Last week I walked off my last day at my 9-5, working as a licensed therapist in a government agency doing public service. After 15 years working as a LCSW mental health therapist & social worker I am stepping back, and it feels like closing a huge & heavy door. A lot of people would think I am crazy and irresponsible for moving away from something I’ve invested so much of my time, energy, heart and money into over the years. A lot of people would think I am ‘selfish’ for leaving a field that is in desperate need of more workers – and OH have I had to do a LOT of shadow work to clear my unconscious conditioning in this area (female martyrs…. I see you) – but this is what soul alignment looks like.
Today I’m sharing with you about my journey, and how Mindfulness has helped me make one of the most difficult decisions of my life so that I can follow my light and stay in self-alignment for my own mental health, joy and expansion.
I’m going to be sharing some about my burnout in this blog, and I want to start with a very important disclaimer: My burnout has been in NO WAY related to the clients I have worked with throughout my career in public service. This is very important. I’ve spent the last 15 years working with some of the most marginalized, disadvantaged and at risk populations – and each individual has taught me so much.
There are many factors that go into burnout, from how a system or organization is ran and the pressures placed on staff, to an individual’s given capacity at any time and the personal stressors, losses, changes & challenges that they’re facing in their own personal lives, to the larger societal disasters & traumas happening all possibly at the exact same time (but then again if you’ve lived through the last few years you already know something about this LOL).
It is very important to me that my past clients (if they ever happen to read this) understand that they were right where they needed to be, and I’ve sincerely enjoyed the personalized work with each and every one of them.
Besides, as I launch more fully into my online coaching business, I am staying in the field of working with people… because it is what I love to do. I am shifting my work to outside of the traditional mental health system because I feel that my ability to promote change at this point can happen better from the outside, working in a broader capacity without restrictions.
As I share this exciting celebration and high point of transitioning full time into my own business, it’s incredibly important that you know it’s not all sunshine and daisies. Launching into self-employment is both exciting and terrifying. There was some major trekking through mud for a couple years to get here, and I know there will be more to come. My story is not an invitation for sympathy, it is not needed or welcome thank you 🙂 I believe strongly that we need pattern interruptions in life sometimes and difficulties help us gain clarity and grow.
I’m sharing this story because Social Media often makes everything seem glitzy. Remember, don’t just look at a shiny outcome snapshots and forget to see what actually goes into creating the life you want sometimes. No mud, no lotus.
What’s in it for you, dear reader? I’m hoping that as you hear my story, and how mindfulness helped me make important changes in my life… you may see where mindfulness could also benefit you.
Sometimes we need to change our thoughts, and the story we’re telling ourselves about our circumstances… but sometimes we need to actually do the work to change our circumstances, and that’s what I decided to do.
This is a story of changing values & priorities, being done with the hustling rat race of traditional work/life balance – desiring more slowness, BEING, play & creativity (none of which are ‘selfish’ or ‘lazy’ ladies). It’s also a story of where society as a whole has forgotten about what the human spirit needs. We are not industrial machines (Check out my last blog post where I discuss societal factors that glitch us out from self-alignment).
I know that my story is one of hundreds of MILLIONS of people who realized the trajectory of their work and life needed to change when 2020 hit. As work from home started in 2020 I was shocked by the ease and relief that I felt. Don’t get me wrong, the world was in chaos and I also had some fear, but I had emotional tools to manage that – more than many people I saw around me anyway.
It was the relaxation in my body that I noticed – no longer commuting, having the freedom to pet my cats or water my plants in between client sessions. No more fluorescent lights burning my brain all day long, no shared bathrooms and controlled climate – all things I didn’t realize took such a toll until they were removed from the equation.
My nervous system was HAPPY. “I want to start my own online business, I want to support other people who are struggling through this pandemic and teach mindfulness more broadly!” And I knew I wanted my focus to be supporting women, cause you know I’m feminist AF (more on this in my next blog :).
One of my good friends had suggested I start my own business years before, but I couldn’t FATHOM working a second job on top of my 9-5. The truth is, working in social services is definitely emotionally taxing. You witness the effects of poverty, trauma and inequities on a daily basis (which I have been trained to hold and felt very capable of doing up until multiple other factors hit, all at once) – the idea of coming home after a day in my job and doing more work just didn’t seem desirable, doable or healthy for me.
But suddenly in 2020, there were no social activities on the weekend and much more extra time – and so I got busy developing my business, taking online courses, hiring coaches, learning about marketing and building online programs. Mindfulness helped me start messy. It helped me work through doubts and self-consciousness.
I got about 2 months in with excited momentum, and my partner lost his job. Two months later, my biological Mom passed away from slow suicide. She had been the whole reason I got into the mental health field to begin with, but that’s a story for another day. This prompted an intense year+ of very complex grief, all while continuing to work with a population that was often suicidal. It became clear to me that for my own healing, I needed to do a different kind of work.
Prior to the pandemic I had also just started the process to become board certified in Dialectical Behavioral Therapy which was an intensive multi-year process, culminating in a standardized exam that was scheduled in September of 2020. That was about the time that another wave of major seasonal wildfires erupted in my town of Napa, California.
I remember one day in particular, a day that made the national news. The entire Bay Area was covered in a thick layer of smoke, as well as the coastal marine layer, and the skies were so dark at noon, like just after the sun has set. While pretty much all my friends and family were home off work (for Covid or due to air quality warnings), I drove into the office sobbing the entire way, ‘Why am I going into an office while the world is literally burning down!’ As a public servant, this was my job. I had taken an oath to respond to work in times of disaster.
