If you’ve ever experienced burnout, you know it doesn’t happen all at once. It’s more like a slow burn (no pun intended), or a creep of overwhelming days that culminates in the realization that something has to change, and fast.
As a software engineer and product manager for companies like Goldman Sachs, The Muse and Stitch Fix, I was proud of the trajectory of my career. I felt like a boss, and I even had a wedding technology startup as a side hustle. Weekends were always dedicated to work, and all in all, I think I was working 15 or 16 hour days. Still, I wasn’t really aware that anything was amiss until I started experiencing intense anxiety, severe cases of the Sunday Scaries, and found myself crying almost every day without a reason I could really pinpoint.
Examining the nature of my work.
No, the long days weren’t easy. But when I started taking a closer look at exactly what was going on with me, I realized it was more than that: Staring at code all day long, with little to no human interaction, just wasn’t for me. The reality was that I didn’t like the way the software engineering world worked—it felt like a never-ending cycle of mini burnouts and points of frustration. I’d work all day on a problem, hit a bug, and then have to start all over again. Maybe that’s fine for some people, but for me that particular experience was absolutely brutal. It was impossible to predict how long any one task would take!
Truth be told, I felt like a fraud. Friends, family and even people I didn’t know thought I had this fulfilling career, but inside I felt totally empty. I tried meditating, but that didn’t work. I thought about working with a life coach, but they were way too expensive. Therapy felt even more intimidating because growing up in a South Asian household, mental health was not prioritized and brought on tremendous feelings of guilt. I was stuck and couldn’t see a way out of that feeling.
The baby steps that finally brought on some change.
Eventually, I turned to books on self-help and self-improvement, and that helped me start to see a light at the end of the tunnel. A lot of them suggested journaling and had great hacks and frameworks for a more productive life. I’d always enjoyed writing, but I felt I needed more structure. So I thought, why not marry the two? I created a mini journaling framework: Every day I wrote down three things I was grateful for, three things I was anxious about, and three things I wanted to accomplish.
Within a few weeks of starting this journaling framework, I noticed a difference. Instead of tossing and turning all night and having tearful midday breakdowns, I was less stressed out at work and taking on the day with confidence and clarity. Of course, there were days when something inevitably went wrong and I skipped this exercise—and I noticed that on those days I felt significantly more scattered and less like myself.
That’s when I started wondering what it would be like if I could create a type of self care that was simple and accessible. I was still burned out, but I was obsessively thinking about was the self care-based company I wanted to create. I decided to take a two-week hiatus from the wedding technology startup to create a minimum viable product, bring it to market, and yes—make my first sale. And that’s how Silk + Sonder, a woman’s health and emotional wellness startup, was born.
Of course, my career change and approach to work didn’t happen overnight. At the very beginning, I certainly didn’t have the financial means (or the confidence) to pursue Silk + Sonder full-time. But slowly, the emails trickled in: Our mom customers told me that they’d finally learned to prioritize their own needs after neglecting them for too long, and millennials told me they’d started making leaps in their career. As I watched the community grow, I realized I was really onto something.
A year and a half after starting Silk + Sonder, I decided to leave the 9-to-5 track to pursue Silk + Sonder full-time, and it was the best decision of my life. Now we have customers in all 50 states with unique and evolving needs, and that user base grows every day. I’m proud of how far this company has come, but I’m also proud of the change I’ve seen in myself.
Making time for self-care while working for a self-care company.
I may have created the self-care company of my dreams, but that doesn’t mean I don’t get overwhelmed—I’m an entrepreneur, after all. In order to stay sane I journal regularly, read, indulge in face masks and saunas, track my moods in my Silk + Sonder to keep an eye on any specific patterns (no more unexplained crying jags for me) and make time for the people I love.
If you’d told me two years ago that I’d be the least burned out person I know and own a self-care brand, I probably wouldn’t have believed you. But I couldn’t be happier that this is the way it all turned out.