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The Full Story

“Finding your purpose can feel like losing your mind”

You’ll have received many of them. Most of us will have written a few. They’re a ubiquitous feature of today’s corporate world. What am I referring to? Well, it’s the employee Leaving Note of course.

These rambling missives share some common themes: It’s been real. Thanks for being great colleagues/friends/bosses. I’m going to miss you all as I take on the next big challenge in my life’s adventure. I wish you the best of luck in yours. You know the drill.

I wrote one such note in June 2015 when I left my role as Executive Director of Accenture Development Partnerships, the company’s “not-for-loss” arm as I liked to call it. After almost 20 years working for the same organization, I’d certainly had plenty of time to think of what to write. Moreover, I’d received hundreds of such notes during my career. Yet, when it comes to your own turn, the right words don’t always flow easily.

I opted for the familiar template – how much I’d loved my job, enjoyed working with brilliant colleagues, had the support of a great organization to pursue my dream of bringing business and technology expertise to the developing world. I went on to explain that following a brief illness, the time had come for a change and I was “Moving On”. All of this was 100% true. But it wasn’t the whole truth. I’d stayed silent about the nature of my illness. I’d omitted the “B word” – Breakdown or Burnout, take your pick. Either way, in late 2014 an extreme fever on my return from India, triggered a manic episode that meant me spending five days and nights in a psychiatric ward in Glasgow. One day you’re shaking hands with President Clinton in a glitzy New York hotel. The next you find yourself playing a cameo role in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Talk about wake-up calls.

So after over two years of silence, I felt the time was right for me to out myself – through this blog and by writing a book.

One in four of us will experience some kind of mental health issue during our lifetimes and sadly, that number is only set to grow. In the 24/7 reality of the digital working world, the boundaries between work and non-work time don’t just blur – they’ve ceased to exist. Mental health related illnesses – burnouts, breakdowns, anxiety, depression are estimated to cost over $200 billion in the US alone and it’s a growing issue across the entire developed world.

Frankly, I consider myself to be one of the lucky ones. I’d no history of mental health issues personally or in my family. There’s been no recurrence since my “Incident” in 2014, nor thankfully is there likely to be. I was doing a job I loved within a supportive organization and had the feeling I was making a difference. So, how much harder must it be for the multitude of employees working over 60 hours each week in unfulfilling jobs, for multinationals whose corporate values go no deeper than an empty mission statement? Cramming in a few breathless mindfulness sessions or one hour of yoga each week, is no compensation when you feel demotivated, disengaged and downright trapped in your job.

So my message is a simple one. If you feel that description applies to you, either change company or better still, change the company you’re in – for the better. Because I believe passionately in the power of business to change the world and even more, in the power of individuals to change the world of business. Bottom up, inside out.

No, there are no panaceas. But if we strive to create the organizations we desire to work in, that build the societies we desire to live in, then we’ll be helping not only ourselves and our colleagues, but the world as a whole. 

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