They say you have to hit rock bottom before you’ll
change and I think there’s some truth to that.
I did not like the person I’d become.
Gossipy. Resentful. And sad. So sad.
I could chalk it up to the toxic agency environment. No one challenged that’s the type of place this was, especially the ones who kept their heads down.
You know those places. We’re like family here. It’s a fast paced role. You can’t be afraid to get your hands dirty. We’re looking for a rockstar.
So when I walked into the office three days before Christmas I wasn’t surprised there was no one else there. They’d already turned off my phone access that morning and the CEO was sitting in the conference room with a stack of papers in front of him.
I knew it wasn’t good.
I could have seen the signs. Hiring me at eight months pregnant but paying me as a contractor so they wouldn’t have to provide paid maternity leave. Sitting me in the bullpen “with the girls” even though a private office sat empty. Hearing time and again that I asked too many questions.
Yet, I held on. Because I had come to believe them when they said they didn’t see the skills I claimed to have.
But I refused to be the person they wanted — a “yes” person, an over-worker, someone who chose arbitrary hours over my newborn.
In the end, I needed to be fired to have the permission to choose myself.
I’m Kim Wensel and this is Resentfully Yours, a limited series podcast where we examine, adjust, and reframe the expectations of a creative career.
The topics on this show explore how to avoid resentment when you’re feeling misunderstood, overworked, and undervalued. Because as a working creative the question isn’t IF you’ll feel this way, it’s WHEN.
This series focuses on how to get back to work that’s life giving, not life sucking; making your own definition of “making it;” and ditching the excuses that are keeping us from reaching our true potential.
It’s said you’ll never meet an interesting person with an easy life. But that sure doesn’t make it any easier going through it.
I’ve never heard someone in the middle of a breakdown perk up and say, “This is great – a gold mine for my memoir!”
Rather, it’s those moments when we feel like we’ll never see the light again.
This is different from the seasons of life and work I’ve talked about before. This is less about rhythm and more about dealing with uncertainty, pain, and doubt.
Mama always said there’d be days like this.
These are the kind of days that songs are written about – when fear and rage fill your chest.
It wasn’t long ago that we couldn’t talk about these things, much less in the context of work.
But now, the conversation about mental health has opened up to allow us to admit we don’t always have it together – nor should we.
I myself didn’t start seeing a therapist until I was 35. My family preferred to keep the ugly hidden. If you didn’t talk about it, it couldn’t hurt you.
Yet when my therapist suggested we engage in narrative exposure therapy for trauma I was confused. I actually said to her, “My childhood was pretty great. I had a loving family, a safe home, and never had to worry about my next meal.”
It didn’t take long for her to question that reality as I unloaded the baggage I’d carried with me for decades — my parents divorcing when I was three, the attachment issues I had shuffling between houses, and witnessing my mom suffer a near death attack at the hands of my stepdad.
Until this woman came along I had never given myself permission to admit that I had experienced trauma. As a white, Christian, middle-class, cis-gender American there were so many others who had it worse than I did.
I think I was just afraid of admitting my normal wasn’t so normal.
Here’s what I came to accept: trauma is trauma. And just like one person’s joy shouldn’t steal from another’s, admitting what I had gone through didn’t have to be done through the lens of comparison.
Once I would admit this to myself I couldn’t unsee the patterns that had been formed over decades. The over-performance and perfectionism. The constant obsession with planning for the future. And the sense that chaos was my baseline.
The funny thing about this realization is that the very same behavior that was causing me inner turmoil as the behavior that got me accolades. They’re the things people praised me for.
That’s why breaking these patterns, these long held beliefs and well grooved behaviors has been a personal project of its own.
When you begin to choose yourself, others feel let down.
For us high-achieving people, we know we always have our capabilities and capacity to fall back on. Those of us who grew up fast – too fast – we’ve used self-reliance to figure out our own way. Not needing anyone else has been a protective mechanism.
It’s the armor we wear to avoid feeling vulnerable.
And as we tip-toe through life, recognizing what others want from us, without knowing it we equate our value with our abilities.
