I Burned Out and Moved To Mexico

While I despise most everything about this sexed-up, SEO'd-to-the-max article "Why Millennial Women Are Burning Out At Work By 30", it certainly hit a nerve.

Peep my CV:
  • Personal Assistant
  • Office Assistant (I actually say "Marketing Assistant" but this is a bit of a stretch)
  • Publicity Assistant
  • Online Marketing Coordinator
  • Unemployed World Traveler
This covers my life from age 21, after I'd graduated with an English degree from the University of Toronto, to age 28. It does not include the three months I took off to "write" (be depressed) and the four months I was enrolled in a book publishing program at Humber College.

Admittedly, my shift into book publishing at the midpoint certainly didn't assist in what was obviously a rocketing ascent. And I was lucky enough not to have to suffer through any internships or periods of underemployment (patchy part-time work etc.).

But what did happen was that I spent the last seven years, give or take, being a really low-level office worker who managed to move up the income bracket a whole four and a half thousand dollars. Before I left for Mexico I had little to no clue how I was to advance in my work, which to my mind meant roughly more dinero, more freedom in a role of increased responsibility, and working in an environment conducive to professional growth.

The probability of this happening seemed about as likely as Mitt Romney with his binders full of women.

I resent that the Forbes article begins with big juicy stats about the second class status of women in the workplace and ends by saying that women have to revise their expectations and become yoga instructors. And then it has the audacity to say that we expect our jobs to make us happy, and that we need to be more flexible about "what's fun."

Fun? FUN?! 

What about equal pay? What about equal opportunity? What about not placing the burden of responsibility on women, who apparently don't take enough breaks in our day (men are 25% more likely to do so!) and thus are responsible for our sluggish careers and eventual epic burnout?

I can't not attribute my rancid career to my struggle with depression. But peep this.

In the last year my extracurricular activities (outside of my full-time job) were thus:
  • Trained for and then ran a half marathon
  • Yoga
  • Mentored a 16-year-old girl
  • Wrote for Torontoist and other publications
  • Took Spanish classes twice a week for seven months
  • Attended networking and book publishing events regularly
The above does not include wonderful life stuff like dating, working actively on my mental health, being my own wife, mother, and cleaning lady, and having a social life.

It was a privileged, comfortable life. It was also incredibly frustrating. I was incredibly busy and getting pretty much no where, except that I was satisfying my inner need to believe that I was trying.

Trying what?

Eventually I ran myself so ragged that I got sick, which is what my body does when my mind refuses to believe that I am exhausted and fed up. I plotted to move to Mexico City (where I now live) because I could see no other viable option. I was sick and tired of trying things with no tangible output. Call me fussy, but I wanted results. I decided it was better to call a time out and regroup then continue my maddening circuitous course.

Forbes suggests that I see my career as a marathon, not a sprint. But I already ran a marathon, or a half one at least, and I've done a lot more besides. My talents demand reciprocity, not docility. Do we tell young men to take it easy? No! We tell them to go get 'em, tiger!

What most obviously has to change is the lack of women in middle and upper management positions. There really are binders of women out there, it simply can't be true that there are no viable female candidates. The pathways into more fruitful jobs must be cleared for women or our much-needed passion, creativity, and intelligence is going to keep hitting that much-discussed ceiling and dissipating into yoga studios and Mexican barrios.

The women in my life are talented, full of zeal, and ready to work but many of them are underused and under appreciated. This is an incredible waste. It's not women who need to re-imagine their role in the workforce, the onus is on employers to start actively placing women in non-entry level positions and creating pathways for younger women to advance. Dust off those binders, gentlemen.

*Thanks to Brianna for pointing me to the Forbes article.

I recommend the following books for anyone else who feels burnt out and wants to move to Mexico:
  • The 4-Hour Workweek (yes really). 
  • Vagabonding: An Uncommon Guide to the Art of Long-Term World Travel
  • Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear. Elizabeth Gilbert knocks it out of the park on this one. Essential for anyone who wants to live a bigger life.
  • Wild: From Lost To Found on the Pacific Crest Trail. If you haven't read this yet, DO.
  • The Gifts of Imperfection. Brene Brown on feelings of inadequacy and shame. Essential.


karen said...

