Throughout my adult life, I’ve moved along well in my career. I had most of the accolades I was looking for: a good job title, a solid reputation, and a comfortable bank account. They were all check marks that told of the progress I’d made in life thus far. Yet after fifteen years, I found myself hating my life so much that I was looking for ways to end it. My life looked successful and thriving from the outside. On the inside, however, I was desperate for meaning. And the very things I had worked so hard for never made me satisfied.
All the climbing up the corporate ladder left my emotions brittle. For months I couldn’t sleep, I cried often, I felt like a shell of a human. It reached its apex when I began to have suicidal thoughts. I had woken up to the life I had wanted for so long only to find it so wanting it was stifling. And that was something I really couldn’t deal with. The fifteen year quest for meaning in my career had me running from my life. So I quit.
Quitting was a painful and long overdue affair. I didn’t even want to consider it. I didn’t want to find out who I was without the workaholic driven persona I had made myself to be. Underneath my hard work was a hardened heart, and I wasn’t ready to confront that.
I quit in the fall. In the winter, the suicidal thoughts subsided. The depression took longer. I slept, ate, and began to plan to live again.
Only a few people knew the full details of my burnout. Most friends and family didn't understand how I could leave a well-paying and stable job. A few were outraged. How could a healthy college-educated woman simply walk away from a budding career? This is when I began to feel guilty, that I was a loser. I agreed with them most days.
Yet I knew that leaving was the right decision. Quitting that job was both the beginning and the end. It was the end of seeing life as a conquest to build up who I wanted to be and progress through the obstacle course laid before me. It was the beginning of understanding that every good and perfect gift truly comes from above—and that includes a good salary. My life began to take on meaning again, though, because I started to seek the one who gave the gift rather than the gift itself.
In the months that followed, I decided to apply for a coaching training program. After completing it, I figured I’d build a coaching practice. Although that never took off, I found myself using my training while on coffee dates with younger women at my church—women who wanted to chat about faith, life, and career. These women were bright, in their twenties, and about to embark on their professional life. They reminded me of myself at that age. I had the blessing of hindsight and trial by fire. It was a privilege to listen to their questions, learn their struggles, and share mine.
Meanwhile the same friends and family who had been puzzled when I quit my corporate job stood in dismay at my apparent failure to follow through with my coaching training. As my classmates from the training program were well underway building a clientele, I was having coffee with college students and giving them free coaching.
Measured by the number of clients and billable hours, my pursuit after breaking away from my corporate life was a failure. Yet I felt like the Lord had confirmed that I was to make myself available for these young women. My husband had rearranged our family budget from two corporate salaries to one in order to make room for my life to breathe and tend to the things I felt God was calling me to. I had my convictions to follow, but the reactions of others kept reminding me that I was a failure.
To this day I get an occasional remark or uneasy look from a well-meaning Christian about my current professional status. It’s hard to explain how a healthy woman with a master’s degree in marketing and more than ten years of experience left it all to do what sounds so little and pedestrian. Coffee with young women, writing words, speaking words. No money. No glory. It makes no sense.
But I made real headway in my faith when I crashed and burned. It was when I felt my life was over that I realized that Jesus was the only real life, truth, and way. My headway, like his, was made by setbacks and apparent failure. And in that, I’m happy to reflect Christ.
Cover photo by Sean Pollock.