WAITING FOR A WAKE UP CALL TO CHANGE YOUR LIFE
You’ve heard the stories just as I have: the ever capable person getting a wakeup call.
They lose their job.
They lose a loved one.
They receive a diagnosis that makes them lose their independence. And everything is put into perspective.
I never thought I’d be that person. I mean, obviously, because I thought I could control everything.
Last spring I was being rolled into the MRI machine. The techs made a few comments about how easy it was to prep me — how most people were really nervous or claustrophobic about entering the long tube.
I made an off-handed joke about it being the closest to a nap I’d had in a while. To be honest, it did feel a bit meditative.
I wasn’t worried, even though I was there for a brain scan.
I thought it was a normal check the box procedure after my intense migraines had returned. I never expected to find anything abnormal.
Later that day I was sitting outside on my back porch and I saw a note come in from my electronic health chart. Confusion set in as I read the medical terminology.
“Unusual for a 36-year-old…”
So I started Googling, because that’s the best place to get your medical advice.
And still what I found was confusing. A stroke?
That was a Friday, so I waited all weekend to hear from a doctor. All weekend wondering if there was something wrong with me, if I would lose my faculties.
“I get paid for my thinking,” I told my husband. “I can’t lose that. Who am I without the way my mind works?”
As the dust settled I found out the MRI had located two old strokes in the back of my brain. They couldn’t tell me how old or what had caused them, only that I needed to follow up with a team of neurologists and cardiologists.
Those appointments led to more tests but few finite answers.
What I did recognize is that my inner voice had told me something was coming. The month before I was depleted and drowning in client work and something told me I needed to clear my schedule. It’s almost as if I knew something was coming and I was trying to prepare myself for it.
Reg flags, as we talk about them are often feelings. They’re hunches. That’s why they’re so hard to pay attention to.
They require recognition and trust.
There’s no post-it note that’s going to fly out of the sky saying, “Say no! This client is going to make your life a living hell!”
Your body knows when your mind is lying.
So how do you get in touch with your body’s clues?
Religious people talk about a divine connection with God. Spiritual people talk about listening to nudges from the universe.
Others may use words like intuitive, empathetic, and highly sensitive.
Even though both of my grandparents were Baptist preachers, I rebelled against religion. I didn’t want something forced upon me, no matter how good it could be.
As an adult, with the world swirling, I craved slow and steady guidance – something bigger than myself that I could lean on, trust in.
I wanted affirmation that I was on the right path. Affirmation from someone other than my husband.
Something that would help me balance my rationalizing with feeling.
HOW TO LEARN TO TRUST YOUR INSTINCTS
I guess you could say I needed guidance learning to trust my instincts.
Getting to know yourself – that sounds like a silly concept. You ARE yourself. Why would you need practice getting to know yourself?
Because it’s hard to hear ourselves when we’ve been so accustomed to tuning out our own voice.
I was first introduced to sound baths as part of a group program. The lead plays bowls at different tones and vibrations and your job is to lie still with your eyes closed and clear your mind.
That first time I went somewhere. I didn’t exactly fall asleep – more like I fell into a trance.
It helps calm your nervous system and allow you to see things and tap into your consciousness.
In the years since I’ve done multiple visualizations, breathwork, and guided meditations.
These have helped me understand what I genuinely want, not just what I reach for because others are. They’ve helped me picture pure, unadulterated joy. And they’ve helped me recognize the desires I’ve pushed so far down because they feel unattainable.
More than anything, these practices have kept me grounded.
My cousin-in-law is a calligrapher. I commissioned her to illustrate a quote by Brene Brown that now hangs on the wall between my kids’ rooms.
Those who have a strong sense of love and belonging have the courage to be imperfect.
If you’re listening to this show I’m willing to put my money on the fact that something may be going on for you right now. And maybe it hasn’t occurred to you how to share it…or even admit it.
Cancer. Infertility. Chronic illness. Loss. Caretaking. Depression. Covid.
This is real life.
And these things are not mere inconveniences. They will affect you. They may even sidetrack you.
If you fight against it, you will lose.
What I can offer you is this – sometimes burnout is sadness left unaddressed for too long. And sometimes making it means getting through another day.
