In 2005 I reached burnout, after 26 years in a high stress, toxic work environment. I felt like I had slammed into a cement wall. I was 65 pounds over-weight and suffering from chronic migraines and digestive issues. My relationship with my spouse was strained. I had no more mental capacity to continue in my current work environment. The world had turned gray, devoid of color. I was completely miserable and desperate for change. Sound familiar?
I often get asked what led to burnout. Here’s my story:
When I graduated from college in 1987, I began working for a west coast department store chain in their management training program. I had never aspired to be in retail management. My vision had been to work for a large marketing giant, such as Johnson & Johnson or Procter and Gamble. I never dreamed that either corporation would have no interest in hiring me. I felt confident that I would have a job offer before I graduated. Boy, was I misguided!
By August, after graduating in May, I had no job offers and was living at home. I was very discouraged. In desperation I began to apply to every job opening I could find. When I submitted my application to Weinstock’s, I thought nothing of it. It was just another application in a long list of applications. The next day I received a phone call to come in for an interview. That interview led to three. Before I knew it, I was offered an entry level management training position at a local store. I promptly accepted the offer and began a 26 year career in a fast-paced, ever-changing industry.
Working 60-70 hour work weeks was not a problem. I was not intimidated by hard work. It was stimulating, and it challenged me. I was quickly promoted, and I worked my way up in store management, eventually becoming an Assistant Store Manager and an Operations Manager; then, seeking change, I made the shift into buying and eventually into planning.
When you’re in your 20’s and 30’s, existing on 4-5 hours of sleep per night and eating junk food, is somewhat sustainable. On my days off, which were few and far between, I would average 10 hours of sleep. When I was in store management, I never sat down. My activity helped me maintain a healthy weight. When I moved into the corporate office and began a more sedentary lifestyle, my weight started to creep upwards, eventually reaching an all-time high.
In my 26 year career I worked for major department store chains, specialty stores, and a large document creation company. Not every position and corporation was toxic. I enjoyed many of my positions. However, they all had several factors in common: long hours, stressful environments due to economic trends, working most weekends, and little time off. These factors slowly took a toll on my body. My mindset began to change as I started to resent having to work most weekends with little to no time for family and friends. The holidays were an absolute beating, which in the retail sector begin in October and end after New Year’s. In actuality, it wasn’t until February that things slowed down enough to take a vacation, due to inventory always being the last week in January.
As my mindset deteriorated, so did the quality of my life. It was difficult to be positive about anything. My last corporate retail position propelled me into burnout. The stress was unbearable. Nepotism was high. No one was happy. The company was struggling. Layoffs and early retirement options were prevalent. I went through several major reorganizations. I was over-weight and taking anxiety and stomach medications. Being forced to move into an area of the business that I had no desire to be a part of, was the final straw that caused me to exit my long-term career. If I did not accept the position, I would be terminated. At that point my attitude was so negative that my husband said to me, “I don’t care what you do, just get out of your current position.” I had hit rock bottom. In a moment of desperation I left the organization without a transition strategy, causing significant financial hardship for many years, including bankruptcy.
It took me over a year to reclaim my health and many years of self-development to feel emotionally healthy and happy, again. Is my life now perfect and challenge free? Absolutely not, but it’s pretty great. As a Success Coach, I’ve learned that we are always a work in progress. Life happens. Challenges do not disappear. However, with the proper tools and training, negative thought patterns can be shifted to a positive mindset, and not become a source of destruction.
If you’ve been living with chronic stress for years, heed the warning signs.
Is your quality of life suffering? Are you tired all the time, having headaches and forgetfulness? This is not normal and will lead to far more severe health problems including heart disease, stroke, and certain types of cancer. When you don’t have your health you don’t have much of anything. Poor health limits your activities, often involves a myriad of medication that has significant side effects, and can be burdensome to your family. When you feel lousy, it’s very difficult to remain positive. Is this your current life? If you’re moving swiftly in this direction, I encourage you to book a complimentary consultation. Consider this an intervention.