I miss my grandmother all the time, despite talking to her often in mind and through prayer. She’s been gone 9 years now, and while I’m grateful for every day I had with her, I can’t help but miss experiencing life with her in physical form. My mind is constantly flooded with images of her being there for me always, especially in my greatest times of need. I’ve not forgotten how she always greeted me with “hi sweetie!” and a great big smile (and usually a hug) to greet me with complete positivity. This woman was also a fashionable badass, with ultimate class. She added a level of spontaneity in how she dressed, especially the time she wore a tracksuit with a pair of heels and pearls to a gala we attended together (move over celebs!). She was always ahead of her time and remains an inspiration to me on how to be a“woman of the world”, love hard, and to always be shamelessly authentic. I’ve always aspired to be like her and have no doubt that she’s been with me always, and especially as I’ve healed from the most treacherous time of my life.
My grandmother’s name was Nonny and “being like Nonny” was a tall order, one that almost appeared incomprehensible in the not so distant past. But when I was a little girl, I knew I would be like her. I knew I would marry the love of my life, be particular with fashion, travel the world…and be sassy just like her too. I am grateful for all of those traits because they make me unique and they make me in some ways out of the ordinary. Not everyone likes me, but just like Nonny (and you!), we weren’t created to be like anyone else so we might as well unapologetically be ourselves.
Unfortunately, my unapologetic sense of confidence got trampled on by the slippery-slope process of “people pleasing”. This trait didn’t come from Nonny, though. Nonny mastered the art of being “kind” and “generous” while remaining true to her beliefs, and she wasn’t afraid to speak up, especially when she had a vodka in her hand (Tito’s to be clear). Maybe a cocktail or two at lunch would’ve helped prevent me from the heartache and people pleasing that put me in such a burned-out state. I didn’t only forget who I wanted to be, I lost myself completely. Because I slowly started to place my work values above my own personal values, I mistakenly decided it was just easier for those work values to simply replace my own. The path of least resistance, I suppose. But at what cost?
It hurt. I cried constantly. And on top of everything else, I didn’t understand it. I made amazing money, had the sexy corporate title, was the youngest leader in my department (millennials unite!), and led an incredibly strategic team. We were straight killin’ it. Yet, over time I let someone tell me over and over again that I (and my team) wasn’t good enough.
Let me be clear…this wasn’t constructive feedback that make me better (although there were some benefits, more on that later). This feedback involved being threatened, yelled at, micromanaged, manipulated, and deceived. This caused me to question my every move; yet, it compelled me to work harder to gain approval from someone I realized, after having my marriage suffer and isolating myself completely from family and friends, nothing I did was going to be good enough. I had to realize I wasn’t going to change the actions of this person, but I could still make a change for myself.
I contemplated the decision of that “change” by sitting on the couch, staring blankly though the television screen, waffling and wondering if I would ever feel like my “Nonny-aspiring” self again, and if this “change” would end my career. I worried that these new dark feelings were yet another layer that put me farther and farther from myself. I felt weak and powerless. But once the panic attacks, night terrors, and other symptoms set in, I finally decided to put myself first.
After 3 months of medical leave, and 6 months of active recovery, I’ve emerged as my more Nonny-like self, and I continue to channel her wisdom, love, and style every single day. But when moments creep in that remind me of my burned-out self, I cherish the comfort that comes from a very special pair of purple satin pajamas. These pajamas belonged to Nonny and now help me transform that day’s fear into anticipation and excitement of my post-burnout journey. They feel like a hug and night-time cuddle to assure me that, in the morning, I’ll feel refreshed, ready to forge ahead as my new, authentic self.
Still wondering where the happy ending is to all this? Well, here it is: my most painful life experience of burnout also helped me realize I was born to be a purpose-driven entrepreneur.
Helping leaders and organizations thrive by personally reconnecting with why they come to work (or why they don’t want to) is now my greatest career achievement. I am so grateful for my burnout so I can intimately understand how broken souls can spark the development of (unintentionally) pain-inflicting leaders. This experience gave me the skills that I now use to help leaders eliminate their ego-based self-sabotage that keeps them (and their teams) stuck. There’s nothing unique or superior about my burnout experience, which means there’s nothing so special about your experience that it deserves a place in continuing to rule your life.
Getting back in touch with myself has looked a lot like the hokey-pokey; and at times, it’s felt like drowning. Likely, so will yours. But, as someone who’s been there, I’ve built an abundance of emotional intelligence that allows me to be grateful for all the feelings burnout helped me uncover; it’s prepared me incredibly well to help you on your journey too when you’re ready. But in order to to keep my resilience high, and the probability of another burnout cycle low, I will continue to reach for my magic pajamas when I need them the most, set down my workday, sleep like a child again and peacefully drift off, giddy for how tomorrow’s day at work will positively unfold.