When you lose your way.

Feeling lost. And not sure where to turn.

It’s 6:50 a.m. on a chilly Thursday morning in November as I glide hopefully onto the freeway on-ramp. As I crest the ramp, it’s immediately obvious that, today, I’m not early enough to get out ahead of the morning rush. I ease into the bumper-to-bumper traffic and take a sip of my green tea and begin to cry. Not silent tears streaming down my face, but actual boo-hooing.

If I’d been a few minutes earlier, this 1.5 hour commute could have been 20 minutes. It adds to the feeling of defeat that seems to accompany every day. But, why the boo-hooing?

Not even 7:00 a.m. and I’m already off track and feeling anxious. I’d hoped to get an early start, to make it a bit easier. But no, I’d be behind before I’d even begun, which seemed to be the theme these days.

The struggle is real.

This can’t be right. How has this become my career? The move to this new job felt so right – it was a move up with more money, more responsibility, at a “better” company.

Yet, so much feels so wrong. I’m leaving the city, doing a reverse-commute – commuting to work at a desolate office campus in the remote suburbs; every day I rush to and from back-to-back-to-back meetings, often not even knowing what meeting I’m in; and despite my herculean efforts, my to-do-list is marginally dented by the end of the day.

It feels insane. Yet, when I look around, no one else seems as to be struggling the way I am.

The crushing anxiety.

Fast forward a month or so. It’s close to Christmas, our busiest time of year. I’m already awake when my alarm goes off, thinking about everything that needs to be done that day. 

I feel a weight on my chest as I try to rise and fall back into bed, wondering how I am going to find the energy to do it all again today. I ponder a thought that has been with me lately — If I literally couldn’t get out of bed, they’d find someone to replace me in a day or so, and they’d keep on keeping on, barely missing a beat.

Meanwhile, I’d be toast. Unable to get out of bed, I’d be unable to work and unable to pay my mortgage. Then what would happen to me?  So, I got up, got dressed, and went to work.

That’s what finally drove me to call a therapist. Deep in my bones, I knew I could’t go on this way. I didn’t know where to turn for help, so therapy it is.

The Career Conundrum

“What brings you to therapy?”, this kind, gentle, wise woman asked. I knew I had a problem, but now that I had an audience, I couldn’t find the words. I had a job that others would jump at. So, what exactly was the problem? I felt ungrateful and whiney with my champagne problems.

From the outside, I had a great career, worked on cool things, had some degree of influence, was senior enough to finally have some perqs – one of which was that I didn’t really worry about money; I lived in a beautiful home; I had a the shoes, the clothes, the vacations. What could possibly be the problem?

Despite all that, on the inside, I could feel myself sinking into a deep river of exhaustion. I barely recognized myself — burned out, doused in stress, mired in self-doubt and anxiety. Plus, This couldn’t be it, could it? Was this what I had been working towards for twenty years? Was this all there was?

Despite all this, I couldn’t find the words to answer her question. The tears started before the words tumbled out. “I’m exhausted. I can’t go on. But, I can’t lose this job.”

It’s something I’ve come to call – The Career Conundrum, which essentially means that I need to work, but I don’t like my work.

The Crossroads

Have you been at this particular crossroads in your career? Maybe you don’t recognize the details of my story, but you know the feeling of exhaustion, helplessness, fear. Yet, still, you need to go on.

What I have learned by working with many women in similar situations is that we tend to blame ourselves when things don’t work out as planned. For me, as I struggled with burn out, I I truly felt that something must be wrong with me if I couldn’t wrestle this job to the ground and turn it into something workable. There must be some weakness in me, that I must hide at all costs. 

Because I assumed I was the problem, I took full responsibility, bearing the weight on my lone shoulders. I didn’t share that I was struggling. I just worked more, worked harder, smiled bigger, and tried to make everyone around me happy.

Looking back, I now know it doesn't have to be this way.

Fast forward almost twenty years and I can still feel the weary desperation that pervaded my very being. 

Today, things are different for me. Thank goodness. I don’t have it all figured out by any means, but things are so different now. But, I remember those times so clearly. Mostly, I remember how sad I felt most of the time. Even though I did everything right, I felt completely burned out and I had this pervasive feeling of untapped potential within me. I knew there had to be more, that I was meant for more. But what? Plus, I still had bills to pay.

Today, thinking back on those times, I feel sad for a completely different reason – I didn’t have to feel so lost, confused, and alone. I didn’t have to waste so many years of my life (and my career), because I didn’t know what else to do.

There is a way - your way.

That’s why I do the work I do today. No one should be left to struggle alone when they are in a Career Conundrum. The problem is that the culture hasn’t caught up to this problem. The most we get is a shrug or a pep talk, but we’re left to figure it out on our own. As I tried to figure it out on my own, I sure made a mess – changing jobs, changing careers, even changing coutries!

Sure, there are some inroads being made, but we’re all left alone to struggle and figure it out – lest we appear weak. Most of the time, we’re pretty resourceful, but if you’ve been here, you know what an energy suck it really is.

If you don’t want your snag to drag out for years, like mine did, I invite you to look at the different support I provide. While I don’t have all the answers, I have discovered many tools and ways to move forward, in a way that is right for you. I’d love to share them with you. So, you don’t waste the months and years that I wasted. It truly doesn’t have to happen to you.

When You Lose Your Way