This is not a glamorous topic. In fact, I don't even know how to being writing about this. I want to know what you're about to read is pure word and thought vomit. If you're wonder what "This" is... "This" is a combination of burnout, frustration, and wanting better. Part of me begs to stay silent about this story because I've always regarded myself as a very private person. The other part of me hopes that sharing my story might reach others going through similar emotions.
The last three years, I've been running 100% at a hundred miles an hour. I moved 900 miles away from my husband to take a decent paying job with IBM in Austin, TX. Later, I switched jobs internally within IBM so I could move back to Atlanta to be close with my family when my father's health worsened. In 2016, I helped build out and hire the first team of designers for my IBM group— myself as Designer 0— to a team of seven. With the help of my closest colleagues, I scaled out a design thinking curriculum for over 500+ analysts and advisors. For the larger portion of 2017, I led a team of twelve designers to redesigning various IBM digital experiences such as webpages, applications, and printed material. Politics, team friction, red tape, and late night design hacking was all the norm. As my therapist would say, "you're way deep in it." And frankly, I wasn't terrible at playing my part. When my father passed February this year, I felt heartbroken. To numb and avoid my pain, I drowned myself in more work and pushed myself to find new initiatives and projects to take on.
Some days weren't so bad. With the support and camaraderie of several coworkers and teammates, most days I felt accomplished... like one day our design could affect positive change in the world by 4 to 5 degrees of separation. Most days, I had thick skin and if I heard through the grapevine that a teammate was calling me crazy and a control freak, I could let it roll off my back.
On October 11, 2017, something in me snapped. I couldn't take it anymore.
I cried for hours, called my mom, and pleaded with my husband to let me quit my job. Both, being voices of reason, told me rather than abruptly quit, I should take time away from work to answer some bigger life questions. At 10pm that night, I submitted a request for a personal Leave of Absence (LoA) to my manager.
For those of you who aren't familiar with LoAs, a LoA is when a person takes time off work while still being an employee of a company. Common forms of leave you might have heard of are maternity leave, student leave, military leave. Depending on the type of leave you take, you may take partial pay or no pay. Since my LoA is a personal one, it is unpaid. It's definitely unsettling to know that I'm not pulling in a paycheck right now, but I try to remind myself that price of sanity isn't worth a few paychecks.
I've been on leave for about a month now and if you ask me what I've been up to, I've made a summarized list below. It's easier to consume and I'll write more about each of them in later posts.
- Build better habits. I used to never eat breakfast. Now I wake up every morning at 6:30am and walk three miles with my mom in around the neighborhood. After I get home, I cook my husband and me a small breakfast and send him on his way to work. Then I make a list of tasks I want to accomplish for the day.
- Make our house a home. I started painting the rooms and furnishing the house. We hired a contractor to finish out our basement. Some days I wish I were even more of a DIYer, but I'm excited about the progress.
- Travel to Japan. Right after I submitted my LoA, tickets to Toyko dropped down to $500 round trip from Atlanta on American Airlines. It felt kismet, so I didn't hesitate to buy tickets. We leave for Tokyo tomorrow!
- Flesh out ideas for building my own business. This is something many of us always talk about doing, but it feels so hard to pull the trigger. Honestly, I'm ready to hang up my corporate hat and do something different. My husband and I have joked for years about opening up a tiny cafe. Wistful thinking won't get us there, so now that I've typed it out, maybe I've instilled some accountability in myself, haha.
If anyone else out there is facing burnout, maybe think about yourself a break before you outright quit. A LoA isn't for everyone, but if you can afford to forgo a couple paychecks to give yourself more time to answer bigger questions, it's an option to seriously consider. If you are already considering a LoA or are already taking a personal leave, I'll leave you with borrowed words from a friend, "I'm proud of you. You deserve it. I hope when the time comes, others have the courage to take time for themselves too."
Thanks for reading! If you are willing to share your own personal stories, please feel free to comment below or reach out to me personally via the Contact Form. Best wishes!