Self care isn’t all bubble baths and green juice.
Sometimes it’s readjusting your expectations. Sometimes it’s drinking tons of water and getting more sleep. Sometimes it’s crying without apologizing (I’m real bad at this last one).
The creative journey is a personal one.
I’m all about the well cared for, well compensated life. Notice, I said life, not job or career.
A 2017 study ranked finances as the second leading cause of divorce, only behind infidelity. And what directly contributes to finances? Work.
And we still separate these – life and work – as though somehow one won’t affect the other.
I saw a post on LinkedIn yesterday from an executive leader saying how hard it has been balancing her 2-year-old, pregnancy, and demanding work schedule. She acknowledged that she didn’t want to admit this because she has the help of a supportive partner, but didn’t know how others were managing it.
In her post she pondered the question why so many of us stop short of our professional potential and ended by asking – How can we set people – all sorts of people in all sorts of scenarios – up to succeed?
Many comments unsurprisingly were about company culture and supporting mothers at work. And some were downright sad:
The short answer: we are all on the brink.
In fear of being seen as a liability, I totally downplayed every symptom I had because I didn’t want to be seen as a new mom who couldn’t handle it.
Even a one year “mommy break” is death. Freelance, volunteer, whatever it takes to keep working, even if it’s only 5 hours a week. That will lubricate the gears that will allow you to reach top speed again.
The comment that most resonated with me: You have to resolve that sometimes your job will
get more of you than your children and other times your children will get more of you than your job. You can’t work like you don’t have children and parent like you don’t have a job.
Because what I wanted to say was this: We only have so much capacity. Who has set this standard that we should be able to excel in all things all of the time? Isn’t this the epitome of hustle culture?
And then today, as I went back to review this quote, I saw this. Another post on LinkedIn:
Sorry, #oprahwinfrey, I don’t agree with your quote: “You can have it all. Just not all at once.”
If you know what you truly want in and WHY it’s important to you, I know you can craft your life to include everything you want, all at once!
We challenge ourselves to exhaustion and then wonder why we don’t feel more satisfied.
This isn’t just about balancing work and kids. It’s about balancing our professions and our past times. It’s about choosing to coast vs. choosing to go all in. It’s about being okay with admitting sometimes things are hard and we don’t have to gloss over them trying to make them look easy.
LIFE ISN’T ALWAYS EASY, SO STOP PRETENDING IT IS
How much effort do we put in making things look easy?
Think about the last time someone asked you how you’re doing. Did you answer honestly or did you answer with, “Good, how about you?” That’s the default.
What would it look like to be more honest without worrying about the person on the other end’s response?
Life coach, Martha Beck, says that we tend to measure our wellbeing not by how we feel but how our lives compare to others, but no external guide will ever be as accurate as the teacher in your soul.
I guess you could say this episode is about mental health. I like to think of it also as self-preservation – learning to tap into your inner voice when the external chatter gets too loud and expectations too heavy.
All that will ever matter is what matters to you. And while it’s easy to conflate that with what matters to others, their definition of success is different than yours because each and every one of our visions is unique.
If you’re just tuning in, just deciding to follow that tiny whisper inside of you but unsure how to hear it more clearly, the easiest place to start is movement.
Sometimes you have to lose yourself to find yourself.
Get away from the computer and away from your to-do lists and spend more time moving your body. This is what I focus on in my retreats.
Sure there’s learning time, but more than that there’s self-discovery time. And you can’t discover your wants, desires, and needs inside of your day-to-day schedule and routines.
So how will you clear your plate and your mind today? How will you allow yourself to acknowledge what you’re going to and refuse the automatic urge to act like it’s all good? How will you accept your situation while trusting that nothing lasts forever?
You don’t have to show up if you don’t feel like it.
You don’t always have to be strong.
You don’t have to grin and bear it.
Find the people who don’t require an explanation. Find the spaces where you can unbutton your top button and let it all hang out. Find the practice that helps you listen to yourself.
And if you have questions, I’m here and I’m happy to share. Especially about that time I did breathwork and came face to face with a lion. But that’s a story for another time…