From Burnout to Fulfillment: What I’ve learned on my way to living intentionally
I’ll never forget the day I handed in my resignation and walked out the doors of a building that had slowly turned into a prison of my own making.
Four years prior to walking into my “dream” job as a Forensic Consultant at PwC, I’d stepped into my freshman dorm at The George Washington University as part of the newest class of the School of Business. The day I started college, the Business School Career Center was called the Lehman Brothers Career Center thanks to the large contingent of GW alumni that walked the soon-to-be empty halls of Lehman.
We didn’t know it yet but in our first two months of college our imagined futures had all changed. The labor market would contract. Graduates told horror stories of unemployment despite expensive degrees.
If we’d come in dreaming of possibility, we left content with being employed.
And that’s how and why I ended up with an Accounting degree. During those years, accounting was one of the few professions that had continued to hire at a stable rate. I knew I didn’t want to go into tax or audit but if there was something that combined accounting with consulting, I rationalized to myself, I’ll find my “dream” job.
I’d never liked numbers, or absolutes. I’d always thought of myself as an abstract thinker, an imagineer. I convinced myself accounting was “like a puzzle” and that because it was employable it would allow me to work towards the white picket fence, and some misguided definition of success.
The signs were there. It wasn’t the right field for me, but my false perceptions of post-collegiate success were a blinding darkness shielding me from the truth.
The day I started with PwC was also the day I received my first international assignment. I walked in (late) at 9:30 am and by 3:00 pm I was excitedly texting my parents to brag about my upcoming trip to Argentina.
The excitement lasted two months before it began to devolve into my first experiences with anxiety.
I spent 70% of my first 8 months on international assignments. I couldn’t have been more lonely and unhappy.
The oppression I felt culminated one night while on assignment in Switzerland. The décor and character of my beautiful hotel room was matched only by the immaculate Lake Geneva outside my window. Despite the vast expanse surrounding me, I’d never felt more trapped.
That night, the anxiety I felt at the thought of spending my life pretending to enjoy work slowly rotting my soul was so overwhelming, I couldn’t fall asleep.
I knew something had to change.
At the recommendation of my father I hired an Executive Coach to support me as I thought through what I really wanted to do next.
Coaching was a revelation. It was the perfect opportunity to dedicate intentional time to look inward to find answers already within.
Four months into being coached, I realized my own strengths, interests and values were calling me to coach. I wanted to do for others what my coach was doing for me.
I quickly went on to leave PwC to start Frable Consulting, a coaching and consulting company focusing on helping individuals and organizational teams align behaviors and values to do purpose-centric work.
The process of building Frable healed me.
I’d never realized how bored I’d become over a period of 3–4 years. I had substituted stretch challenges for accomplishments within a very narrow comfort zone. Over this time frame, I’d lost interest in reading, in learning, in growing. While my bank account and career stability were trending upward, my brain grew weaker and less engaged.
Making a strategic career pivot provided me the opportunity to re-define what “work” meant to me and how I would go about building a career, my way.
Through the process of unlearning, re-learning and new learning I began to exercise my brain again. The love of learning came back in an exponential way. The more I saw the results of reading, writing, exploring the more my brain craved growth.
Working at a pace of 60+ hours per week also cost me physical and emotional health. My eating habits had devolved into always eating out and eating poorly while on the road; my drinking seemed to increase the more time I spent alone on the road; my capacity to interact positively and lovingly with people I cared about diminished the more I worked.
Right before quitting my corporate job, I found Yoga. I started to attend 6 am classes as a way of kicking off my day with an activity that would provide my outside-of-work-self a sense of positive accomplishment.
Unfortunately, I found it incredibly hard to make 6am classes consistently (I am NOT a morning person). Since I’ve started Frable, Bikram and Raja yoga have become staples of my well-being. They are no longer exercise classes. Now they are spaces for intentional practice, self-care and are evolving into spiritual dwellings.
My nutrition has completely changed. I cook twice a day (typically morning and evening), eat a balanced diet, and keep alcohol to a minimum.
The more I design my life around respecting my body (sleep included) the harder it becomes to mistreat it.
Growing up I remember being a sensitive kid, in a way that makes me proud. I never shied away from my emotions, and allowed myself to experience life as it came at me. Some experiences in early adulthood pushed me towards repressing my emotional dimension. I don’t remember crying for several years. My own personal repression combined with my professional exhaustion stunted my heart.
Over the past year, I’ve focused on re-opening and re-connecting with my heart. Through development of my craft, I realized I was showing up mostly with my head and rarely with my heart. This meant that folks often perceived me as guarded, and difficult to relate to. I had anchored my self-worth to my cognitive intelligence, and am in the process re-learning how to lead with both heart & mind rather than one or the other.
My intentional self
Since starting Frable, I’ve made it a priority, a need, to be intentional whenever possible. I decided I would be the captain of my ship, rather than the boat at the mercy of the winds. Here are a few of the lessons I’ve picked up along the way and habits I’ve established:
1. When I first started, I couldn’t shake everything we’ve all heard about the essentials of building your own company: “Work 100 hours a week or your fail!” “Eat ramen for 5 years, your money could be going elsewhere!” “Tech, bro!” I soon realized these tropes didn’t work for me. Every business (every self) is different. You have to find what works for you and your purpose.
2. Invest in yourself first, and always. If you’re nurturing a purpose-centric career you must always push your own growth and learning by remaining open to your next challenge. Over the past 3 years, I’ve invested most of my time, energy and money into developing my craft as Coach. I’m better at my work today than when I started and that has allowed me to provide my clients increasingly more value. I look forward to growing as an Interventionist (really the future “Coach”) but that’s not enough anymore. My next challenge is building a multi-disciplinary career. Over the next few years I’ll be focused on developing as Writer.
3. I have made it a habit to work no more than 4 hours a day. Work on any day could vary from several coaching sessions, to answering e-mails, to writing articles, to taking meetings. Committing to working no more than 4 hours a day forces me to be intentional, productive, and frees up my time to include other practices that are essential to me, namely: cooking, yoga, meditation, reading, making time for the people I love.
4. Sleep and balanced nutrition come first. I am of no use to anyone if I’m not taking care of myself. Your body talks to you every day. If you slow down, you can hear it tell you how it’s feeling, what nourishment it needs, when you’ve pushed too far, when you haven’t pushed hard enough.
I’ve chosen to build my business around the way I optimally wanted to live my life. I no longer think of my personal and professional selves as two distinct entities to develop separately. Now I think of my whole self as a single-complex entity, one in which the personal and professional always impact one another.
There are days I fail to live up to my intentions: I eat out because it’s easy; I skip my morning meditation, or neglect moving my body enough. In the end, though, our adventures are not about the quest for perfection. They’re about an eternal quest to find the beauty in imperfection, and forgiveness in our own contradictions.
We all ebb and flow between wanting change and stability, challenge and comfort. Our work begins with remaining awake throughout the experience of life, not allowing ourselves to be lulled by the cozy embrace of expectations set upon us by others.