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Do We Have To Burn Out to Make a Career Change?

I did...but do you have to?

Can you identify the signs of burn out before it's too late? 

I always say that teaching everywhere is hard, teaching middle school is even harder, and teaching middle school math in a turn-around environment in Miami-Dade County, Florida is a special kind of hard reserved for the saints and angels of this world. Of which, apparently, I am not.

And yet, that’s how I started my professional career. I worked as a middle school teacher for a few years before transitioning to elementary school, and then moving up in the ranks as an instructional coach, department head, assistant principal, and finally, Director of Academics at a charter school in Washington, DC.

To say that I was burning the candle at both ends would be an understatement.

I was in such a state of perpetual burn out, that I forgot what it was like to not be burnt out.

Have you ever felt that way?

And then, in the summer of 2017, I got married and went on my honeymoon.

I woke up every single morning before dawn to enjoy the sunrise with my new husband and a cup of coffee. I found myself down right happy-sobbing at everything – the sunrise, the sunset, the fish we saw snorkeling, I mean everything.

It was the first time in ten years that I remembered feeling truly happy. That I remembered feeling a sense of calm presence. That I remembered feeling pure and absolute joy to just…be. To sit. To relax.

And on Thursday of that week, I made the mistake of checking my email and seeing the subject line: Due by COB today.

Suddenly, the peace, the calm, and the joy were gone. I was angry. Very angry.

Now listen, I thought, what could you POSSIBLY need while I’m on my honeymoon?! There are no students in the building, there are no teachers in the building, and just short of the building literally falling down, which I can do NOTHING about from here, mind you, WHAT COULD YOU POSSIBLY NEED?!

And then I made the second mistake of the day, and I opened the email.

And I started sobbing for a whole new reason.

I was being asked to apply for the principalship of my school. I was honored. I was flattered. I was angry. I was terrified. I was overwhelmed. I was anxious. I started to panic.

My husband comes running into the room to find me in a heap on the floor, and suddenly I realize that it’s no longer just me that I’m martyring for the cause – I’ve signed him up too. The early mornings, the late nights, the phone that never seems to stop ringing, the work that never seems to get done. For years, I’d done that to myself – I’d volunteered for it, because education is something I believe deeply in and feel passionately about. It’s important work, and I knew I could help.

But I’d never stepped back to see what impact it was having on the people around me.

Why is it that we’re fine with running ourselves into the ground on behalf of other people?

Why is it that we’re not okay with seeing this happening to others?

Why is it that it took me seeing the impact of my self-destruction on someone else for me to commit to doing something about it?

Do we have to burn out and hit rock bottom to make a change?  

As women, we so often will burn our own candles at both ends for others – because it’s good work. It’s work the world needs. It’s for a good cause. It’s for people we love.

But really, we can only do this good work when we have first taken care of ourselves, because at the end of the day, we can’t be our best selves if we don’t take care of ourselves first.

And so I left education to take care of myself.  In the process, I spoke to dozens of women who felt the same way: Exhausted. Burnt out. In a state of perpetual stress. Unsure how to move forward. Yearning to connect with someone else who felt the same way. Wanting to make a change, but feeling tied to the cause.

The thing is, so many of us feel this way. We all want someone to see us for who we are and to love us.

I set out to find a book club to meet this need for me, where we could read the same transformational books and get together to talk about our experiences, and when I couldn’t find one, I created it. And this book club turned into my subscription box business.

I took a good hard look at what I’d been doing, my transferrable skills, and what I truly enjoyed doing – having deep, meaningful conversations with other people about what they want and how they can get there. In essence, helping people grow. There are many ways to do that, many of which do not involve burn out.

So, do we have to burn out to switch careers or make a change?

No, I don’t think so, but I did.

That’s what it took for me to wake up and admit to myself that something was really wrong, and that it was worth changing. That’s what it took for me to prioritize myself so that I would be better able to serve the other people in my life.

No, it doesn’t have to be that way.

If you’re able to take a good hard look at your life, reflect on it and evaluate it and say to yourself, “No, this is not what’s best for me, it’s time to try something else,” then no.

If you’re willing to admit that this physical and emotional exhaustion, this insomnia, this cynicism, this anxiety, this perpetual sinus infection, and this feeling of ineffectiveness is more a symptom of burn out or breakdown than a reflection of who you truly are, then no.

If you’re able to recognize the symptoms of a toxic environment or toxic workplace and avoid the gaslighting long enough to remove yourself from it, then no.

If you’re willing to sit down with a partner, a friend, a coach, or a helping professional and ask for help in making a change because it’s too hard to tackle alone, then no.

Figure out when enough is enough for you and set the line hard in the sand. When that line’s been crossed, it’s time to make a change.

Are you feeling burnt out?

Do you feel like you’re on the road to burn out or a positive change?

What will it take for you to make the change you know you want in your life?

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