If you’re like me, you want to live life to the fullest. You feel most alive when you’re being your authentic self and spending time on what’s most important to you. A critical piece of your legacy is fulfilling your potential — having the opportunity to use all of your talents and strengths to contribute to this world in personally meaningful ways.
If you’re like me, you have a call to help others through service and leadership, do work you’re passionate about and excel at everything you do. You also love to be liked and accepted by others. While these attributes contribute to our success, they can also cause us to put wants and needs of others ahead of our own, put a lot of pressure on ourselves, and get tunnel focus on projects at the expense of other aspects of our lives. This has happened to me at various points in my life—while my work products exceeded expectations, my well-being frequently suffered.
For twenty years, I had a wonderful career in fisheries science and marine resource management complete with complex, diverse science and policy projects, exciting field work, incredible travel opportunities, brilliant colleagues, passionate stakeholders and good income. Despite these benefits, several years ago, I noticed a drop in my joy and fulfillment. The demands of my job increased while resources decreased. I spent more and more time working; increasingly on unfulfilling tasks. At the same time, my health began to decline. This affected my ability to enjoy my free time and caused me to miss work due to illness, which in turn compounded pressure around my deadlines. At times, it felt like I was either at work or trying to get my health back to go to work.
Determined to bloom where I was planted and save for retirement, I spent more than a year trying to regain my health, leverage my skills, gain support at work, amp up my mojo and strengthen my attitude. The results were mixed. Somedays I felt I was getting back on track with balanced living, most days I felt off, had a hard time going to work, and once there, had a hard time leaving.
Increasingly, I could not ignore the symptoms of my burnout. Watching t.v. on a sick day at home, I heard Maria Shriver tell Oprah, “success is how you define it, not how society defines it.” I decided my definition included a lot more vibrancy. It also included full use of my talents and more autonomy. The more I read about how to get myself out of my rut, the more I realized I needed to change more than my attitude.
My career was so much of my identity. Letting it go was hard. Yet I committed to have my own back and believed in my ability to create change and design my ideal life. With the right resources I learned to distinguish what I want in life versus what I was doing to please others. This insight was a game changer and has resulted in so much personal freedom. I allowed the desires of my heart some of the space that was previously fully occupied by my head. I planned and exited my job in a way that honored what was important to me. The way I executed transition not only empowered me, it empowered others.
My first priority upon leaving my job was to spend the summer relaxing and traveling with my husband. In late summer I seized an opportunity to be a head high school volleyball coach. With over twenty five years experience playing highly competitive volleyball and newfound free time, I was excited to give back and share my love of the game. Once again, I found myself all-in, pouring all of my energy, enthusiasm and time to build a successful program as a brand new coach starting a few days before the season. It was the funnest, most-exhausting, best (the students) and worst (some adults) experience of my life and I am so grateful for all of it. There were amazing moments and massive hiccups—lessons were learned!
At the end of the season, it was time to prioritize serious self-care to see how healthy I could become. Through the process of slowing down, extensive learning about healing, taking daily walks in nature, cooking healthy food, gardening, performing music, creating art, getting good sleep, expanding gratitude and connecting with loved ones, I found myself flourishing like never before. I continue to learn methods for increasing joy, vibrancy and resilience. I believe my career would have been more sustainable with the wisdom I’ve gained since stepping away. But I’m not looking back.
I trust my path is unfolding perfectly. My purpose going forward is to support other women scientists in having it all — sustainable career success, vibrancy and joy in all aspects of life. In this way, my experience and skills are leveraged to help women scientists live to their full potential, and as they do, I live to mine.