Burn(ed) Out

Life lessons from working in 7 different start ups

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Courtesy of Mellimage/Shutterstock
Courtesy of Mellimage/Shutterstock

Dear Manager:

This is my resignation letter.

It is 4:30AM in the morning. My computer has about 25 different tabs open and is about to die from not being charged or turned off for the past 10 days; It is on its last legs sort of like me. I’m tired and in a blissful state of acceptance during these wee hours, I’m resigning. I need some time for me. I’m totally burnt out and need time to regroup to figure out what I’m going to do with my professional life from here on out.

I knew this day was coming. As of matter of fact, I still remember when I looked out upon our beautiful, well designed office space and thought to myself, is this what I’m going to do for the rest of my life?

— — — –

I never submitted this letter; I took a severance package from my last start up and I’m taking some time off to explore my next phase of professional work.

Fast forward to now, and looking back, I’m really proud of the work I’ve done. I’ve been the VP of HR for 6 different start-up technology companies where I’ve led the teams that hired 1000s of people, retained more than 75% of them and won 12 different workplace awards. The opening of offices, the high effort cultural work of creating a highly engaged workforce, hours of putting together dashboards for the executive team or slides together for board meetings, building systems around retention; for all of the hard work, I smile as I look back.

My charter as the VP of HR has always been to make work worthwhile. We leave family and friends behind every day for work; I’ve always believed that my job was to make sure that this time away from loved ones was worth it by delivering an exceptional employee experience. I totally lost sight of this and honestly lost passion for my work. I wasn’t showing up at work as my best self because my job wasn’t bringing me the joy it once did and I was burnt out.

Even though I am proud of my work, my burn out stems from having to take care of all the inappropriate behavior at work, the managers who avoid difficult conversations, the blurring of personal and private lines in an open office environment, the moments during meetings that almost became fist fights, divorces, deaths, drunken colleagues getting too close, rumors spreading about seeing a CEO arrive to work in the same Uber as a sales person, managers mis-handling employee exits, the threat of lawsuits and arbitration, and international expansions — these life moments all happen under the watchful eyes of HR people. As HR professionals are looped into these stories, we become emotionally taxed by the trauma ourselves. All these life events are emotional and I need a break. Instead of always worrying about everyone else, I’m finally taking some time off for me.

In the three months I’ve been off from having a full time, in-house job, I’ve been exploring different avenues for what I’m going to do for the rest of my working days. I’ve started my own consulting business, I’ve reconnected with friends, I’ve joined the LEAP board which helps Asian Americans break the bamboo ceiling, I’ve attended conferences and spoke at some; I’ve taken Strengthfinders and a Purpose test, I’ve joined some consulting organizations, I’ve attended the Human Performance Institute and Skywalker Ranch, and I’m even helping my founder friends at Twine and Sounding Board raise awareness and capital for their start ups. It feels good to spend time outside the standard life of having a traditional full time job.

The funny thing is that when I talk about my burn out, I’m met with a lot of empathy. Other people who I talk to are tired too. Work is not the fun, jovial place we hoped it would be. Let’s change that. I reflect back and now want to shape the future of work. That’s where I’m headed…

If any of this resonates with you, please reach out and I’d love to invite you to a retreat that I’m planning with friends who are in the same self exploration period. Let’s help each other and not feel like we have to do this alone. Find me at [email protected]

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