After 16 years in a successful investment banking job I was feeling burnt out and took a drastic step to leave my high-flying career. It was not an easy decision, but at the time it felt like the only choice.
From the outside my professional life looked solid: I was at the “top of my game”. I was in charge of a strong multicultural, multinational and multitalented team. My team worked well together, our results were fantastic, our employee satisfaction rates were great and my feedback was excellent. I was in talks with my management about “the next step”. I had the title, the team and the pay cheque that many would dream of.
But on the inside I was feeling totally crushed, depleted and severely burnt out.
On the inside everything was beginning to crumble.
The higher up the corporate ladder I went the more pressure there was to perform, and the more isolated and disheartened I felt. Keeping on top of work was taking up most of my mental and physical energy, and I was getting more and more misaligned with the “real me”.
Markets were volatile and jobs were at stake. There was a growing culture of unhealthy rivalry. This atmosphere was not conducive to cultivating healthy collaboration or building genuine connections. Not to mention promoting personal growth and balance, which I was craving.
There were warning signs along the way but like many other professionals I kept charging ahead. I was grateful to have a job that paid well and I was determined to meet the ever-changing work expectations. I was simply hoping things would get easier one day. Yet dreams of a more fulfilling future seemed to be drifting further and further away.
I allowed no time for reflection and started feeling burnt out.
I was feeling totally drained after years of burning the candle at both ends. My overall physical and mental health was taking a real hit and I started to gradually withdraw from social life and activities that I used to enjoy. I had a niggling feeling that despite the titles, recognition and salary, I was missing out on something more important. I knew the growing inner turbulence was not only related to the work pressures. There was more.
I was not allowing my authentic self to step out. I was not acting in line with my own nature. I just didn’t know where to start. What questions do I ask myself? What does my real self look like? How do I handle the answers that come? Besides, there never seemed to be enough time or the right time for this kind of reflection. There were deadlines to be met!
When you are maxed out there’s no resources to fall back on.
Already desperately struggling to maintain any balance, I was suddenly faced with a difficult family situation which pushed me further down the hole. I realised I had no inner resources left to fall back on. I found myself totally knocked down by all the classic symptoms of a burn out including severe fatigue, array of digestive issues, sleeping problems, migraines as well as crippling anxiety leading to panic attacks.
I seemed to have crossed a point of no return. It was physically impossible to handle my day to day duties at the level that was required. I was feeling burnt out – I felt sick and very frightened that I let things get to that stage. But I also felt completely alone in my experience. Everyone else seemed to be able to keep afloat, why couldn’t I?
I could no longer ignore my body’s desperate calling for help. To get my physical and mental health back on track I had to make radical changes and to remove myself from all stress triggers. I left my career with a very heavy heart. One thing I was sure of was that if I ever came back to this industry it would be in a different capacity, to help others.
Employers need to adapt to new ways of cultivating human talent and resources.
Burnout is now considered a serious work issue and women are more likely to burnout than men. This is having a direct, adverse impact on companies’ culture, reputation and their financial results.
Employers need to step up and offer new ways of supporting their staff in more preventative, holistic and caring ways. Conventional approach of offering time off or counselling is not as effective as measures helping people before they are feeling burnt out. Recovery once you have reached a breaking point (and it’s only then when we tend to ask for help) can be very slow.
There is also an unspoken expectation to “deal with the condition” away from the working environment, which continues the stigma around mental health. Yet at times when we are feeling extremely low, what we really need is understanding and acceptance from other humans, working colleagues included.
A break down can be seen as nature’s way of reminding us to stay on the right track and to honour our health. It is also a great opportunity to choose growth over stagnancy. But we are required to be brave, committed and open with ourselves and others to reap the benefits. And as much as most of the work has to come from us – we can’t and should not do it all alone. We need connection, encouragement and support.
Women’s definition of inner strength is different.
We live in a culture where we are pre-conditioned to look and act strong. This is particularly apparent in big corporations. But this “look strong and carry on” approach has taken many innocent victims and it can be especially hard for women.
Women can be naturally more sensitive and caring. Our emotions fluctuate and we need to find an avenue for expressing them. We like to take more factors into account when making decisions especially when we enter a new terrain. We are often extremely compassionate and supportive. We are considerate of the environment and of the feelings and needs of others.
There is so much truth in an old saying: where Devil fails – send a woman! We can bring so much to the table, but we also need to feel supported ourselves. We can only operate effectively from a place where we are allowed to apply our feminine values and our work-life requirements are met.
The modern world is starting to recognise that to retain harmony in our human interactions and return balance to our planet we need both genders to play equal part. Yet we find that “female empowerment” model is often designed by men and it can look like women encouraged to think and act like successful men.
There are women that are naturally more assertive. But those that are not will either end up leaving the organisation or they try to adapt to the male model of success and end up compromising their own personal style.
DrivenWoman helped me to take back control of my life.
When we are facing big life changes our struggles can offer us a lot of valuable lessons. You can reap the benefits only if you are willing to step into the unknown. Just a few months after leaving my job I came across DrivenWoman. A friend who was a member encouraged me to sign up.
After all I had just thrown my whole career away.
I quickly realised that being a DrivenWoman was so much more than performing well at work. A DrivenWoman is a woman that proactively creates her whole life, a life that will give her the sense of happiness and fulfilment she seeks at a very deep level. So I started building myself up again, brick by brick. I was supported by like-minded women in a group where everyone openly shared their stories, their achievements and their struggles. Together we vocalised our fears and overcame our obstacles working towards a bigger life that we got to define ourselves. We learnt to move forward towards that greater vision by making small but consistent changes and regularly evaluating our progress with honesty and acceptance.
This was exactly what I needed!
And as I dived deeper into the process I couldn’t stop thinking: if only I had access to these tools and support when I was still at my job, things could have taken a very different turn.
This is how DrivenWoman helped me when I was feeling burnt out:
TAKING BACK CONTROL: DrivenWoman’s Lifeworking™ program encourages women to take control of their life by providing them with a safe space to evaluate and plan.
DESIGNING THE LIFE YOU WANT: The practical format of the DrivenWoman sessions means that every month program members get to set achievable goals towards creating more fulfilled life and career.
BEING A WOMAN: DrivenWoman’s mission is to support women in tapping into their unique female qualities and talents and to guide them on how to utilise these to their best advantage in either work and personal environment.
SUPPORT FROM OTHERS: The groups offer women valuable help from other like-minded women. It’s where women learn that their challenges and desires are common and they get the support and practical advice from others, who walk similar path to theirs. It’s called co-development.
ACCOUNTABILITY: By openly sharing their goals with others women are a lot more likely to action them!
LIFE-WORK BALANCE: DrivenWoman members look at all aspects of life and learn to better prioritise, so any sign of imbalance can be spotted early on and adjustments can be made. This is incredibly valuable for their mental health and overall wellbeing.
GOING OUT IN THE WORLD: When women find their true voice they are able to apply that strength into their careers and go out to the world with confidence!
Especially women in corporate environments might feel overwhelmed and stretched from trying to juggle too many things, perhaps feeling isolated, disheartened or not heard. With the help of DrivenWoman’s support, women in a corporate setting can find their voice. They won’t be afraid to challenge old gender norms with unhealthy behaviour patterns, ineffective structures and absence of equality. They will gain the confidence to start creating an environment where female talents are recognised and valued. And they won’t have to do it alone as they will have other women, their tribe, to support them.
Anna Varney, a former finance Director, DrivenWoman member and corporate sales consultant in London.