By Jennifer Hakim, founder and director of Jennifer Hakim Communications, a marketing and PR agency for mindful businesses.
In 2015, something unexpected happened. After months looking for my dream job I finally found it. I was bursting with pride, excitement and fear. I could barely believe it. Was this a luck twist of fate? Was I going to be found out? In hindsight that disbelief in my own abilities was probably the first sign of the impending burnout that would hit me that same year.
I knew my worth on paper: I had studied for years. With two diplomas in hand and years of internships and work experience in my field it was only fair I would climb this new step on the ladder. But it wasn’t quite registering that I actually deserved it. “I’m just good at job interviews”, I thought. “They’ll soon find out”. They didn’t. Instead they expected me to save their business – an almost impossible task for anyone, and especially for someone with imposter syndrome like me. The more pressure and responsibility I received, the more I doubted myself. This combined with the wrong management style was a recipe for disaster.
Management would text me out of work hours to discuss work, emails would pile up with tasks that had nothing to do with my initial job duties, and I was slowly but surely being pushed into another job without a proper conversation. Funnily enough, I was pushed into the very type of job I absolutely hated. The fact that this was done progressively and without anyone asking for my opinion allowed for the situation to rot week after week. I could tell something was off but told myself I was just overworked.
In truth, there were many signs I was at the wrong job, but I refused to see them for months, blaming myself instead. I can now spot a burnout from miles, but at the time I wasn’t so educated. It didn’t come naturally to me that the mere action to go to work could ever send shivers down your spine and make you feel physically sick. But it did. There were days were even my lunch break wasn’t liberating. I felt ‘in danger’, in full survival mode whether I was at my desk, walking outside, not to mention on the tube. I wish I could say it ended abruptly when I gave my notice but it didn’t. It took some serious building from the ground up but this time it gave me the opportunity to establish solid foundations.
I quit the day my boss suggested I took on duties that had nothing to do with my position, duties that basically stood for everything I hated, a polar opposite to why I was hired in the first place. I didn’t even need a day to make up my mind, I knew this was a clear sign the nightmare had to end. The situation had deteriorated from me loving going to work on a Monday, to me wishing I could spend the week hidden at home. The day I left I could feel that relief instantly, I knew step one of my recovery was underway. And the morning after, I started working on my freelancer website.
This was a primal call for freedom but also an automatic response to months of burnout: I had had the time to think it over, and I knew I wanted to do things differently. I wanted to do things with purpose, and most of all, I wanted to do something positive for the world. Dark thoughts had been impossible to avoid and it forced me to take the time to analyze them and see where they were coming from. Solving the puzzle gave me an initial direction. For example, I knew by then how committed I was to my work. It could make me intensely happy or intensely unhappy, so it was my duty to make career decisions consciously. I had to be mindful of my mental health, and the way forward was to contribute to something good.
The pride I feel in doing good is incomparable, I knew this for sure. And the urge to be my own boss was clear. Not that I couldn’t stand authority, but I had big ideas, and a clear vision of what I wanted to achieve: I wanted to heal myself and the world at the same time. Watching the news depressed me, and did not help with symptoms of burnout. I had started avoiding them, only to realize later this wasn’t the solution. If I wanted to feel better about them, I had to take action. I knew social and environmental issues touched my heart, and I was passionate about health. It started to make sense it was my field. Before the burnout I had no idea this was where I was meant to land.
I started freelancing, without clients for several months but happier than I had been in years. I took on small projects which in turn lead me to bigger ones, building my clientele in the wellbeing and inspirational lifestyle sectors. Word of mouth started picking up, which lead to more clients, but something else happened. I was surrounding myself with clients that I could have truthful, deep conversations with. Work did not feel like work anymore, and work relationships were built on a foundation of honesty, were sharing your truth wasn’t seen as a weakness. And it changed everything. No more imposter syndrome, no more burnout. When you mindfully curate who you work with, you feel fully yourself, and everything can flow naturally. There was no separation between work and personal life, but in a healthy way: they were part of the same entity because I was following my life’s vision, being true to my principles.
After two years it became clear the next step was coming: it was time to open my agency. The lessons from the burnout and the past years had made it very easy for me to set it in motion, and I wasn’t afraid. When you believe in what you do, you’ll give it your all and won’t take failure for an option. I set up a marketing and PR agency for mindful businesses, because that’s what we are at core. Our clients are inspirational authors, sustainable brands, change makers. We share a common vision: being good and mindful. Mindful of what we contribute to the world. Mindful of our impact on the planet and on people. Mindful of who we work with and who we support. Mindful of who we let in our tribe, and how we treat them. Mindful of where we’re going. Mindful of our mission.
Without this burnout, I don’t think I would have seen my direction so clearly. It forced me, physically and emotionally, to sit down and reflect on my choices, and connect the missing links. I know I will never feel emotionally wrecked by work because what we do is important, and good. I may feel stressed, but I can now spot the signs and put on the brakes for a little while, nurturing myself. And I curated a team that shares our ethos and principles, people who understand why we do what we do, and share my passion. There are a lot of really well-meaning individuals out there, and I make sure to surround myself with them. I now know you need to take really good care of yourself, and take stress very seriously. It can derail you, and paralyse you for a bit. But if you’re feeling like you’re burning out, know this: your body and your mind are only telling you something, and you only have to listen. There is something amazing waiting for you and it would be a shame to miss out.