Millenial Women are Fleeing Corporate America before 30: Here's my story
On June 5th, 2016 I will hit the 2 year anniversary of leaving corporate america. I left my nearly 10 year career in healthcare all before 30 years old (if you do the math you can figure out that I entered the workforce at a very young age). Most of the details of this decision I have kept private for the last 2 years. However, I am finally ready to share the high's and low's of this journey I've been on, now as I take the summer to decide my next move and contemplate my return to the corporate rat race.
Over the past several weeks I have learned that I am not alone in my decision to leave my career before I turned 30. In fact, quite the opposite. Women everywhere are trading in their corporate life and in turn working for themselves. Why you ask? Not because of what you might think. Most women my age would normally be entering motherhood and trading their black dress pants for yoga pants but not the millenial generation. In fact, less than 11% of women are permanently leaving their careers to have children. (claims the McKinsey study) Women everywhere are getting burnt out, like seriously burnt out! The female millenial generation are facing some serious hurdles when it comes to entering and sustaining themselves in the workforce and I know all to well how this feels.
Did you know.....
Women account for 53% of corporate entry-level jobs but only hold 37% of mid-management roles and even less, 26%, when you climb higher up the corporate ladder to vice presidents and senior managers. These statistics may suggest that women are working really hard without the probability of the same reward, and holding very high expectations that may never be met. That being said, the burnout by age 30 makes sense.
Another contributing factor suggests that in a global corporate america over-connectivity is a key contributor of burnout rates. And women tend to struggle with balance, saying no, and fear of being replaced therefore they stay connected on nights and weekends just to try and stay in the race.
Now, I feel that as I write this from the perspective of someone who is apart of this core demographic I should share a bit of my story and attempt to offer up some of what I have learned.
When you think of any major 'crash and burn' scenario you can think of me. Because boy did I. I could offer advice on work life balance to just about anyone but when it came to my own life, it just didn't exist. I was your typical over zealous "yes, ma'am". There wasn't a need I couldn't meet or a task too large I wouldn't sink my teeth into. Climbing the corporate ladder became my addiction. And to be fair, I was the type of employee that could easily be taken advantage of if you just tapped into a few of my key weaknesses. My desire for achievement, self-worth, and independence truly came at price. It was in March of 2014 that I finally realized that I was on the trajectory of a complete and total breakdown. I was vacationing with my husband in St. Barth when we boarded the return flight home and I had a panic attack. I had been burning the candle at both ends for so long that I truly felt that I could not go on living like this another day. At the time my personal life was spiraling out of control and my professional life was rapidly demanding more from me.
I described it later as a rapidly growing fire built on crate a dynamite.
On May 5th, 2014 the fire finally reached that crate of dynamite. After returning home from St. Barth I began having regular panic attacks at work and at home that could last for hours. Trying to keep composure at work became impossible and I finally had to sit down with my boss and explain what was going on. I had to admit to him and myself that I was struggling and that I needed help. I started speaking with a counselor for several weeks but things only got worse. Turns out the skeletons in my closet were deeper than I'd realized and opening them up was just fanning the flame. As I drove home on May 4th I had one of worst panic attacks of my life and told myself that I couldn't go back. I spent the evening in a daze and had another panic attack that lasted all night. By that time I had managed to notify my boss that I would not be coming in for the next couple of days and my husband had notified my counselor of what was going on. I wrapped up work and decided to take a leave of absence to remove myself from the fire and focus on getting well.
After nearly a month away from work, I decided I would leave my career behind and with the support of my husband I took the leap. The next few months would feel like torture. I contemplated everything. Did I make a huge mistake? Was I going crazy? I can't believe I just threw my entire career down the drain, I told myself. But as the months went by I started to feel like I was getting back on my feet. I even interviewed at another company (which I totally bombed). What I needed to learn most of all was to just be ok with where I am at TODAY. Easier said than done. It would take me two years to get to this very place.
Now, skipping ahead those two years and now turning 30 in September I am contemplating returning to a corporate career or continuing on my current path. The question I keep asking myself is, "Am I ready and What do I want"? The answer is, I may never 'feel' like I am ready and most days I really don't know what the hell I want. Now, that doesn't sounds like much logic but it's the truth and there is real logic in that. I have learned that I can't put my self-worth in my success because my success can be fleeting. My self-worth had to be built up in something outside of myself. My professional and personal success would no longer be defined by my achievements but by living each day fully and focusing on taking each day at a time. It was a very humbling experience to go from being at the top of my game to being at the bottom relying on everyone around me to support me and help me get through each day.
My boss used to tell me, "what you can get done in 2 hours takes everyone else 8 hours". I remember feeling like that was such a high praise and it only made me want to strive harder and push myself further to edge. It was my kryptonite. Now, I strive to be ok with whatever it is that I accomplish in one day. Trying not have too many things on my to-do list and not live in judgement of myself if I have to re-write last weeks to-do list on this weeks. When I was operating at max capacity there was little room for anything else and when I wasn't running at that level I often felt upset and frustrated at myself because I thought I should be able to push through the struggle and keep going. I thought others might look down on me for not being the high achiever they had come to know.
As I sit here writing this, I am undoubtably thinking about my next move. Will I head back into the corporate rat race or will I keep working for myself building my own business? What I do know is there are no defining moments in life just moments that we ourselves have to define and learn from but that they DO NOT define us. Whatever path I choose I know now how to use my voice, assert myself and my needs, and above all else choose living life over living for my career.
I hope you find this helpful and I really could go on and on about this topic so if you have questions just ask, I'd love to help if I can.