Amen. When there is no path, it really feels like the next 40 years of life will be the same thing, rinse and repeat. There is nothing inspiring there.
Mexico isn't the right thing for me, although I love that you are finding joy there, but I will be paying more attention to myself, to see if I can find it.

NSP said...

Cosign! Decemeber will make four years of PT employment in a position I've grown as much as I can. It's hard to stay positive, yet alone energetic.

sunday said...

I feel that, B. In my professional jobs since Humber, I felt like I was staring up from the bottom of a never- ending ladder... a ladder that women seemed to be coming down, instead of going up. Really discouraging.

When I moved to the US, I had to wait three months for my work permit to process, and I crashed pretty hard. But, slowly, I realized I could breathe, and stop being so wound up, and stop trying do everything I thought I should do, and just exist. And then, I started to rebuild. I'm still rebuilding.

It's sounds like, despite it's ups and downs, Mexico is having a healing effect. I'm glad.

Anonymous said...

I too struggled to fashion a career in the arts in Canada for years, and basically lived a month-to-month existence from 22 to 30. The problem, however, wasn't so much in being a woman, it was in having taken an English degree and then trying to make an ascent in the arts. I moved out of publishing a year ago into an alternate communications role and while the pay is still nothing to brag about (at all) it's at least a better track than working in the arts. Your skills from Humber can get you work in corporate communications and you could be making anywhere from 70,000-90,000. Keep an open mind to other types of careers maybe, and you'll get there. Most people spend their 20s a mess anyway, so let it go and start fresh. You're young and awesome and there is a future for you out there.

Melwyk said...

Amazing post. You've expressed the feeling of futility that most "career paths" seem to instill. I so, so agree that the onus is on employers to start actively placing women in non-entry level positions and creating pathways for younger women to advance. And not just younger -- I'm not a millennial but I feel the same way. Congrats on your courage to make a major change.

a.g.lewis said...

For what it's worth, in my twenties I knew I didn't want to be a slave to what I see/saw as the rather meaningless and dehumanizing 9-5 slog, and because I didn't have any strong leanings either way for a career path, I kept serving in bars and restaurants after university, I bought an house, and I had a lot of free time. Such jobs don't force you to be a another brick in the wall, they don't force you to commute long distances or get up to an alarm, they don't rob you of the time necessary for keeping up your mental health, and you get to hear a lot of crazy stories. :0
Now of course, other than owning your own establishment, there is not much in the way of advancement in food & hospitality and you can burn out, too, but it has kept me humble and grateful for what I have, and in touch with human behaviour to the point that I feel fully confident in dealing with just about any situation I find myself in...
So, fast forward to 2008 and Humber College where - upon encouragement from a sweet Humber professor who came into the bar where I worked - I thought I might venture into the seemingly exciting mess of the changing publishing world.
After struggling up the steepest learning curve in my memory (computers and school again - eek!), to which you and our excellent fellow students were amusing and amused witnesses, I tried to get a job - no, scratch that - I tried to get even an internship along with my fellow twenty-somethings, and could I? After two interviews in eight months, I got bitter and said a hearty FUCK YOU to the human resource and publishing professions.
In most cases, the only differences between me and my fellow graduates on paper was my university graduation date and my extensive experience with people. Somehow my people skills counted for nothing in publishing... now I wonder if I had played the game and fudged my grad date, I may have got more than two interviews (?), but my damn conscience still doesn't let me do that stuff...
So anyhoo, to get back to you and your post's lament (sorry for the long winded blurp), I felt I had to tell you - as sad a comment on the professional world of publishing as this is - not only is there very little advancement happening for you and the underlings in a business so seemingly rife with opportunities for new growth/leadership, but in my experience, there isn't much hope for thirty-somethings trying to enter it, either.
I think Jacob has the right idea; fuck the rest - start your own house and make your own rules.


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