Blood, Sweat, and Careers:
A Tribute to Life After Burnout
Where It All Began
Picture this – you and your friends graduated from college — such a defining moment! Your friends landed jobs on Wall Street at sophisticated, well-known banks and are relocating to the big apple. Meanwhile, you packed the U-Haul and moved to a small, unknown town 3.5 hours from home. Your alarm clock is ringing at 10:00 PM, and you drag yourself out of bed in the pitch dark to get ready for work. Selecting an outfit is easy, you have a uniform consisting of steel-toed boots, khakis, and a company-supplied polo shirt typically 3 sizes too big (they didn’t have women’s sized clothing in manufacturing) and of course, a hairnet.
You drive to work on the quiet roads while your neighbors are turning out their lights and drifting off to sleep. Once at work, you begin your shift by being notified that three people on your team called in sick, a piece of equipment is broken, and the main ingredient you need to have a successful shift (potatoes!) did not arrive on time. Your worknight consists of scurrying around to re-schedule each person, tracking down a grumpy mechanic to fix the broken machine, and once the potatoes arrive, rolling up your sleeves to help the team catch up. As your shift comes to an end, the sun is rising and you’re heading home smelling like salt & vinegar or worse — sour cream and onion!
Yes, my first, post-graduation job was working the graveyard shift as a front-line supervisor in a potato chip factory. Talk about blood, sweat, and careers!
Fast forward 15+ years
From supervising teams in a potato chip factory; to a major pivot into human resources; to building a college recruiting department for a global company — from scratch — I have successfully made 10+ career jumps, U-turns, promotions, and steps up and down, across multiple industries and Fortune 200 companies that have left me with life-long lessons, experiences, successes, failures, and even a few surprises along the way. I have also experienced some serious seasons of burnout over the years.
While seemingly a struggle, the potato chip factory experience turned out to be one of the most notable journeys of career growth. As a college graduate, overseeing a large, diverse team of 40+ team members, making trade-off decisions about safety, quality, service, and cost is no easy undertaking. Especially when you’re on your own — believe me, you didn’t want to be the one to call the boss at 3:00 AM because you couldn’t make a decision!
Although I didn’t realize it at the time, I learned more about running a business and leading people in this role than any other job. And I’ve used those learnings throughout my career. Reflecting back, I also picked up on the significance of small doses of self-care to promote healthy growth, even in the midst of a less than desirable work experience.
Let me invite you to dry your tears, wipe the sweat from your forehead, and read on about how I transformed my feelings of dismay in my first job and my seasons of burnout into feelings of joy.
Daily Ritual 1 – Time in Nature
One of the most memorable daily rituals started while working the graveyard shift. As you can imagine, after being awake all night, it’s tough to figure out a daily routine… I never knew when to eat or sleep or run errands or hit the gym.
One of the things I recall that helped the most, was a stop at the local park on my drive home each morning. Luckily, I discovered a quiet, well-manicured park directly on my route … it was a perfect place to decompress. The sounds of birds chirping and ducks quacking, along with the smell of cut grass in the summer (or fresh snowfall in the winter) and wet sneakers from the morning dew felt calming and allowed me to enjoy the fact that I was able to take the time to decompress while everyone else was in a mad rush to start their day. This was my first encounter with the healing power of nature. And to this day, it’s still part of my daily morning routine.
Daily Ritual 2 – Practice Gratitude
While in my corporate days, I often felt depleted before even getting out of bed in the morning. My first thought of the day would be something to the effect of, “ugh I just need to get through this day—week—month and then I’ll be able to catch my breath.” Literally wishing the days away from the moment I woke up. This is not a great way to make the most of each day if you ask me.
Replacing those thoughts with a daily gratitude practice was a game changer. It’s a simple way to reprogram your mind to recognize the good in each day. And it’s easy! I spend 5 minutes each morning with the notes app on my phone typing three things I’m most grateful for. Simple things like playing with Tula or making time for a quiet, nutritious lunch outdoors.
Once I noticed the joy in starting a morning gratitude practice, I realized I had a tough time winding down in the evenings, so I shifted my gratitude practice to the evenings — thinking through allll the goodness from the day and recognizing how much I had to be thankful for. ⠀⠀
Daily Ritual 3 – Set Intentions
When I moved my morning gratitude practice, I replaced it with a couple of minutes of intention setting — thinking through my schedule and setting a positive intention for each interaction. Again, nothing extravagant, simply associating a few words with each day. For example, if I had more meetings on my calendar than I was comfortable with, I set the intention each meeting would be enjoyable, resulting in flow and ease. And, surprisingly enough, it usually happened just the way I intended.
Ritual might sound like a strong word, and could often be related to religion, although in its simplest form is described as, "a ceremony consisting of a series of actions performed according to a prescribed order."⠀⠀
These daily rituals — opening and closing ceremonies if you will — have proven themselves to restore the momentum and zest of each day.
