What to do when the job you’ve succeeded at starts to drain you

Stunner_boss123 asks:

I have been in a service delivery corporate sector for seven years. The core of our Job is HR-related and our priority is customer satisfaction.  I used to be a highly motivated and champion of my team. And even this year, i am again the leading resource and got an “excellent performer” appraisal rating.  But since last year, with passage of every month, I am starting to realize that this corporate life is sucking my blood, and my mental and social life is at stake. I am not the one who I was four years ago. Anger and hypertension started appearing in me. Workload keeps increasing and my determination to prove perfection is now haunting my personal life. But due to the self-image I carry around and the sort of responsibility I own, I cannot back down (I am a loyal person and I own my work; I never choose the easy or shortcut way). I tried to cut my workload but management’s trust in me and their culture is not allowing me to. To elaborate the statement further, I am working in an unhealthy organizational culture where competition is everything. From Top to bottom, everyone is encouraged to compete among each other.  In this culture, I succeeded for 4 straight years by beating the big bulls and taking every spotlight from them. I proved myself and management counts on me. Now if I back down, those big bulls will laugh at me and my liaisons. Those who trusted on me and rated me high, their decision is at stake. But as I stated earlier,  the champion in me is tired and fading away.  I am losing friends because I cannot give them time. I am unsettled with my girlfriend because she always complains that I am diverted. I am struggling financially because the company does not have good perks. Even on off-days, my clients want my involvement because of the nature of my work. I am tired, sleepy and always in a hurry.  Now, in my 31st year of my life, these are the things I feel in myself. Several times I’ve thought about changing my employer, but I live in a middle class struggling economy where unemployment is at a boom.  Everywhere the employers are exploiting people. After several analyses, I dropped the idea of shifting because I do have respect here. People take me as an example here. I started from scratch and fought my battles alone, and right now I am a wolf who hunts alone with a solution to every problem.  Do I work myself too hard? Do I think too much? Do I not respect myself enough? Should I learn to say No?  Where am I wrong?  Initially I made a mistake of taking too much on to please the higher management and prove myself, but now that burden and that image is pulling me down. Financially I am doing ok (not so bad not so good).  What should I do ? 

Hi Stunner_boss123 –

So let me start with what might sound like an odd comment – Congratulations!  You are a great success in your company.  It’s rare that someone can, as you said, “take on the bulls” and win, and you have.  And you’ve done so in a really tough field, satisfying customers at a time when pretty much the whole world is dissatisfied!

But things are changing.  You’re becoming unhappy in this job, and it’s even taking a toll on your relationships.  So what do you do now?

I think there’s an answer, but it’s a vague one:  You Need To Do Something Different. I just have no idea what that is!

It makes me think of two big stories in the news recently.  In the Olympics, you may have followed Simone Biles, who many say is the greatest gymnast of all time.  The world was excited to see what she’d do, and she… made a small mistake.  One move, just a bit wrong.  And she realized this meant she needed to step back, and not compete for a while.  Suddenly everyone everywhere seemed to have an opinion – she’s a quitter, she’s a heroine, she’s a mess….  I think the truth is that she’s very smart, and saw that she needed to do something different from what she had been doing, or she might have hurt herself horribly. 

Then we get to what I just wrote about, if you saw my latest newsletter, the U.S. army pulling out of Afghanistan.  A way bigger deal than a gymnast choosing to step aside for a week!  But in some ways the same story.  What the army had been doing there wasn’t working to achieve their goals, and it was becoming clear the way they were doing things would never work.  So they stepped aside.  Did they do a perfect job of leaving?  I’ll let military historians judge that.  But regardless, for better or worse in many ways, the leaders made a decision and moved on.

Now you’ve intelligently looked around at other local companies, and seen that things might well stay the same if you went to work for one of them.  Again, good job!  But you’re right – this is sapping your energy and your enjoyment of life, so something needs to change.

Off the top of my floppy-eared head, a few thoughts that come to my mind are:  Drop your friends and girlfriend (I don’t like that idea but it would take a lot of your stress out); leave this entire career and go back to school to learn another one you like better (my human friend Handsome did that when he was older than you, and considers it one of the best decisions of his life, almost as good as buying me!); become a teacher at a business school, or a motivational speaker, using all the great wisdom you developed in your years of success; or maybe best of all, become a consultant to companies on how to build efficiency by treating their employees with more respect, in a way that fosters friendly mutually-supportive competition within the organization instead of all the negativity that’s bringing you down; or, maybe if it will work, do just what you were suggesting at the end of your letter, and start telling your bosses that you won’t do quite as much as you have been.

This isn’t a minor issue, Stunner_boss123.  Business people have heart attacks in their 30s, they become alcoholics from work stress, and as you’re finding, they can lose their friends, their romances, and even their families.  The same intelligence that’s made you such a champion there is also making you realize how bad this is for you.

I wish you didn’t have to make this decision at such a young age.  But I don’t mind that you have to make it sometime.  Life is such a gift, and you are likely looking at the beginning of a huge adventure.  Will that involve marriage?  Children?  A whole new career?  Moving out of your town?  I don’t know.

All I know is that you’re right, and in order to keep your life-energy flowing, you need to change something about the way you’re living right now.

If I can help in any way – even just to “bounce ideas off” – I’d be honored.  But for now, just know that I’m fully on your side in agreement.  It’s time to become champion again, but in a new way!

Wishing you strength and passion!


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