Just over three years ago I took a pretty drastic step to leave my high-flying investment banking career of 16 years. It was not an easy decision. From the outside my professional life looked so solid: I was at the “top of my game” and in charge of a strong multicultural, multinational, multitalented team.
We worked really well together, our results were fantastic, our employee satisfaction rates were great and my feedback was excellent. I was in talks with my management about “the next step”. I had the title, the team and the pay cheque that many would dream of.
On the inside everything was beginning to crumble.
I felt totally drained from years of burning the candle at both ends and overwhelmed by my constantly increasing responsibilities. The higher up the corporate ladder I went, the more pressure there was to perform and the more isolated and disheartened I felt.
There was a culture of unhealthy rivalry, which was not conducive to genuine inner growth, healthy collaboration and balance that I was craving. I was running on empty for a prolonged period time. There were warning signs along the way, but as many other professionals do, I just kept charging ahead. There were targets to be met. No time for revaluation or adjustments.
Keeping on top of work took most of my mental and physical energy and there was little room left for other things. I started to neglect my heath and I gradually withdraw from the social life and activities I used to enjoy.
When you are maxed out there's no resources to fall back on.
Then a tricky family situation came up in 2015 and it suddenly pushed me completely off my balance that I was already struggling to maintain. There were no resources left to fall back on. I was knocked down by all the classic symptoms of a “burn out” including depleted energy, digestive issues, sleeping problems, migraines, anxiety and even panic attacks!
It was physically impossible to handle my day to day duties at the level that was required. I felt sick, very frightened that I let things get to that stage, but also very alone. Everyone else seemed to be able to keep afloat, why couldn’t I?
I could no longer ignore my body’s desperate calling for help. It looked like the best option to try get my physical and mental health back on track was to make some radical changes and to remove myself from all stress triggers. So, I left with a very heavy heart. One thing I was sure of was that if I ever come back to this industry – it will be in a different capacity, to help others.
Don't let your system breakdown.
There are number of things that companies have in place to try support their employees who have lost their ability to deal with pressure and are suffering from acute stress. In most cases however the recovery can be very slow. Once your system snaps, it takes a lot of soul searching and unravelling to get to the real cause.
A physical/mental break down can be seen as nature’s way of reminding us to stay on the right track, to honour our health and also as an opportunity for immense inner growth. But we are required to be brave, committed and open with ourselves and others. We can’t and shouldn’t do it alone, so the general expectation to “manage the symptoms” away from work situation is of little help.
Despite recent efforts to break the stigma around mental health, there is still an overall lack of understanding and openness about it in a work environment. What really counts most in such cases is human connection and support. After all, our brain is just another organ and its function can get weakened if we don’t provide it with proper nourishment, rest and care.
We live in a culture where we are pre-conditioned to look and act strong. This is particularly apparent in big corporations. But this “look strong and carry on” approach has taken many innocent victims and can be especially hard to apply by women.
Women's definition of inner strength is different.
We can be naturally more sensitive and caring, our emotions can fluctuate and - yes - they need to find an avenue for expression. We like to take more factors into account when making decisions especially when we enter a new terrain. We are often extremely compassionate, supportive, considerate of the environment and of the feelings and needs of others.
There is so much truth in an old saying: where Devil fails – send a woman! We can bring so much to the table, but we also need to feel supported ourselves. We can only operate effectively from a place where we are allowed to apply our feminine values and our work-life requirements are met.
The modern world is starting to recognise that to retain harmony in our human interactions and return balance to our planet, we need both genders to play equal parts and fulfil their natural roles. Yet we find that “female empowerment” model is often designed by men and it can look like women encouraged to think and act - like successful men.
Yes, there are women that are naturally more assertive, but those that are not, will either end up leaving the team or organisation, or they get so mixed up with trying to adapt to the male model of success that they compromise their own personal authenticity and became the cause of great distress to others. An angry, frustrated, forceful, reckless woman is not a force to be reckoned with!
DrivenWoman helps me to take back control of my life.
As it often happens when we are facing big life changes – if we are willing to step into the unknown - they can offer us a lot of valuable lessons and opportunities. Just few months after leaving my job, I came across DrivenWoman network and a friend, who was a member had encouraged me to sign up. I was reluctant at first as I saw myself as ANYTHING BUT a “driven woman” at that stage!
After all I had just thrown my whole career away and I admittedly I was suffering a bit of an identity crises. But I wanted new things to focus on and decided I should give it a go.
I quickly realised that being a DrivenWoman didn’t just mean building a high profile or a career. It’s so much more. A DrivenWoman is a woman that proactively creates her WHOLE LIFE, a life that will give her the sense of happiness and fulfilment she seeks at a very deep level. Brick by brick with the support of other like-minded women, the DrivenWoman tribe, where everyone openly shares their stories, their achievements and their struggles, vocalises and overcomes their fears and works towards their big dreams.
This was exactly what I needed!
And as I dived deeper and deeper into the process I couldn’t stop thinking: if only I had access to these tools and platform when I was still at my job, things could have taken a very different turn.
This is how:
- TAKING BACK CONTROL: DrivenWoman's Lifeworking™ program encourages women to take control of their life (not let circumstances control them) by providing them with a safe space to evaluate and plan
- DESIGNING THE LIFE YOU WANT: The practical format of the DrivenWoman sessions means that every month program members get to set achievable goals towards creating more fulfilled life
- BEING A WOMAN: DrivenWoman's mission is to support women in tapping into their unique female qualities and talents and to guide them on how to utilise these to their best advantage in either work or personal environment
- SUPPORT FROM OTHERS: It offers women valuable help from other like-minded women, it’s where women often learn that their challenges and desires are common and they get the support and practical advice from others, who walk similar path to theirs
- ACCOUNTABILITY: By openly sharing their goals with others - women are a lot more likely to action them!
- LIFE-WORK BALANCE: DrivenWoman members are looking at all aspects of life and learn to better prioritise, so any sign of imbalance can be spotted early on and adjustments can be made
- GOING OUT IN THE WORLD: Its where women find their true voice and their confidence, which they then apply to other aspects of life.
When earlier this year Miisa, the founder and Chief Doer of DrivenWoman announced her plans to offer DrivenWoman programs to companies I got very excited. I had to raise my hand and I asked to be part of the movement in bringing these powerful tools and fantastic platform to other women.
And especially women in corporate environments that might feel overwhelmed and stretched from trying to juggle too many things, perhaps even feeling isolated, disheartened and not heard. With DrivenWoman support - women in a corporate setting can find their own voice. They won’t be afraid to challenge old cultures with unhealthy behaviour patterns, ineffective structures, absence of equality and more. They will have the skills and confidence to set the foundations towards creating an environment where female talents are recognised and valued. And they won’t have to do it alone as they will have other women (their Tribe) behind them.
Anna Varney, a former finance Director, DrivenWoman member and corporate sales consultant in London.
DrivenWoman is a female only empowerment platform and accountability network, that helps ambitious women to achieve their goals and dreams by creating positive habits one step at a time. Thousands of women around the world have joined our program and are achieving their life goals, which range from entrepreneurial dreams to career change or simply being more confident in their own skin and enjoying life in the present moment.
Join us in DrivenWoman's FREE community the Doers Tribe.