Professional Burnout

This topic is close to me – and it took me a long time to openly discuss it.

I was working in my almost-dream-job and I gave it my everything. It ticked all the boxes – international travel, relationship management, corporate social responsibility, international development, helping others, and a nice job title.

I poured my energy into building my professional reputation. I was the perfectionist at her best. Whatever you needed done well – just pass it to me. I’ll make sure it would be better than you expected it to.

And that was what I did. I managed a $1.5M program alone, the second largest program in the organisation. I had no ongoing assistance, even when I was screaming for help. I managed the crazy 2am phone conferences, travelled to amazing countries and met beautiful people and developed a gob-smackingly brilliant coping mechanism for putting out fires (swan paddling wildly in the water while remaining bizarrely composed).

My clients loved me. My colleagues and staff loved me – because they knew I managed them fairly, though I demanded extremely high standards of them and myself.

And that’s where the problem was.

Because it was one step away from my dream job, I gave so much of me that I failed to look after myself and my relationships. I didn’t invest in activities that made me happy or ground me. I didn’t spend time with people I loved. I completely lost me. And I knew it was happening, but I had no incentive to face the problem, nor the courage to ask myself the tough questions.

And what did it take to wake me up?

My body.

I got so sick that my doctor ordered 1.5 months off work. Diagnosis: professional burnout. My initial reaction: “OMG, I couldn’t possible be away from work for a day!” But I am so grateful for my doctor who stood their ground. Because over those 1.5 months, I allowed myself to ask those tough questions and to do the things that I loved – crafts and dance. My inner child began to come out of hiding and was gleefully swimming in the creative juices that flowed through me.

By the end of the 1.5 months, I made my decision to quit and to take my first sabbatical. Although I was ready to leave, I wasn’t ready to have the conversation with work. I was a wreck by the morning I went into work. Maybe because I had invested so much of myself.

As a result, I took a five month sabbatical, three of which was spent in Argentina studying tango, Spanish, photography.  The way I described it was “grabbing life with both hands and sprinting with it”. It was the best thing I could have done for myself. I went through the very extremes of emotions in Argentina (what’s with tango!?) but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

What have I learnt? To be kind to myself and to listen to my body. To pursue interesting career challenges mindfully and to continue my personal development.

Achieving great visions and dreams is possible through a stable foundation, called a healthy body – physical, mental, emotional and spiritual.

I want to share my story as I have met many individuals who are going through this. If my story resonates with you, I’d love to share a cup of tea with you (Tim Tams would be a bonus).

Image by Jean Sum



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