You’re Killing It at Work, but Is It Killing You?


Have you recently overflown the bathtub, caught dinner on fire, or nearly run your children over in the driveway? A year ago, I did all three of those things in one week. I was having a breakdown, or rather, an awakening. At that time, my youngest child had just turned a year old, my oldest was preparing for kindergarten, and my husband was deploying to the Middle East. That same week, my employer did some “restructuring” and I was offered a new position.

You see, my enneagram scores for helper and achiever are tied. My Myers Briggs thinker and feeler scores are tied. In the DISC profile, I am tied between Influence and Compliance.  

In other words, I have an abundance.

Of ambition.

In EVERY area of life.  

I also have an abundance of internal conflict and guilt. Sound familiar?  

There’s no such thing as coincidence though! That same, week I read an article and laughed out loud. I thought the author must be crazy.  She had clearly never worked at a school, hospital, non-profit, booming tech company, or maybe anywhere! Then I cried, realizing she had likely had many jobs.   

That’s exactly how she knew how often many employees, especially working moms, were exploited in these ways. In my own career this has happened multiple times, including that fateful week! Twice, in fact, where I was asked to do up to all 10 of the things listed above for a grand total of $0 in additional compensation. Most frequently, to take on the duties of another position because the position or person was being eliminated.

You might be familiar with the pitch yourself. In my experience, it is presented immediately after a glowing performance review. “You are an exemplary employee! Great work! Such great work, in fact, we think you should have twice as much!”  I used to believe this was the dreaded curse of competence. I now know it is the curse of cooperation.

Nearly 20 years into my career, I have seen enough to know better. I have witnessed men wear their divorce like a badge of honor, proud of how much they had sacrificed for the company. Boastful about how they had done what it took to have the career they’d always wanted. I have witnessed colleagues, who were once close friends, turn on one another from stress and competition.  I have watched young and vibrant women deteriorate mentally, emotionally, and even physically.

I have also worked for kind mentors, men and women, who have shared similar stories, framed as cautionary tales.  They openly admitted their own regrets about giving so much to the job at the expense of their family or personal health.  They have lovingly reminded me to “chill out” and that my job would not “love me back,” no matter how many hours I spent loving it.

I know, all to well, the more you do for less, the more you will be asked to do for less. I know my deal breakers and, as a family, we’ve agreed on them.   

A year ago, during my breakdown, ahem, awakening, I quit that job–without having another lined up.  Instead, I started my own business.

A year in, I am experiencing the success I have always dreamed of. I am happier and healthier than I have ever been and so is every member of my family.

The next time you are faced with this compliment, remember compliments are paid.  When someone pays you a compliment, it comes in the form of a raise, a promotion or both. Don’t sell yourself short. If you are feeling undervalued or simply thinking of making a change, these are the things that really encouraged me to take a leap: 

  1. Be a good steward of your social capital. Reach out to former colleagues, vendors, and partners. If you haven’t stayed in touch, it’s time to reconnect. These friends are your best resource for exploring what’s next. They could be thinking of you for their next big thing.  If they weren’t already, now you will be top of mind. Thank them for their time. Celebrate their accomplishments. Find ways to collaborate.
  2. Get a fair market assessment on what your skills set is worth.  Reply to that LinkedIn recruiter. Take a couple of interviews. Check out sites like Werk, The Mom Project, and The Second Shift. I did all of these things and was amazed at opportunities and the flexibility each offered.
  3. Now you know what you’re worth, it’s time to invest in yourself. There’s nothing like spending money to solve a problem to keep you accountable!  Dig deep and see a coach.  Be practical and hire a writer or designer. Go crazy with something that feels self-indulgent, but is actually really valuable.  Have your hair and makeup done for headshots. The point is to get unstuck, whatever it takes. 
  4. Translate your current skills into more creative and fulfilling endeavors.  I have always written for work. I have always done a ton of facilitation and public speaking.  his year, I put those skills to work by blogging, appearing on our local CBS affiliate, and even modeling and acting. I would have never guessed, a year ago, that I would be doing any of these things and yet, I have enjoyed each tremendously. 

What are your translatable skills?  

How could you apply them to different industries than the current one in which you work?  

What are other ways you have successfully balanced the demands of work and home?  

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Kristi Howard-Shultz
Kristi grew up in Danville, Indiana where she met her childhood sweetheart and now husband Elliott. After years of living apart including graduate school in New York City and military tours abroad, they resettled and started a family in Indianapolis. Together, they are raising two bright and busy boys—Henry and George. She has a Master's Degree in Social work from New York University and is a RYT 200 Yoga Teacher. In her “spare” time, she enjoys reading memoirs, chasing her boys, and listening to her husband, the funniest person she knows.