How I Quit My ‘Dream Job’ After Burning Out
Burnout is an experience to honor, not to be worn as a badge.
Burnout is a curse that illogically becomes a gift. It's the catalyst and tension that causes the metamorphosis of a person. The end result is often a comeback to basking in one's own strength and courage, but this shouldn’t be viewed as an aspiration or a badge of honor. I personally wouldn't wish burnout on anyone as there are other ways to arrive to pivotal, life-changing moments. If you are burning out, know that you aren’t alone. If you haven’t experienced it, consider yourself lucky! Perhaps you are ahead of the game and figured out how to avoid it altogether, in which I hope your journey continues burnout-free.
In 2011, I catapulted into my career as a marketer in the beauty industry just three months after graduating from college. A year and a half later of working 12-14 hour days at what I thought was my dream job, I was experiencing my first burnout. This era was characterized by extreme sleeplessness at just 2-3 hours a night, a racing heart, weekends of binge drinking and weight gain of 35 pounds in only a year. These were symptoms of my clinically-diagnosed generalized anxiety disorder and bulimia which were found at a visit to the doctor.
I spent the next year resolving my issues through anti-anxiety medication prescribed by my psychiatrist and weekly therapy sessions with a therapist who specialized in patients with eating disorders. Coming from an Asian immigrant family, which also happened to be a spiritual one thanks to my minister father, mental illnesses and eating disorders were not discussed – ever. This was mostly because 1) Asians typically dislike showing any signs of "weakness" and will go to great measures to keep them hidden and 2) since God takes care of everything, prayer is all I would've needed (right?). Accepting that I had an anxiety disorder and was bulimic was excruciatingly tough. I felt ashamed, helplessly weak and as if I were a failure because life was about "survival of the fittest." I kept it a secret for years from most people until now.
Once I normalized, I snapped back to the passionate, energetic person I was, climbing up the corporate ladder, finishing my Master’s Degree while working full-time and building a solid network within the industry. I lived believing that life was going as perfectly planned, the corporate ladder was my calling and I was living out my purpose.
My beliefs sucked.
Early this year, I was promoted again to more of a leadership position of a small brand. My trajectory seemed fast and “on track" (according to the people around me). Ironically, I found myself spiraling even faster into my second burnout despite my achievements in the six years with this company. I found myself not exercising, emotionally eating and drinking one too many glasses of wine (really, bottles) to drown out my depressing thoughts. Sunday Scaries were a real thing; I even spent some of them crying in my bed. It was certainly the stress of the new role and job title that contributed to this episode. I instinctively knew it was time for a change. So, by the end of March, I bravely left the company, the place I thought would be my straight shot to the top and my ticket to a happy, fulfilling life.
I moved on to a company that was better known for its culture of work/life balance. The rumors were true about this place: people were kind and respected business hours! Looking in hindsight, I thought I only left my last job because of the stress. But really, I can see now that it was long overdue for me to take a look under the hood of "Sorah" and find out what has been going on.
In the past seven months, I rekindled the love for myself and discovered the gems that I lost along the way, called hobbies and interests. I make an effort to live each day reignited by my true passions, seeking ways to inspire and care for myself. This is the only mind, body and soul I have in this lifetime, so I take it to heart when I say that it is my responsibility to tune in and feed myself what I need.
Here are five non-negotiable guidelines I adopted to prevent burnout:
- Own the hours of the day.
Don’t let the day happen to you. Take control, manage your time and adhere to your boundaries. If the day controls you, just relax and do at least one thing that you enjoy to close your day. Tomorrow is a new day!
- Explore your passions, interests and imagination.
Carve out the time to read, research and/or create. Feed the parts outside of what you would call “work” because more often than not, those personal interests that may give you great joy are neglected. Write them down and start keeping track. You might notice patterns and trends that can turn into new hobbies (or a career!).
- Tune into the dialogue in your head and probe.
It took me six years to realize that I was using my corporate job as an excuse for just about everything: “I don’t have time because of work” or “I’m so tired from work, I can’t do this.” Had I taken a moment to look at the bigger picture of all the events I missed because of work, I may have noticed that my life had some gaps much earlier.
- Care for your body.
Dial into your energy levels and food cravings to decode any messages your body may be sending you. You might uncover that you’re over-stressed which can cause sleeplessness. As a result, energy levels can plummet and your body craves sugar for pick-me-ups that don’t last.
- Nourish your relationships.
We all hear, “Relationships are everything.” Remember that this is even more important when it comes to your personal life. Empower yourself to audit your relationships and check in on whether they are positively or negatively affecting you. Your time and energy is a precious resource, so it’s okay to be selective and invest in the ones that are worth your efforts. The ones who are uplifting you will help curb burnout. Choose to work on those that aren't as fulfilling or find your way out of them.
Everyone's burnout prevention strategy will look different and will not be one-size-fits-all. The foundation of it should be rooted in mindfulness and connection to yourself. This has been my key to unlocking my journey and discovering the deeper meaning of life and purpose.