In January, I accepted a position at a prestigious, high-end consulting firm. With this new swanky gig, I felt like I would finally rank up with my Ivy League alumni peers! I went to Penn, and all the Penn grads had cool consulting jobs like this. Also, living in the Washington DC metro area, it's not atypical for folks to base conversations and interactions around work. I couldn't wait to go out to happy hour and gleefully respond when someone asked me, "What do you do for work?" Unfortunately, like my peers, my identity was wrapped around what I did for work and how much money I made. My consulting job seemed to start off promising; I developed a reputation for both my technical expertise and emotional intelligence when it came to interacting with clients and co-workers. However, my self-care routine gradually declined, so that I could devote more time to work. I started to miss hangouts with my friends, bypass mornings at the gym, and skip church on Sundays. The long hours, the stress of ever changing deadlines and the web of internal politics weighed heavily on my spirit. In May, the environment became unmanageable for me, and had an epiphany and quit. I was devastated, and I felt like a utter failure. My self-esteem took a big hit as I neglected all my self-care and tied my identity to my job environment. I was riddled with anxiety and depression, and spent weeks out of work trying to recover.
This breakdown lead to two huge breakthroughs. Firstly, I learned the importance of self-care. Self-care isn't about doing an activity that makes you happy here and there. It's about conscious, consistent actions that keep a person sane. Everyone's daily self-care routine is a bit different. My dad, the greatest entrepreneur that I know, is up there in age ;-D, and he has a dedicated self-care routine. His self-care routine involves praying without ceasing, working out and taking naps when he's off the road. For me, it's reading my daily devotional, writing down my thoughts in my journal and getting in a workout at the local Y. If I skip one of these activities, then I feel "off" that day, and I'm not able to give 100% to my work or even my loving husband. Self-care is crucial for anyone regardless of whether you're a W2 employee, contractor, small business owner, or CEO.
Secondly, we disadvantage ourselves when we try to fit the mold. As I write this piece, I conjure images of all my Ivy League peers working high-power corporate jobs at big name firms. These are the folks that I wanted to be. As far as work ethic, I easily give 150% to the people and activities in my life. Outside of my dad and my husband (who is also an entrepreneur), I'm the hardest working person I know (They will greatly appreciate this comment!) As any seasoned professional knows, its not the hardest work who moves up the corporate ladder. Advancing your career in the corporate world is a cunning game of wit, politics and one-on-one "throw something on the calendar" coffee meetings. I'm a bubbly, happy-go-lucky personality, and I tend to take people and things at face value. People like this get eaten alive in the consulting world. From this experience, I finally followed my true calling towards entrepreneurship. I've opened my own consulting business, and I consult for individuals and companies around the globe. Working for myself gives me control of my time, the ability to choose clients and projects, and most importantly, the work-life balance to add self-care as a part of my daily routine.
Third, I learned that failure is not the end of world. Although at times, for an overachiever like me, it may seem like it is. While it seemed like my breakdown was a failure, in actuality, it was God's way of redirecting my life. When we strike out, it definitely takes some time to see the lesson in our failure. The fast-paced consulting environment may work for others, but it didn't work for my personality. In addition, with failure, you gain experience/wisdom, resilience, and growth. From an experience standpoint, I learned that corporate America didn't mesh well for my working style as I crave workplace flexibility, creative freedom and time with my family. I also learned to bounce back quickly. While my husband and I had financial reserve tanks in the event that one of us experienced an accident or a lost a job, the cushion wasn't going to last forever. In a short amount of time, I had to get my head right, and jump back into the freelancing world. Through this experience, I relied heavily on God to lift me from my circumstances. I underwent a growth in my spiritual foundation and relationship with God.
Hopefully this article reaches you. Sometimes our greatest breakthroughs occur when after a significant breakdown. Maybe you're in a dead-end job that you're not enjoying or maybe you've experienced a huge career setback. First and foremost, always remember to prioritize your mental health. When you take care of yourself first, everything else will fall into its rightful place.