Face of Burnout?

One of the few things I loved when I was running my own business, was branding. I loved creating all the brochures, flyers, business cards and a website that spoke the company message clearly with no confusion or dilution. I learnt a lot while creating a strong brand and it’s one of the skills I got to take with me when I left the business behind.

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We had a business that helped a lot of organisations to collect money but we were also very vulnerable to fraud. We had a few incidents that really affected me and could have damaged our brand. The process of taking money from bank accounts of people that were not our clients was complicated and risky. It was not a business I started, or ever really felt passionate about. I joined the business for two reasons: flexibility for family time, and to learn how to run a business.

Certainly I did learn how to run a business and I did it well. I implemented a lot of change that was necessary and overdue. I gained a lot from the experience, even though in some ways I feel that the business broke me. The flexibility of being an entrepreneur is a real myth, however. As a business owner it’s very difficult to take time off in fact, especially in a small business that is struggling to become profitable. Before I joined I had visions of taking afternoons off to watch my children play sport. After I left, I’ve needed two years to recover from what the business took from me. Quite a difference between perception and reality.

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At first I felt really angry that I lost so much. But from where I sit now, it was necessary for me to learn the life lessons I have learnt. Nothing would have stopped me from persevering through all the obstacles, other than a complete health collapse. I now have the opportunity to design my life to be just the way I want it to be. That includes the people who build me up and the work that energises me. That would never have happened if I hadn’t been so broken to begin with.

So I am now grateful for all that I learnt there, both the things that were difficult, and the things that I enjoyed, such as the branding. Just when the business was starting to look good, I read a book by Douglas Kruger called Own Your Industry. It is a how-to book on becoming the expert in your field, with excellent strategies to get there.

I really enjoyed the book but it left me with a sinking feeling that I didn’t want to become the expert on taking people’s money. It occurred to me that my brand needed to be about something more constructive and joyful. I was not yet diagnosed when I had this feeling and I think it must have contributed to my unhappiness in the business. This was not something I was passionate about and I was not prepared to become an expert in a field that didn’t feel right for me.

Thanks to my body for starting to attack itself, I was relieved of needing to go any further down that road. That was not my ultimate path, just a necessary detour. But what was I supposed to do with my life? If you’ve been on this journey with me for a while, you’ll know that I’ve written a book about my experiences. I wrote about avoiding burnout and the strategies to put in place to preserve oneself.

I sent my book for editing a few months ago and it hasn’t come back. I’ve come to realise that the chapters I wrote on my struggle and the explanation of how I got sick, are really depressing. They are necessary as part of the story but I wrote them when I was still grappling with what happened. There is an undertone of suffering and confusion that can’t really be edited out.

It was certainly valuable for me to write about the experiences and the confusion, as it helped me to find clarity, as does this blog. It is my process of making sense of this illness and my life turning upside down. But I think I need to rewrite the first two chapters from this place where I am now. This me, who is grateful for the experience of the business and the childhood I had. The book will read so much better and lighter as it will be full of hope. I know what I have to do and I’ve started rewriting the early chapters in the last week or so.

But I now face the same dilemma as before. I’ve realised that people just don’t understand burnout. They think I’m weak and that I can’t handle stress. It’s not really possible to explain the circumstances fully around what led to the collapse. And I’m not sure I want to be the face of burnout. I still think the book has value but I can’t rely on the topic to be the basis of my brand.

So what now? I’m doing my best to focus on recovery and to keep my eyes open for opportunities that I’m sure will come my way. I know I’m a capable person and when I’m functioning at full speed I can deliver some magical things.

My mind is asking me, “but what things?” and I have to let my heart answer “we don’t know yet. Be patient and trust that they will unfold when the time is right.”

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Kathy
I am a champion for living your passion. Writing is my passion, my destiny and my calling. I am a mother of two beautiful daughters and a wife and live in Johannesburg, South Africa.

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