I Faced My Personal Trauma & Found Success at Work

Bestselling author Nicole Lapin buried herself in work to avoid dealing with her diagnosis of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and ended up suffering from burnout. Here, she shares how facing your trauma is the real way to career success.

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You might know that I was the youngest anchor ever at CNN and hosted my own global show on CNBC in my mid-twenties. You also might know that I found my niche after that delivering smart, no-nonsense advice about money and business to young women. And, you might know that I wrote two bestselling books (maybe you even read them!) on how to be a Rich Bitch and a Boss Bitch—someone who is in control of her financial life and her career future. All of this is true. But this is also true: I haven’t always been balanced. I haven’t been on top of my shit all the time. And, despite the success I’ve had, I haven’t been consistently happy. 

If you’ve ever thought personal stuff has nothing to do with work—whether it’s a mental health issue, an eating disorder, relationship drama, or plain-old everyday stress—you’ve thought wrong.  For years I buried my unhappiness in work. I always thought “When I get there, I will be happy.” “If I just work harder,” “if I’m just more successful,” then I’ll be happy. I made this promise to myself all the time during the first fifteen years of my career. 

Working harder, being “busier,” than everyone else seemed like the only way to succeed. I imagined myself as the most conditioned athlete on the field, with more of a chance to win than those less used to a frantic pace. Living in a state of breathlessness was how I felt most comfortable and secure. I was running fast and hard to get “there,” to “success,” where I thought I would be happy. And if the way to get “there” was to grind, I would grind myself into the ground. 

And, I did. I barely left time to shower and was running on at least two venti Americanos a day and little else. I was no longer just running but running out—of breath and fuel. And the pace wore on me not only physically, but mentally; I couldn’t think straight anymore. I wasn’t busy with purpose, I was just . . . busy and on the doorstep of burnout.Then one day, I woke up in the psych ward on suicide watch with a new diagnosis of post traumatic stress disorder. I’d heard of people with hardcore, stressful careers—like mine—having breakdowns. But I never thought one of those people would be me. I thought I was tougher than that. Stronger than that. Until I was one of those people. 

To reset after things fell apart, I ran away (briefly) not to distract myself from, but to confront, what went wrong. I told the team to put a pause on scheduling (they looked at me like I had three heads and probably thought, “Who are you and what have you done with Nicole?”) until I came back to them with more direction. In the end, what do you think was more detrimental to my career: not responding to every single email within an hour or having to bail on obligations and cancel projects because I was in the damn psych ward? Exactly. 

I used to pretend like my trauma didn’t exist so that it wouldn’t get in the way of my success. I was certain that it would be the kryptonite that would eventually bring me down. But it turns out that knowing my pain and using it to help me heal might be the greatest superpower of them all. 

Excerpted from Becoming Super Woman: A Simple 12-Step Plan to Go from Burnout to Balance.  
Nicole Lapin is the New York Times Bestselling author of Rich Bitch and Boss Bitch. She is the host of the nationally syndicated business reality competition show, “Hatched.” She has been an anchor on CNN, CNBC and Bloomberg. Her latest book, Becoming Super Woman, is available now.

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