When in comes to working life I think I was really lucky. I always knew what I want to in my life. Thanks to that I have never felt lost in my professional life. Well, at least until burnout.
I started working soon after the high school. My first serious job was a waiter job. This job was really nice for me that time. The job itself is quite easy, there is a free food, sometimes also free alcohol, the schedule is very flexible, you have 15 days off each month, and the money you can earn are very nice.
First, I was working in of the more famous and prestigious restaurants in Warsaw as a waiter’s helper. The work there was super hard and the atmosfere was really, really bad. But the service standards was super high, so, I learned quite a lot there. Unfortunately I was only able to last there for two months.
The second job I got was in another restaurant in Warsaw. I worked there for about two years and after that for another four years on special corporate events with couple of restaurant from the group. The job, specially the special events was really hard physical work, but I really like it. This was really amazing time for me. I was young, I earned a decent money, I had 15 days off each month, so I had the time to spend the money. It was like a never ending party. So if you are wondering which first job to choose, consider working as a waiter – its really nice job for the start.
In the meantime I started my master’s degree in psychology with specialization in social psychology. I have chosen psychology because I wanted to use is in my life – to better understand myself and the world around me and in my target job, which was to be a job at an advertising agency.
I wanted the job that is interesting. The job that gives you an oportunities to do many different things and you don’t have to do the same things every day. That is why I have chosen working in the advertising agency.
When it comes to the position, the matter was simple – I always loved to organize and manage projects, so the Project Manager was ideal position for me. With that criteria I started to looking for my first office job.
My first office job was in the biggest (that time) advertising agency in Poland. The brands we were working for were the biggest ones in the industry. The team I was part of was very nice, people were friendly and the work standards were really top notch, so everything was looking very good. I really liked this job and learned a lot there. I worked there for almost a year (this “almost” caused me quite some problems later), but unfortunately I was reduced as part of mass layoffs. That way I became unemployed overnight.
After that I had a really big problem finding another job. This “almost” year was very bad for me, because I was not a Junior anymore but still not a Project Manager, so I didn’t fit either on Junior Project Manager or Project Manager Position. Because of that and because I was not interested in anything else than working in advertising agency I was looking for my next job for almost a year. It was not fun.
Finally I get the job in another advertising agency where I met very interesting girl (my boss at that time) and when she proposed me to move on to her newly created agency I didn’t hesitate even 5 min. That way I joined the company which was the most important one in my whole career.
The company was indeed two companys in one. Advertising agency and a software house (with my girl boss partner as a boss). This was great because I could make and learn many things from two different areas.
Before I get to the details how the process of burnout started and ended I have to say few words about me and my approach to work.
I think the crucial thing is that I was raised by my grandmother. I owe her a classic old school values like: to keep one’s word, iron moral backbone, a passion for honesty, truthfulness and commitment to the job. Also I really engage emotionally in everything I do. I hate fails, so I always try my best and work that way, so I can avoid as much fails I can. For me, working well is not a duty performed for my boss, it is a matter of honor.
So I worked really hard and was giving all the time and effort to make things right. I made a lot of overtime not because I had to, but because I believed that this will take me to the place I want to be. The place where the time I invested will be returned to me and I will claim all the benefits from my hard work.
Because of how I worked I was able to get my bosses attention really quick. Thanks to that I had a oportunity to do many interesting things that were far away from my job description. I really like that.
When we gained our mutual trust we started talking about the plans for the future. We were talking a lot about the future and how we want to get there. I felt quite special and felt that I am an important part of a grand plan. I really believed in this plan and this gave me the energy to work even harder.
But time went by and unfortunately I began to notice that what we were talking about was not implemented. The promises made were not kept. Something else was always more important. So we did everything but our promised plan. Work has become repetitive and boring. Clients were dissatisfied all the time because we didn’t meet the deadlines. So my work turned into constant apologizing to clients and chasing unrealistic deadlines. Overtime didn’t change anything and there were a lot of them every day. I remember I felt really hopeless that time.
In the meantime, we were looking for an employee who was to work with me in the team. We managed to find a very interesting person. We managed to get along very fast. We had a similar approach to many matters and understood each other very well.
We noticed some things that we could change to improve the situation in the company. We wrote all our ideas down and full of energy and hope we went to present them to our boss. I remember this conversation very vividly. He listened to us carefully and then criticized all our ideas. That single event was crucial for me. That day I realized that there is a very small change that anything will change.
So my job was still constant apologizing to clients and chasing unrealistic deadlines and making meaninless overtime. At least now my boss knew what we were thinking about the situation.
Soon I started to feel very bad. Constant pressure made me nervous, restless and stressed. I often felt that I wasn’t myself. I had frequent abdominal pain and chest stinging. I felt hopeless and I thought that I’m waisting my best years on a meaningless job that is simply not worth all the time and effort. On Sundays afternoons, I had a standard stomach aches because I knew I’m going to work on Monday. I couldn’t fully relax even on holidays, and on some of them I even experienced a panic attacks.
I could not stand that long and soon I gave my notice. We had a long conversation with my boss and he convinced me to take 3 months unpaid leave before the final decision. This 3 months didn’t change anything for me, so I decided to change the job.
When I was looking for a next job I decided to give an advertising agency one more chance. It was because recently I was doing mostly IT projects, so I wanted to switch not only a company but also the type of the projects. I sent some CV’s and soon I get the job in one of the Warsaw advertising agency.
I worked there almost two years. After a year and half I started to feel the same symptoms, only much stronger. I remember that one day when I was coming home I experienced such a strong pain in the chest that I had to stop the car for a while.
That was the last warning for me. I knew that if I did nothing I would get a stroke, a heart attack or both.
So I made the fisrt step. I quit my job and started to make changes in my life. Already in the first month I received a little present from the Universe. I achieved massive sale in my guitar shop which I started two years before. I will never forget this day, the day I felt really, really good with my decision.
It’s been almost two years since I left my the standard working life and everyday I’m greatful that this burnout happened to me so quicky. I’m only 35 years old now and I have all the time and energy to build a different live for me and my family.
I take my time to do all the things I always wanted to do but I never had the time and energy for it. I changed the way I eat, the way I work, the way I rest. I returned to my big passion which is Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. I feel free and I feel I can do everything I dream of.
Do I regret all these years of working like that? Definately no. I learned many important things. I gained a lot of professional skills and I was working on many interesting projects. All this experience I gained is very useful for creating and managing my own projects.
But the most important thing I got from all this years is knowing who I don’t want to be. I had to experience it, but now I know exactly how my life should look like. Maybe for you this kind of event would be a disaster but for me this burnout was simply a liberation.
To everyone who struggles at work every day I can say one thing:
I’m on the other side of the fence now and you know what? The grass here is indeed much greener.