Photo Credit: Victoria Heath, Unsplash.com
By Emily Liou

“So, you’re a short-timer, huh?”

I’ll never forget the shame my manager made me feel as I eagerly stashed my laptop into my bag. It was 7:36 p.m. and I’d just finished an 11-hour day filled with back-to-back meetings and endless emails. I was exhausted, hungry, and still had a 45-minute commute ahead of me.

It hurt to hear that remark because it was the first time in my career anyone had ever given me negative feedback. Confused and conflicted, I soon found myself in a strange period of my career where I’d strive to seek out my manager’s approval.

With the need for external validation, I began to conform to this “hustle culture” my boss set out. I started to think it was normal to work 60 hours a week and that being “busy” was a badge of honor.

And while I did eventually start to receive praise at work, my personal relationships were suffering. I found myself canceling all of the yoga classes I signed up for, texting my boyfriend to go ahead and eat without me, and telling my girlfriends I’d hope to catch them next time.

I began to prioritize my career above everything else in my life.

At first, things were going well. I felt a sense of pride and accomplishment as I continued to get recognized at work. But as months passed by, I caught a cold. And as soon as I got better, I caught another cold. Historically, I caught colds once a year amongst the seasonal flu–but it was only June. No one else around me was getting sick. My body was clearly telling me to slow down.

Yet, even on the days when my boss knew I was sick, I received texts asking if I could get a report completed. “It’s urgent. ASAP!” the screen read.

There I was, powering through an Excel sheet instead of resting in bed like a normal person. This was in part because I didn’t know how to set boundaries back then–and probably also because of this irrational fear of being replaced or labeled as “unreliable.”

When I returned to the office, I started to look around at my boss and the leadership team around me. For the first time, with clear eyes, I realized I’d never want to trade places with any of these overworked souls.

This was the first time during my tenure there that I started to realize I was in an organization (and team) that was the polar opposite of my core values.

I’d never consciously reflected on it, but when I did, it became very apparent to me that my core values were centered around freedom, trust, fun, compassion, and community. By feeling obligated to stay in the office all day, virtually every single core value was being challenged. On top of that, by cutting out yoga and my personal friendships, it was no surprise I was left feeling completely empty.

According to Mayo Clinic, job burnout’s defined as a state of physical or emotional exhaustion that also involves a sense of reduced accomplishment and loss of personal identity.

A loss of personal identity. Yup, I officially hit job burnout.

I truly had no idea who I was anymore. I felt as if I were going through the motions and every day was like Groundhog Day. And everyday questions like these would race through my mind: What is my true purpose on this planet? Why does this work feel so meaningless? Is this really what I went to college for? What’s the point?

As I started to ask these questions to myself each day, I got clearer on what problems irked me the most. I was mad that colleges didn’t prepare us for the real world, how to navigate complex work conflicts, or even raise discussions around values and zones of genius.

I started to devour every career development book and article I could get my hands on. I started applying what I was learning into my current workplace.

While I did see improvements in a short period of time, I ultimately decided it was time to hatch together an exit strategy and to find a new pursuit that actually allowed me to integrate my core values every day.

One evening, after a long workday, I was motivated to start a website and asked random strangers what they needed help with when it came to career advice. It turns out, a lot of people are unhappy in their careers and are searching for career happiness.

Fast forward nearly two years later, I’ve now coached hundreds of clients all over the world on how they, too, can find meaningful work. Best of all? My coaching practice truly embraces my core values as I make sure everything I do includes freedom, trust, fun, compassion, and community.

It sounds strange to say, but in hindsight, I’m actually really grateful for my job burnout and what I consider one of the worst jobs I ever held. Because without it, I wouldn’t have been on this journey to discover my true passion, my impact, and my real career identity.

Job burnout can be the catalyst towards achieving something equally pleasurable on the other side. It can be a tremendous opportunity to reassess and recalibrate towards what you actually want more of. We all have control over our careers, but it’s up to us to take the first step today in the right direction.

If you find yourself experiencing job burnout, be sure you take a moment to fully zoom out and ask yourself what you truly want in your career. What are the descriptors that come to mind on an intuitive level? Where can you start to infuse a bit more of that in your day, today? I often tell my clients that finding your passion is less about what you’re doing but more of who you’re being. Who do you want to be?

When you can get clarity on how you want others around you to describe you, trust that everything you need already lies deep down within you. That means you can step into who you want to be today. Start to see if there are ways to set clear boundaries, communicate your needs, or show up as that person who’s already achieved whatever you feel you’re lacking.

Just by increasing your awareness and taking control, you’ll see positive change externally and internally. Start to follow whatever you feel inspired to do—that could look like attending in-person events with like-minded people, reaching out to someone who works at a company you’ve been dreaming of working for, or complimenting a colleague for a job well done.

As you start to have meaningful conversations, trust that you’ll open yourself up to opportunities that are aligned with your purpose, passion, and values.

Job burnout is just a sign that we need to do something different to steer us back onto the right path.

Photo Credit: Victoria Heath, Unsplash.com