Gratitude and Stress
It’s worth mentioning gratitude again.
Quick story—during a tough time at my 9-5, I distinctly remember a Monday morning when I had a hard time catching my breath before work. So, I spent some time writing the phrase “life supports me” over and over & then jotted down every.single.thing I was grateful for in that moment.
Interestingly enough—after just a few minutes—my breath returned to a normal rate and I felt equipped to start the day. Gratitude literally disrupted my anxiety. Obviously, this was a huge nudge that the day job was no longer serving me, although I was thankful for the way gratitude worked in the moment.
When stress shows up, it’s usually a wakeup call asking us to get in front of the trigger and upgrade our internal programming. When you shift your perspective to a grateful heart your brain starts to look for more things to be thankful for—igniting a #gratitudechain.
And when it comes down to it, everything in life is all one big gift even in the most uncomfortable & uncertain times. Yes, even when shoveling potatoes in the middle of the night! Join me in making a small shift and invite in a heart of gratitude.
Boundaries and Balance
With today’s rapid pace of work, flexible work arrangements, and constant change, setting healthy boundaries with work are more difficult and more important than ever before.
Keep in mind, boundaries are different for everyone, they stem from your priorities and values. It’s important to pay attention to your feelings, know your limits, and give yourself permission to set boundaries.
One of the commitments I made to myself as I ditched the 9-5 and transitioned into self-employment was to NOT fall back into a place of pure exhaustion. When you work for yourself, it is easy to be ON 24x7. And when you LOVE what you do, that can feel completely comfortable!
At the same time — after learning the hard way — I know that balance plus boundaries encourage a healthy approach to career. For me, beautifully spontaneous days are a component of that healthy balance.
Recently, I decided to block my calendar for two days a month. A Thursday & Friday for unscheduled time — two beautifully spontaneous days. That doesn’t mean I don’t work, it means that I have space — unscheduled + no strings attached time — to do what needs to be done without scheduled obligations.
It’s easy to get wrapped up in the day to day and forget to stop — take a breath — and enjoy it.
Let’s face it, there’s a lot of noise and negativity surrounding us on the daily. I don’t know about you, but I’ve had to force myself to step away from the madness — the information, upon information, upon information – that is tossed at me every minute of the day is enough to make my mind spin. What consumes the mind, controls the soul —what a powerful saying!
Being intentional about how much and what I consume has always helped me proactively set myself up for a productive and enjoyable day. Below are a few easy actions that have made a notable impact for me:
- I’ve turned off all app notifications — the buzzing and clinking of all the things makes me nuts!
- The evening news has been traded for an evening walk at least 2x a week
- Time blocks on my calendar dedicated to managing email versus reacting every time a new message pops up on my screen
In addition to what I noted here, I love these microsteps from Arianna Huffington and Olivia Nottebohm that help you find focus in the digital age.
Life after Burnout
It took awhile for me to realize that for me, climbing the corporate ladder plus a cushy salary was not worth the soul-sucking effort that it took to get through each day. There is no badge of honor at the top of the ladder for “powering through” or “making it.” In fact, typically, it’s quite the opposite — you make it to the top rung only to run smack into more work, less recognition, and so much anxiety that you’re too tired to appreciate each day.
When I realized it was time to live — not live to work — there was no going back.
Now, each day is packed with meaningful work. I feel lucky to see the immediate impact of my contributions as I support others in following their hearts and making big career changes happen. It’s rewarding to showcase a client’s potential when redefining their personal brand. It’s FUN to wake up each day knowing I’m using my knowledge and experiences — even from the potato chip factory — to support others in their career fulfillment.
And not to mention, I get to wear clothes that I’m comfortable in, which BTW, definitely is NOT steel-toed boots, an oversized polo, and a hairnet!
Most of us live with the stubborn idea that we always have tomorrow to do our most valuable work. Or that career fulfillment must be at the expense of living a radiantly healthy life. I hope that these tips and a glimpse into my career story help to awaken your mind that a career journey doesn’t have to be all blood, sweat, and tears… and it can, in fact, be impactful, designed with intent, and dare I even say, fun?!
Jenn gets what companies are looking for when hiring top talent, it’s what she does. As a former talent acquisition and HR leader whose experience spans more than 15 years across multiple industries – including Fortune 200 companies – she has recruited, coached, and hired hundreds of early-career professionals into positions ranging from human resources, finance, and engineering, to IT, sales, and operations.
Jenn is a career crusader on a mission to support early and mid-career professionals navigate the new world of work by resetting boundaries and igniting action to live their happiest, healthiest lives. You can find out more about Jenn at Flourish Careers.
Blood, Sweat, and Careers
September 2, 2020