Welcome to Making It Work. A no holds barred exploration of the workplace for modern day women. Expect challenges, triumphs and zero filters.
The Who: Magazine Editor The Where: Manchester, England The What:How one magazine editor’s pursuit for perfection built and broke her and then empowered her to start again.
The job was meant to be a happy compromise. I was okay with earning half as much as I used to when I was an award-winning national magazine editor in London because my work/life balance had been far from great then – actually, by the time I sadly resigned I was close to full-on burnout. I put so much pressure on myself at work that it took over my life.
After I had a baby, my priorities had changed. Or so I told myself. Less money, more life, that was my new mantra, but old habits die hard.
Not long in the new job and I was back to my old tricks, working past midnight multiple times a week.
The job meant less status, less salary, but not less work. There was pressure to increase sales – which I did, and to make big changes but with no extra resource to do it.
Eventually it felt like rising damp – work seeped into everything – creeping into holidays or weekends. An evening with my husband at home went like this – me working on my laptop on the sofa next to him rather than in my office, because at least that way I told myself we’re together – if only physically in the same room. “That’s something”, he’d say before going to bed alone. I will never forget him saying to me: “If we don’t have another baby because we can’t conceive, that’s fine – I can live with that. But if we don’t because you’re up working every night rather than coming to bed, I’m not sure I can be okay with that.”
Then there were more times than I’m okay to admit that the child we do have pads over to me quietly shutting my laptop with a podgy hand, ‘Mummy, play’. I offer her one more episode of Hey Duggee instead.
Despite how hard I worked, there was still self-doubt and rumination – wide awake wondering if I was good enough? Would people think I’m terrible at my job? I slept no more than a couple of hours at a time. That’s the thing about living without setting yourself boundaries at work. You can always do more. Always be better.
Then came the turning point: my husband found me hysterically pacing the hallway at 3am, consumed by post-deadline terror that I’d made a mistake in the magazine, convinced this was the time I’d be sued or sacked.
An emergency doctor’s appointment the next day resulted in a prescription for beta blockers to help dull the anxiety symptoms. I was at burnout – again.
It really hit me when I heard a friend talking about a former colleague who was promoted. She said: “I can work her like a dog and she’ll never complain”. Boom. There it was – the mirror reflecting back at me, the pointlessness of my own boundary-busting perfectionism.
So I quit – after much thought and talk, even to a therapist. Since then I have recognised that I am part of the problem, so I am embracing boundaries – my picket fences of protection.
I work in my office and only in my office. I have a work wardrobe – before I bath my daughter at night I change out of those clothes and put on my civvies. It signifies the end of the working day. I have a work phone that does not get answered after 8pm. It’s not perfect, but that’s exactly what I’m trying not to be.
3 Impactful Tips to Avoid Burnout from Executive and Personal Coach Lisa Quinn
Create Boundaries That Work For You
Creating boundaries isn’t easy, but it’s an essential measure to avoid burn-out and practice self-care. As this process can be both intimidating and overwhelming, start off by taking baby steps. Leave work 10 minutes earlier, turn off your phone 10 minutes earlier at night, and then notice what feels different. As your confidence grows, so can the amount of time you spend not working.
Perfectionism Is Driven by Our Inner Critics
Working hard and being diligent is one thing. Holding yourself to impossible standards is another, and it’s unhealthy. We often talk to ourselves in a way that we’d never talk to anybody else. This harsh, negative voice is our own inner critic, or “saboteur”. Next time you notice yourself doing this, try and imagine that you’re talking to someone you love instead.
Look At Work From a Different Perspective
Work can be an exciting, compelling, addictive, intellectually stimulating and adrenaline fuelled. And if you work somewhere where working late and at weekends is seen as a badge of honour, it can be hard to get perspective. So imagine yourself 10 years from now. How would you want people to describe you? Is it really ‘she works really hard’? Keep bringing it back.