicely, and the smallest of things set me off.

What takes you off your game?

I covered issues to keep up appearances nothing's wrong

I tried saying no to new assignments, but gave in to keep up the appearances that everything was under control. I wanted to be more proactive by delegating yet micro-managed self-sufficient members of my team to uphold expectations from the top. In my journal, I captured self-talk which demanded perfection. "No mistakes," I wrote.

How do you manage when work is too much?

My judgment's impaired, experiencing extreme highs and lows

My journal further confessed on a single day, "Extreme rage. 'Susie' volunteered me for something new…but feel really good overall. Getting on track, meeting deadlines. I like my job again." Another entry reflected problems were still persisting. "Long day. Trying to step up. I think I've been to lax on myself, and it's not working either," I wrote. The vortex was consuming all my energy.

Do you have a love-hate relationship with your job? Why?

My family and health now impacted

I worked with my mentor to discuss ways for finding balance, assuming this was just a passing phase. Feeling broken, the mental exhaustion turned into a physical impairment. I was sluggish, gaining weight, and no longer recognizing the person I saw in the mirror. I remember wishing I would grow purple spots so that others could see I was maxed out and silently screaming inside for help.

Performance feedback was much different that year. It was the first time that I received not only constructive feedback but with remedial implications. Mortified and devastated, I sought console in my loving husband who expressed how much this job was affecting us. I was giving so much to work and leaving nothing for my family. I remember he asked me what's my 10-second decision what I wanted to do. I told him I wanted to move West and leave the company. This conversation cemented my commitment to free myself.

How does your body or close family let you know you're in conflict?

A wake up call for living my life

I suppose a wake up call does just that – wakes you up. I finally admitted out-loud to having a problem with my work situation, and that confession set the wheels in motion.

Giving permission to move forward without guilt and regret was the biggest shift made in my thinking. As you may already have experienced, it's hard to leave a good job. It's hard to leave a company, for better or worse, that you've been loyal to. It's hard to leave those people, your people, who made it all worthwhile. Not only was I conflicted by those feelings, I fell into a game of working for money at the expense of all things in my life, including my own well-being.

I didn't recognize myself, nor felt authentic about how I made a living. Just because I'm good at my job, doesn't mean my job is good for me.

Had I not gone through these experiences so intensely, I would still be in my corporate position, feeling miserable and wondering why I was working my life away for someone else's dream.

Are you working so hard to fulfill someone else's dream?

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