As a young girl, I always admired women on TV, rushing to meetings, wearing suits, and delegating in big firms. My mom used to comment on their success, even if these women were fictional characters in a movie or novel. The older I got, the more I wanted to be like them. I busied myself with to-do lists, planned months, and often ensured that I was always doing something. This gave me a sense of purpose and made me feel like those women I had grown up watching. Then as a young professional, I continued these habits, and they helped me stand out. I worked late, was attentive to my phone and email from the moment I woke up, and went to sleep reading or working on something. These behaviors made me feel accomplished and successful at the time, even if my bank account did not reflect this.
All this hard work and obsessive dedication landed me jobs with various titles. Yet, I was so used to multitasking by my mid-twenties that I didn't question the apparent imbalance between the work I did for companies and the pay I received in exchange. Because I grew up thinking I needed to be busy to be successful, and the fact that I was getting paid, even if it was enough to get by, was enough for me. How wrong and naive I was.
Years into my career, I was in a highly demanding job, responsible for three different titles and working under three supervisors.
My health suffered; I didn't feel motivated and dragged my feet every morning. Coffee became a necessity and no longer a luxury. I was sick often and didn't have time to nourish my body with nutritious food; instead, I'd eat whatever was on the way to the next meeting.
My mental health took a big hit, and I was on the verge of a mental breakdown. Eventually, I hit a breaking point and could not bring myself to continue my charade. I needed to do something but couldn't let my company, bosses, and teams down. I felt like I was being weak and needed to keep moving forward.
Essentially, the fictional character I had created crumbled to pieces, and I couldn't keep up anymore. Finally, after a severe incident and forced time off, I had time to think about what I was doing. I was able to remove the veil from this ghost of success and saw the reality: No one can work or live like this. Thankfully, my spouse was supportive and had been trying to get me to leave this job, but I would not listen until I had this realization.
Once I did—oh, what a marvelous thing I had done for myself!
They did not believe living my successful job was a good idea and thought I was ending my career.
I realized I had neglected my spirit, loved ones, and, most importantly, myself. So I began reconnecting, feeling loved and as if I belonged somewhere again.
Measuring success by the number of tasks I accomplished in a week or a year no longer aligned with me. In the coming months, I forced myself to become intentional and present in my life. If a task needed to be completed, I began asking myself, what's the purpose for doing this? Although complex and sometimes frustrating, I began to lay the foundation for the life I now maintain and continue working on.
Now, I have developed firm boundaries at work. For example, I stopped measuring success by the number of completed tasks. I no longer rush the process; instead, I trust it.
Aside from the personal healing, growth, and connection I regained, I was able to start my own business. I realized that the energy I had been spending on someone else's dreams could be spent on my own. I have always had an entrepreneurial mindset, but I could trust myself this time and honestly knew I was capable. The demanding job and the unreal expectations I had set for myself allowed me to see how flexible, hardworking, and committed I can be to a goal. So I used this to my advantage.
When I left that overly demanding job, I didn't just leave an unreal life behind; I regained control over my time and success. I learned to question the beliefs and ideas I grew up with. I now make them undergo a severe background check to ensure their intentions are pure and sincere. I stopped walking someone else's path and began creating my own. This is why leaving a highly demanding job is always a good idea.
This article reflects the views of the author and not necessarily those of Fairygodboss.
Gaby is an organizational culture and leadership growth professional. She works with leaders and companies to improve their work environment to promote safety and well-being. Gaby also publishes weekly articles about the topic on LinkedIn and Medium.