A couple of years ago, I was going through a severe exhaustion, physical and mental. Let’s get this straight : I burnt-out and I could not get myself to acknowledge it, although the signs were there.
At 42 or so, I was having a successful career, a happy marriage and a wonderful daughter. However, I could feel that I was no longer happy. Somehow, I knew something was wrong, my usually strong energy level was fading, I had lost all sense of humour and work was the only thing on my mind. I could think of nothing else and when I was at home with my family, I could barely hide my irritation as if this time was stolen from my « mission » at work.
Being a pure product of an exclusive French education system, I had been put since childhood on a certain « success trail ». Plus, having had a super-woman mother who managed her company while raising 3 kids, left me no choice than becoming an over-achiever
The first wake-up call was the birth of my child. I realised that I needed space to be a mother. However, my job was one that allowed no boundary between professional and private life. I was expected to be connected all the time, being reactive and available to clients was the norm in the industry. So although I managed to get home by 7:30 pm (early by Parisian standards), I was still working late, responding to emails or phone calls. When she was 2, my daughter once asked me to put down my Blackberry…Not being able to get space was shutting me down as I could not bring myself to express it.
Then, one day, my husband handed me a book he had bought me. « How to stop complaining », that was its title. At first, I was mad at him. Yes, the message was blunt but it did lead to an open discussion where my husband confided that I was no longer the same « funny and light » woman I have been. Reading this book was actually eye-opening as I realised that my unhappiness came from being torn between what I felt I had to DO (be a great professional) and what I wanted to BE (a woman, a mother, a spouse and also a good-enough professional).
This was like opening a Pandora box and while it would still take me several years to actually act on this, the permission to be myself started to filter through.
I barely had time to act upon this as I shortly after got THE promotion I had wanted. I was thrilled by what I saw a major achievement. I was enjoying my job, was very good at it and the additional responsibility were initially manageable with my private space.
However, things went crazy again and I was no longer able to keep any boundary. I was travelling a lot, face-timing with my daughter only to see her cry at my being away, I could not sleep at night thinking of everything I had to do, I could not go the gym anymore and was not really listening to what my husband had to say.
Then, my body took over. Headaches, heartaches, backaches, you name it, I had them all and Saturday visits to my GP became a habit….
At some point, I had no choice than to face reality. This was no longer a life I could live. Becoming a visible and recognised professional had once been important but the truth was that it was no longer what my inner-self longed for. As I had shut it down, my body was taking over and it was time for me to stop and engage in a much-delayed internal dialogue.
After some months of rest, I consciously chose to live a life where space exists. Space to spend real time with my daughter and husband, space to write, space to reflect, space to set up my company, space for charity work, space to learn…
I feel like a bee moving from one honeycomb to the other and it tastes so sweet ! I even went back to university to get an executive coaching degree. Being back to school was the most amazing thing that could happen to me and I enjoyed it fully.
Having had to go through such an exhaustion to connect to my inner-self was not easy but I have learned along this bumpy road and have achieved an amazing feeling of wholeness I will protect forever.