Building a career in the modern workplace can feel a lot like walking the tightrope: it takes focus, risk, determination, and grace; but one misstep can lead to a gigantic fall.
Today's workforce is working more than ever and taking on more than ever, all in the spirit of being “successful.” From extracurricular activities for our kids, to continuing our education part time, to networking and volunteering, we're in non-stop hustle mode. And, social media. Enough said.
Many of us are chasing ideals of “success” that just don't add up. Not because they're impossible, but because they're not our ideals; they're someone else's. We're subscribing to society's view of what we should do and in actuality, we're not happy about it. In fact, it's the number one deathbed regret: following someone else's dream.
In 2013 I had the e-brake pulled on my life. After years of overworking myself and chasing “success” — I ended up in the emergency room, hunched over in pain. One biopsy, two CT scans, and a spinal tap later I was discharged and told to do “nothing” for three months.
I was at a breaking point. This was my second major illness in less than three years and I couldn't just shrug it off as “bad luck.” Something had to give.
I've worked for as long as I remember. By the time I landed in the ER for the second time I had been working for 14 years' steadily and I wasn't near 30.
I had accomplished a lot for a less than thirty year old. Achievements that in retrospect mean less but in the moment I was glaringly proud of all the things I had or had done. I owned a home. I was a manager. I had a solid resume - and in fact, six months prior had landed my dream job.
What I didn't realize then was that I was addicted to the busyness. I was hooked on hard work, which I thought was good work. I was exercising excessively. I was going to school. I was networking, mentoring, working, and maintaining a social life, too. I always had to be doing something— anything. I was high strung, anxious, and stressed out and I didn't even know it.
After nearly a year of recuperating and mandated nothingness, I woke up. I stopped it all. I stopped doing everything and anything that wasn't giving me immense joy. And after awhile I discovered that this was the best thing to happen to me.
Surprising things happen when you experience career burnout and slip off the tightrope that you clung to so fiercely:
1. You become an advocate
When you go through an experience like career burnout and come out of it unscathed you emerge as an advocate. Having come through suffering, you become profoundly aware of all things related to wellness and you're not afraid to speak up. Being an advocate means you create the space people need to make wellness a priority, you're a confidant, and you're a helper.
2. You become happier
It's no secret: gratitude leads to mindfulness which leads to happiness. Experiencing a burnout makes you rethink everything and get clear on what really makes you happy. Getting into a practice of mindfulness and gratitude shifts your perspective deeply - and it's not easily turned back!
3.You reach actualization
When you rethink everything: your goals, desires, and motivations you can't help but reach some level of self-actualization. When you separate someone else's goals or society's definition of success and aim to define success on your own terms your real self can emerge and form actualization. It might not be a Ghandi level of spirituality or a definitive calling - but you'll get closer to the ideal you and the real you — and that is powerful.
Taking time for yourself to practice mindfulness, gratitude, and creating stop doing lists are small ways you can avoid a career burn out yourself. But if it happens - don't fret. You can learn from it.
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