Merriam-Webster defines a “wake up call” as something that serves to alert a person to a problem, danger, or need. My wake up call was my doctor’s urgent directive to admit myself into the hospital. What I thought was a mild spider bite on my right butt cheek was actually a deadly staph infection that, if left untreated, could easily enter my bloodstream and kill me. I was 46 years old, very ambitious, at the pinnacle of my career as a senior executive at a major entertainment company, and allowing stress to literally eat me alive.
My body had been sending hints for months. Worry about work deadlines impacted my sleep, so I was relying on wine and Ambien nearly every night. I had headaches. I was extremely cranky, impatient, and sensitive at work. I caught every virus going around the office. I developed a strange rash on my face. I treated the symptoms of these warning signs, but didn’t take time to address the bigger underlying issue, which was that my life was completely out of balance. I was not living a life that aligned with my core values and gave me time for things that brought me joy. I was no longer feeling accomplished at work; I was merely hanging on and barely keeping my head above water. I had let a lot of my critical self-care routines fall away: I de-prioritized rest, exercise, hobbies, and time with friends. I was in full-blown burnout by the time I acquired MRSA (Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus Aureus), the antibiotic resistant staph infection that screamed, “Hey lady, you need to make a change!”
I spent a week in the hospital on IV antibiotics, and then spent five weeks at home to recover. I was too weak to take care of myself, so my mom flew out from across the country, and I was fortunate enough to rely on incredible friendships during this time. I had not been away from work for more than a few weeks in over 20 years. This near tragedy gave me the space from 24/7 demands to reevaluate how I was spending my time, and explore why I was so unhappy. I realized that my high position at work no longer provided what I need in a job to be happy: continued learning, meaningful collaboration, and time for creative problem-solving and strategic thinking. My job had become focused on politics and “managing up,” instead of doing deep, inspiring work. Not feeling purposeful and fulfilled led to my burnout.
Soon after I returned to work, I decided to quit and pursue a new way of working. As a business coach, I control my own schedule so I can prioritize sleep, healthy eating, and exercise. I began a meditation practice, which quelled my anxiety and allowed clear thoughts to surface and guide me. I’ve freed myself from unhealthy coping habits like sleeping pills, alcohol, and sugar. My friends and former coworkers comment that I am a markedly different person: I’m happy, healthy and have a calm and confident energy. Many of them have hired me to coach them on how to overcome their own burnout and stagnation. I have renewed passion for my work because it’s meeting my core needs of growth, impact, and meaning. I learned that it’s easy to let momentum keep you in a job that no longer serves you well. It’s critical to check in and weigh your day to day activities against your values. If they’re not in sync, it’s time to dig deep and figure out what needs to change. If not, burnout will sneak up on you, with potentially devastating results.
Stay up to date or catch-up on all our podcasts with Arianna Huffington here.