My mother always stressed to me the importance of being an independent woman who did not need to rely on a man to survive. I should study hard and get a good job, so I could take care of myself one day. That is exactly what I did. From a very early age though I allowed my need to achieve to push me to unhealthy extremes. I recall crying after class one day in the sixth grade because I had gotten a B+ on a science test (just one point shy of an A- in fact), and it would ruin my shot at a 4.0 GPA that semester. While I lightened up some in high school and college, that drive and obsession for perfection followed me into my career where it ultimately lead to burnout and the anxiety I am recovering from today. What’s sad is that I used to thrive on the stress I was under. I would proudly think to myself, “When your personal life goes up in flames that is when you know you are due for a promotion.”
On the topic of the need to achieve, Anne Wilson Schaef writes:
“Getting an important position in a good company is an exacting feat. Many of us have worked long and hard to get where we are and we are proud of our achievements.
Success demands sacrifice and focus, and we have learned how to do both. We have put our work before everything else in our life. We have learned to compete and compromise. We have learned to dress like men and hold our own in a circle of men. We have learned to be tough and ‘come on strong’ when we need to. We wanted to make it in a man’s world, and we have. We have learned to play the game.
It is time to stop and see what has happened to us in this process. Are we the women we want to be?”
I spent so much of my early career trying to change who I intrinsically was to fit into this world, without ever realizing that you can succeed while still being yourself. Not only that, but you can succeed without killing yourself in the process. One need not be a man to succeed, and this idea that women have to behave and think more like men to make it in the professional world is frankly bullshit. Something happens when you consistently deny who you are to yourself; a part of you breaks.
In the process of excelling in my professional life at the expense of my personal one, I have lost touch with who I am. I ceased putting self-care and my health first. I slowly stopped pursuing many of my favorite hobbies. I became dependent on alcohol and substances to numb the pain I felt. Rather than make time for the people I love, I avoided them and instead isolated myself because I was too mentally and emotionally drained for anything else. Worst of all, perhaps, the success I achieved felt empty without any of these joys in my life. I was miserable.
Now I have been making changes to become the woman I want to be. It feels so good. I am especially proud because I have been approaching my work calmly as though I have more than enough time to finish each task. Today I politely declined a request due to a lack of bandwidth, something I have only done once before in my career. Normally, I take it on and kill myself trying to get it all done (and usually end up crying). I still get frustrated, but I remind myself that it’s okay. It’s just a part of work. I don’t have to stress myself unnecessarily over it though. Most impressive of all to me is that I am still getting near perfect performance reviews at work. My colleagues still view me as competent and capable. The world has not ended! I can’t remember feeling happier or more at peace since I started my career. While my need to achieve is still there, I am learning to cut myself some slack.