As published in Huffington Post October 28th 2014.
Last December, I walked away from a six-figure job where I managed a billion-dollar book of business in the financial industry. I had nearly killed myself to get that job. It was a major stepping stone to senior management and everything I wanted in a job.
I was miserable.
It took a great deal of effort to ignore the little voice inside of me saying, This doesn’t feel right. I instead decided to suck it up and just enjoy the benefits of my career achievements.
So, I managed to keep slugging through my 12-hour workdays and slap a smile on, so no one would know how disconnected I felt.
Life decided to throw a few personal tragedies onto my path in the two years before my resignation, and I still kept soldiering on. At the time, I felt proud of not allowing these personal issues to affect my work.
When I look back on these years, I wish someone had taught me to recognize the signals that it was time to make a drastic change. The universe fired off giant flares to get my attention and I almost missed it.
If you’re feeling frustrated and disconnected with at work, consider the following signs that it’s time for a change. Something is HORRIBLY WRONG if:
1. Your boss gets a better version of you than your family does.
Your boss did not give birth to you. You did not give birth to your boss. Your boss did not sign a marriage certificate with you and promise for better or for worse. So why does your boss get to see the peppy, can-do, go-getter while your family gets the cranky, exhausted you?
None of us would wish on our deathbed that we had put in more effort for our managers. So it seems pretty backwards to think of how much emotional energy goes into keeping our managers happy — no matter how senior they are — when our family is going to be there standing with us in our final hours.
I can think of so many reasons why it always feels that we need to pour more energy into keeping our managers happy, but can anyone truly say that this reason is going to be compelling enough if tragedy were to strike?
2. You are compromising your values.
What is important to you? Being able to spend time with your kids? Being able to travel? Being able to enjoy a relaxing soak in the tub with a good book?
Compromising on the things that I valued most in life for the sake of work deadlines and obligations to people I am not related to would have led to major life regrets if I had not changed. It took a life-threatening diagnosis for several of my loved ones to make me realize this.
I don’t want to be overly morbid by constantly referring to a deathbed, so I will simply reframe this as, “What’s going to seem more important in 10 years: a memorable trip with your significant other or the HR crisis that came up just before your holidays?”
Furthermore, even if you are doing the activities that you cherish, are you staying in tune with your internal value system? For example, if you value calmness, are you able to embody this value at work or is this only allowed outside of work?
A long-term disconnection between my internal value system and my behavior at work led to major health issues (see #5).
3. You are sacrificing your sleep, diet or exercise.
Your body needs proper rest, nutrition and exercise in order to fight off illness and to function at its best.
When I deprived myself of these things, my body stayed in fight or flight mode for too long, leading to adrenal fatigue, amongst other things. Adrenaline glands are not meant to be working at maximum capacity all the time, ultimately causing loss of resilience both physically and emotionally.
This loss of resilience has a major impact on performance in all areas of life, including work. Therefore, in trying to be strong by skipping sleep or meals, we end up embodying the very thing we are trying to avoid.
It was a wake up call for me when I realized my car was getting better care than I was, with fuel or oil changes, rest at night and regular jaunts outside. I knew my car would break down on me if I didn’t do these things, but somehow I thought my body was invincible.
4. You are ignoring your friends.
Friends should always trump work.
If your girlfriend calls you sobbing because of a disaster that just happened, you grab your purse and hightail it out of the office to meet her. You’re the boss and you can give yourself permission to take an early lunch.
I guarantee that your girlfriends are going to be the ones that will rally around you when you have your meltdown moment (especially if you have been neglecting yourself, see #3).
I should have never let my crazy work schedule get in between me and my best buddies grabbing a drink together or at least calling them regularly to laugh over the absurdities of life.
By alienating the people who choose to love us, we put at risk our support system for life’s low moments and our biggest cheerleaders for the exhilarating highs.
5. Everything seems at a 10.
This brings me to the biggest ah-ha moment in both my personal life and my career. I truly hope that by sharing this, I will spare at least one woman the pain that I went through before my diagnosis.
Your brain is an amazingly complex organ. Sometimes the chemicals in your brain can get out of whack, for a variety of reasons. One of the most easily missed symptoms of brain chemistry imbalance is interpreting everything in your life as a 10 out of 10 on the disaster scale.
This can be one of the most difficult warning signs to see, as it’s like telling someone who needs glasses that they need glasses. It usually takes the eye doctor telling you that you are supposed to be able to see the letter on the eye chart, but otherwise you assume that everyone else can’t see that letter. If you’ve ever put on glasses for the first time, you know what I’m talking about. Trees! Mountains! Your friend’s face! Who knew they could be so clear???
I encourage you to be honest with yourself, and ask yourself if your brain is interpreting most situations as a 10/10. Another way to explain this is you are feeling as if you have lost your mental buffer. Every bump in the road makes you feel like you are going to lose your sh*t. If this describes you, I would strongly encourage you to go visit your family doctor.
What to do if one or more of these warning signs applies to you right now?
The simple answer is: pause and reflect.
You have the opportunity to make some changes. This doesn’t mean that you need to quit your job like I did. You may just need some time to reconnect with your priorities and then make some decisions to bring your life back in line.
On the other hand, this may be the nudge you need to decide what big leap you want to make, and then just make it. Or, you can just leap and figure it out after.
Sometimes you just need to leave and then you will have the mental space to decide what’s next.
Either way, don’t ignore this opportunity to learn and to change your behavior. If you are meant to learn a lesson, life will make sure you learn it. It’s so much easier to surrender to the lesson instead of waiting until the stakes are higher.
It takes courage to say NO and redefine what your yes is going to be.
Choosing to pay attention to the warning signs and taking drastic action was the best decision I have ever made.