I walked off the elevator at 6:02 a.m. The hallway was dark, and I fumbled to find the light switches. I had no clue where to find said switches, as I had never been the first person in the office. As I walked down the hall to my desk ready to have a productive day, my mind was foggy from lack of sleep the night before.
The pounding headaches that arrived each morning were another reminder that I had barely been sleeping during the last three months. Accustomed to normally drinking one cup of coffee in the morning, my caffeine intake grew exponentially. The red flags were there, but I dismissed them.
I was losing myself. It wasn’t just the lack of sleep — although that will slowly make you feel like you’re losing your mind — but the effects of extreme stress for a prolonged period of time. The responsibilities, deadlines, client demands and needs of my staff were omnipresent demands. Every ounce of energy was going into my job. I was giving so much at work that I had nothing left to give in the other aspects of my life: my new marriage, family, passion for running and taking care of our home.
The job became more than a job for several reasons. I’m a textbook definition of a type-A individual, and giving up is not in my nature. If a staff member needed me at 5:30 p.m., I stayed at work, even if I had already been there 10 hours and promised myself I would leave by 5:00. I rarely said no to consulting “extracurricular activities,” like helping develop intellectual capital and working on proposals. I was drowning.
On that fateful day, I had a variety of unpleasant meetings with anxious staff and frustrated clients. I remember zoning out during one of the meetings and looking out the window. I wondered when I would feel rested and whole again. I wondered when I might stop crying while I drove to and from work. I wondered when I would get my life together and start being the wife I wanted to be.
That was the moment I knew I had to leave.
I was terrified to walk away. I had always done everything right: succeeded academically in high school, attended a good university, got an engineering degree, and worked hard in my jobs to be promoted and get good raises and increasing levels of responsibility. Quitting my job and leaping off a cliff into the unknown were just not things that I did.
After spending hours of agonizing conversations with my husband, we decided that it was the right decision. When I talked to my boss and perennial mentor, I was terrified. I was so worried I would disappoint him by leaving. He was kind to me and offered incredible support, even convincing me to take a leave of absence rather than resign. After a three-month leave of absence, I ultimately resigned.
I was not ready to go back and dreamed of new things for my career.
I still remember what I wore that summer day when I arrived at work in the dark of night: black skirt, black and white windowpane blouse, black pointy flats and yellow, beaded statement necklace. My hair was wavy from not blow-drying it that morning and was pulled back into a messy bun. Sometimes, I see the blouse hanging in my closet and it brings me back to that day. When I look at it, I feel strength, pride and peace.
This may sound like a strange combination of emotions from such an exhaustingly difficult time, but it makes sense. Unraveling myself from my corporate existence and sorting out my new career dreams is complicated. I take comfort in knowing that I made a courageous decision for my own well-being.