Celebrating Progress In The Context Of Life’s Challenges
I’ve always been a high performer. In my corporate days, I excelled in my job and I was very hard on myself, expecting perfection in everything I tackled. I imagined a future where I’d rise through the ranks in the corporate world and become a high-powered executive. At the same time, I imagined enjoying a rewarding family life and continuing to run ultramarathons. Like most life plans, that didn’t happen.
A few years ago, I suffered a major health collapse caused by stress. I developed a lifelong autoimmune disease and I suffered from chronic fatigue. The kind of fatigue that is hard to explain to anyone else. I used to think that motivation could fix anything and that sheer willpower would overcome any obstacle. Before I got sick, I thought people who suffered from burnout were weak and that it would never happen to me. And then it did.
The Gift Of Burnout
The burnout I experienced shattered many of my previously-held beliefs because I was living proof that they were not true. I could not participate in life the way I had done before. I had to change the way I operated in the world, not out of choice, but out of necessity. For my own survival.
First, I had to recover and that required a lot of rest and staying at home. I was not used to hanging around resting so that was very difficult for me. I had to limit my outings because going out drained me so much. I did my shopping online and I saved all my energy for being with my children. As a mother, it was very difficult not to be there for them, at parties and just playing with them at home. I still took them to school every day and I hosted their own parties, but it took a lot out of me. I was forced to put my own goals and dreams on hold and to focus on getting well.
That took three years and in the process, I learnt a lot. I grew as a person and I gained great insight into myself and my life. I designed a new life, filled with everything that I wanted and nothing that I didn’t want. Including people, things, work and activities. I cleaned up and changed almost every aspect of my life. The only part that survived is my immediate family and home. Of course, things changed in our family dynamic and I learnt how to communicate better with my husband and my children. I learnt how to ask for help and I learnt how to be more mindful. This is a work in progress, but I appreciate them much more than I used to, and that brings happiness to all of us.
I changed my diet, exercise and my relationships. I spend more time and effort on relationships that work for me and less on those that don’t. I ended some relationships with people who were not good to me and not good for me. I brought others closer when I realised that they were there for me in my time of need. My illness created great clarity in who I can count on and that is a gift worth appreciating.
I had to change my work. I could no longer sustain a job that wasn’t aligned to my strengths and talents. It took a long time to figure out what kind of work I should be doing. I became a writer and wrote a book about my burnout experience. Once I had a certain level of strength, I worked on my speaking skills and this year achieved an advanced level at Toastmasters International. I designed my career around something I feel passionate about: sharing what I learnt from my illness. I reinvented myself in my forties and became a guide to others towards building a better life.
A New Career
It sounds idealistic and naïve but it’s what I’m passionate about. Coming from such a place of illness, I know that I cannot go back there. I can only go forward towards what brings me joy and I’m sure I can take a few people with me. It hasn’t been easy building a new career in my forties and especially while recovering from such a severe health incident. Many people doubted me and to be honest, I doubted myself. People told me that I’d never be able to make a career out of writing and speaking. There were many times when I felt that I couldn’t succeed. But there have also been amazing days where I feel that the world is at my feet.
July was an incredible month for me. I had five interviews: with one magazine, three radio shows and I even appeared on a morning television show. It was a dream come true in that I got to reach a few thousand people that have not heard of me or my message, previously. The interviews were scary, stressful and exciting all at the same time. I’ve had a bumper month in terms of book sales, even reaching overseas readers.
For a long time, I’ve been networking and finding leads for public speaking. There are a lot of great speakers out there with substantial experience and it was daunting for me to compete with them. At one of the many networking breakfasts I attended this year, I met an amazing lady. She has invited me to speak in August to a large audience of people who have the capacity to influence my future opportunities. I might also speak at an expo towards the end of the year which would be incredible exposure.
Acknowledge The Blessings
Often we become frustrated that things are not going well or that things aren’t unfolding as we want them to. Sometimes, it’s really important to look back and to acknowledge how far we’ve come. Three years ago, I was so ill I couldn’t go out more than five times a week. I couldn’t exercise, not even a walk around the block. I had no professional or personal goals. My relationships were not healthy and I felt alone, miserable and exhausted.
Now, I’m exercising a few times a week, I’m loving my work, I’m reaching people with my message and I’m blessed with a beautiful family and home that I wouldn’t trade for anything. Life is really beautiful and there are so many things to celebrate. It’s important to take the time to acknowledge the hard work it takes to build a happy life, the people who contribute to it and the blessings all around us.
Kathy Mann is a writer and speaker, based in Johannesburg South Africa. She’s passionate about building a happy life, on purpose using the tools of positive psychology. Kathy guides people towards living their best life possible through what she has learned in becoming very sick from stress. Women often feel so stretched, trying to be everything to everyone. Kathy’s here to remind you that being true to yourself, connecting with your strengths and talents, is the best way to serve the world.