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The shadow side of my work burn-out: an honest self-reflection

I am sitting on top of my bed on my laptop, drinking a glass of blackcurrant squash that reminds me of my favourite jelly candies of my childhood. The Women Who Run with The Wolves is waiting for me to dive into the wild woman’s power, while the gentle scent of freshly burned sage helps me getting into the zone. My cotton bed throw is soft and welcoming, with pink Indian motifs that stimulate my writing flow.


In June this year, I celebrate 3 years since I ended up for good my life as an employee and fully embraced freedom. I wish I could tell you how epic my departure was, how I saw the surprise on my watery eyes of my alcoholic boss receiving the news that I was resigning, and how free I felt while closing the door of my office for the last time. 

It wasn’t like that.

I was doing my own stuff on the side for 10 years, but I never took the complete leap to leave employment once and for all. I left my jobs on and off, most of the time being burned out, every time hoping it’s the last time, enjoying the short freedom in between. I never looked for a new job while I was still in employment, every time I left forever, then returned.

Don’t get me wrong, I was doing my jobs well. Even too well. I was always the overachiever, that person that is the first to take a new project, especially if it was a difficult one and no one else wanted to take it. I was always a good employee, doing the hard work without complaining, always looking for a challenge. If it wasn’t challenging, it wasn’t for me.

I was striving for success. I wanted the hard work. It made me feel alive. I was desperately seeking to feel something. Like when you’re having sex with someone who you are not compatible with, and trying different tricks to awaken the spark, when this is simply not there.

Can you believe I wanted to be successful in a career that I knew from the start it wasn’t for me? I did it well for many years, with some failed attempts to leave earlier, that translated just into a change of jobs. I always knew this wasn’t the solution. It never was. But I successfully ignored it.

I was also driven by the future possibility of taking a promotion, of my efforts being recognised, of the potential more money I could make. The word manager was feeding up my ego, it made me feel important, that I can prove to others that I am worthy and my great efforts are appreciated.

I remember myself working by 8 or 9 pm in my office, coming home to eat and drink a glass ( or two) of wine to unwire some of my brain circuits, then opening my laptop and responding to emails, doing mandatory training and other bits of work until 12 am.

I was falling asleep like a baby when I put my head on the pillow, sleeping for a couple of hours, and then waking up at 3 am in a panic, solving in my head work problems, making reports, and worrying about the other 80 unread emails in my inbox. I remember those nights, not trying to fall back asleep (it was impossible anyway), but couldn’t wait for the sun to rise sooner, so I can get off the bed at 6 am and leave for work.

Please, believe me, I did not invent these things, I did not make them up with my wandering mind, weaving them in a virtual spiderweb that I have trapped myself in. These were my real problems, they were not just thoughts that I needed to observe and pretend they pass until I would find my inner peace. My workload was crazy for a single person doing the job of three people at the time, in a newly opened, underfunded, secondary school.

For a very long time after I left, I felt guilty that I was not able to ”make” it. I thought it was my fault. I felt ashamed and embarrassed, that I wasn’t, you know, good enough, productive enough, smart enough to do my job in those 8 damn hours I was paid for.

Only if I would’ve discovered meditation earlier, perhaps I would’ve been able to resist for another one month, by the end of the school year when the much expected holiday was due! But it wasn’t that way. I only started to meditate again after some good years of break, when I was already at home, with my NOT FIT FOR WORK – ANXIETY certificate.

I remember that Thursday morning when I booked an urgent appointment with my GP, desperately crying that I just can’t take that anymore. While the doctor was writing my sickness leave note, I was trying to explain that I do not wish her to write on my certificate that I suffer from ANXIETY, that I was ashamed, that I wanted another diagnostic, a more acceptable one. For example a hayfever, a flu, a stomach bug, whatever. She measured me with her warm, compassionate light blue eyes and she said: They must know the truth. They can’t treat employees like that and expect them to not get sick.

Listening to her words was the first time when I understood I was not wrong. That it was not my fault. That it was their fault. Was it?

The truth is, I am not designed to survive as an employee. Not because I don’t like being one, although this is also true. But I always had this dual relationship with my jobs. I knew they were not representing me, but I insisted to make them work for me.

I stayed for 15 years in employment having a love-hate relationship with my jobs. I was loving them for the first six months, while they were still fresh and challenging and I was learning something new. But once I started to feel confident in a job, I got extremely bored.

The first six months were of blind love, excitement, followed by a dead period, longer or shorter until I’d resign.

That second phase was the walking dead phase. I was experiencing unclear feelings of meaningless, boredom, working on automatic pilot, but also high energy levels, taking the challenging work (that work that I wanted to feel sexy), and always ended up overworking.

As a self-employed, my heart only feels alive if these three conditions were met:


1. no strict working schedule
2. do what I like ( which is ever-evolving and never static)
3. excitement

If my work does not meet these three conditions, I am not myself. Let’s take these in order.

No strict schedule

I always hated mornings. Not all mornings but especially those when I had to go for work. There were times when I woke up crying. Others, when I was spending too much time doing my make-up and uncosciously leaving my home late. And others, when I would take the longest walking route to work just to enjoy the surroundings and delay entering the building.

I also hate to ask for a holiday. If I am tired and I need to rest, then I want the right to rest when I need it. As am employee, you can’t take a day off tomorrow just because you had a heavy night today.

I appreciate in my work now that I can wake up early when I feel so, but I can also wake up late if I need. Sometimes I start working at 9:30am, others at 1:30pm. I might stop working at 6pm, or at 1am in the night. But I know I always have the freedom to sleep as long as I need to recover my energy.

The creative flow, most of the times, does not pay attention to the time. It comes and goes whenever she wants.

Do what I like

This is a very important one for me really. I can do the work I don’t like, I am not saying I can’t. But I am no longer willing to do it.

I choose carefully the work I do. I also do not think twice when I refuse work. I must feel the yes in my heart immediately to be able to say yes to an opportunity. If is not a loud YES, then I know is a NO.

Excitement

I know my work has to be exciting. I must feel revived, curious, energised, like a small child discovering the world when I do my work. It doesn’t matter if I just read a new story about the wild woman archetype, or I learned how to do a shamanic healing clearing. What I learn, work, share with others must be exciting. If an idea doesn’t excite me, it means it is not for me.

I am going to continue my wild woman stories right now, Women Who Run With The Wolves is waiting very patient for my attention since I started to write this blog.

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Until next time,
Many blessings,
Amelia

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