Through this period I worked full time, remained on call as a disaster responder for the wildfires, with friends and family evacuated from their homes, grieving my Mom’s death, with apocalyptic red smoky skies for over a month – I went in to sit for my DBT certification exam, with COVID-19 mask in place while the testing center was on evacuation notice for the wildfires coming over the hillside. It felt like I was living in a movie, and that’s when the panic attacks started.
Trauma is defined as anything that is too much for the nervous system to process at once. And this time period felt traumatic to me. It was too much at once.
Thankfully, as a therapist, I knew what was happening and had the tools to manage panic attacks when they hit: in the work bathrooms, at home, driving in my car. However I immediately began seeing my own therapist through the EAP. I probably should have taken a leave of absence from work, but we were understaffed and I couldn’t imagine placing more burdens on my peers whom I knew were also stretched thin as essential workers. Plus my partner wasn’t working so I felt extra pressure to keep performing at work and I didn’t take a LOA. I’m sure you can relate to the feeling of juggling multiple things at once and feeling there is no escape out.
This is where all the tools I’ve learned in my career as a therapist: DBT skills, Mindfulness practice, shadow work, inner child work… it was their time to shine, and literally the only thing that got me through. Now, don’t get me wrong, I was miserable. I was on the struggle bus, however if I had not had this skillset to fall on, I can’t imagine what things would have looked like that year (and the year after which it spilled over on).
Mindfulness does not remove your stressors or painful emotions from your life, but it does change the way you relate to them so you can ride the waves more smoothly through them.
Somehow, I kept plugging away at building my online business. I remember my first business coach, Shereen Hoban, told me she was amazed at how I had put together two online courses and launched them within six months during this time. To be honest, there was a fire under my ass (i.e. a fight/flight nervous system response) that was motivating me to GET OUT of my day job.
Let me be clear, I’m not advocating for ‘pushing through burnout’ and ‘white knuckling’ things, however sometimes that’s what we are left with temporarily. It was mindfulness that kept my head above the water while I worked towards my goal, because otherwise I would have sunk – I’m sure of it. Without my mindfulness practice I would have given up on my business dream, I wouldn’t have been able to hold the long term vision through the storm.
Mindfulness gave me perspective.
Mindfulness gave me patience.
Mindfulness gave me tolerance for distress that could not be avoided.
I knew that in order to fully come back from the depths of grief and burnout I was experiencing, I needed to do something totally different. I needed slowing, resting, healing and working in a way that allowed my nervous system to settle back to baseline. And I needed more than just a month’s ‘stress leave’ (please have patience with all your healthcare providers at this time, because the whole system is in crisis).
It has been SO hard to juggle full time work and building my business. So many times I felt frustrated and ‘not enough’, feeling like I would never get here. But my desire to build something that was mine, something that still helped people, but worked for me and my mental health, kept me going.
And guess what?!? Now I’m here!!!
The Light At The End Of The Tunnel
I don’t know how I didn’t realize I am an entrepreneur earlier, because at my core I desire FREEDOM. I have always pushed limits and wanted to do things my way. I hate arbitrary rules and lack of autonomy.
I’m not a fan of status quo and living a prescribed ‘normal’ life. I’m childfree by choice, in a life partnership with my man (we just celebrated 11 yrs 🙂 and have no need for the traditional marriage ‘stamp’ from religion or government to approve of my relationship. I’ve gone through divorce in my 20’s … I have no interest in the white picket fence, so of course sticking to 40 hr. 9-5 work life doesn’t jive either (btw traditional life roles are all wonderful things to many people! Nothing wrong with them… this is just my version of Self-Alignment.)
Many people might look at my choice to leave a career I’ve invested 15 years in (not including 6 years of college and graduate studies) is absolutely irresponsible and crazy. I say, we aren’t here to live inside boxes, and we can change our minds and lives at any time.
Still, I needed it all to happen in this way. I needed my college degrees and my years of experience… I would never have learned mindfulness and so much more without it! I never look back with regret for anything, and always find the purpose. It had to go this way.
I’ve spent this last year fully taking the pressure off of myself and my business (thanks to Simone Seol and Joyful Marketing #restingroom #garbagepostchallenge). Playing, traveling, prioritizing time with friends and loved ones. I’ve worked in coaching programs for my own personal development, done work in therapy …. and I could not be more excited to finally be going ALL IN on my business in 2023.
I have a ton of ideas and have laser focus on my vision …. AND also, who knows what will come! Which currently feels like magic. I know this journey of business ownership is a whole different kind of stress and growth. I’ve got major challenges coming my way, different ones from the 9-5 corporate/agency grind, and I can’t wait to figure them out! They are challenges I am choosing and excited about (and I KNOW my mindfulness will keep supporting me through).
I will continue to provide part time therapy to California residents in my private practice, which will give me a stable foundation for me to be able to really focus on amplifying serving YOU in my coaching biz!
Thanks for coming along with me on this journey! I am always walking this walk with you. I’ll be working closely with a coach of my own this year, because I never ask my clients to do anything I’m not also doing. Investment in myself has ALWAYS paid off.
And as I said before I’m an open book and love to connect, so reach out anytime with questions, or pop them in the comments below. Remember, no mud no lotus.
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