She walked away from Corporate America.

I think the title says it, no? It just seems too obvious when you write it down: ditch the soul-crushing job. Why wouldn’t you?

Yes, I’m saying this a bit tongue in cheek. I know all too well that it’s much MUCH easier said than done. It took me years to even admit to the fact that my career was indeed soul crushing. My family was depending on me to bring in money. My father was depending on me to take over the business. My own sense of success and well-being – fed to me by societal expectations, for sure – screamed at me to suck it up and get my head on straight. To even think of my work and responsibilities as “soul crushing” was a sign of weakness I had to beat down and lock away as I climbed onto the treadmill for another dreaded day…

So yeah, ditching the soul-crushing job may sound obvious. But it isn’t always when you’re treading water on a Monday morning just trying to keep your head above the waves…

My Friend Jen

My good friend Jennifer McQueen has experienced the soul-crushing job too – and her experience was to the extreme. Jen and I grew up here in Thunder Bay, but she moved to Sauk City, Wisconsin and had a family. Luckily, she’s one of those lifelong friends who I’ll be close to no matter where in the world Life takes either one of us. I connected with her recently to talk about her own experiences juggling work, four kids (sometimes as a single mom), and health issues – and how she managed to ditch her own soul-crushing job.

Jen used to work in the pharmaceutical industry. For the first 10 years of her career, she worked in documentation and archiving before moving to sample management – logging and storing samples during testing. But conflicts with her company due to her health issues were a constant problem, and they got worse when she moved departments.

“It goes back a number of years, I’ve struggled with migraines since I was in my late teens. I had a supervisor finally say to me, ‘I really think you need to protect yourself in the workforce.’ Unexcused absences due to migraines can make you lose your job.”

Jennifer McQueen Gammond

Jen filed under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), which in the States protects workers from “unexcused absences” such as health emergencies. She said that was fine for a few years, but a change in managers above her started to make her life a living hell. The new manager gave her poor reviews due to these absences, which can be career-busting at the very least and lead to termination at worst.

“It was completely against the law, but our HR department didn’t back me up. They backed management, because it’s Corporate America.”

Things got much worse when her father passed. Not only did that add to her feelings of frustration and alienation, but now she was dealing with grief, depression, and added stress along with the migraines. It got to be too much.

“I felt so alone. I had no support. I used up all my protection under FMLA, and that gave me grounds to really go after me.”

Getting Off the Treadmill Sometimes Has Special Challenges

Quitting in the US is much harder though because often when you leave your job, you lose your health insurance. That means a simple trip to the ER with the kids can cost you thousands. Jen wasn’t prepared to expose her family to that much financial and/or health risk.

“My husband finally got insurance that was reasonably priced, so I started preparing to leave.” That was yet another hurdle due to Wisconsin’s labour laws. She was forced to quietly and suddenly exit the company to avoid more persecution, accusations, and stress. “It wasn’t how I wanted to leave – I didn’t want to leave my team high and dry. But that was the corner I was back into.”

Breaking Out to the Other Side

Once she got out of that corner though, her options were wide open. Jen launched her own Etsy business, Hair with Flair, which featured colourful, fun stuff for kids. That grew into a new business, Charmed by Teagan, named after her youngest daughter.

“I felt like the name covered more things. I can sell anything under Charmed by Teagan rather than Hair with Flair. I’ve been running under that name for about six years now.”

Jen quickly became incredibly successful selling sewed and embroidered items including blankets, pillows, seasonal items, and even her own fabric.

“The growth is amazing,” she said. Jen admitted that success brings its own issues. She has started to get her husband more involved with family responsibilities including booking dentist appointments for their two youngest (the other two are now grown and moved out) so she can focus more on the business – and herself.

Ultimately though, ditching the soul-crushing job was worth it.

“I couldn’t be who Corporate America wanted me to be. But I got out, and I haven’t looked back since. I’m so happy and so thankful. I’m starting now to try to carve out time for me.”

“Me Time” in Guatemala

And I’m so happy to say that part of that is going on the Walk Guatemala G’WA with me next February with her friend Angela! We will trek through the beautiful Guatemalan mountains and visit remote Mayan villages to see how these warm, inviting, and wonderful people live today. The highlight of our journey is Lake Atitlán, one of the most serene spots in the world, which Lonely Planet called “the closest thing to Eden on earth”. There are also options to visit Mayan ruins and watch the spectacular Volcan Acatenango erupt in the dawn light.

This guided tour is as much an inner journey as it is a physical walk. As I always say, Guatemala is good for the soul – especially for those souls needing to get off the treadmill! We’ll focus on helping you re-discover yourself with daily meditation, special She Walks the Walk journalling sessions filled with prompts to help you turn inwards, and group discussions where you can share as much as you want or just listen to the conversations around you. Self-discovery is the main goal of every G’WA.

I’m thrilled they have both decided to take some “me time” in Guatemala, along with the others who have signed up so far. (BTW, there are a few spots left – so if you’re thinking of joining, think fast…) These expeditions are as much about exploring the wild you as they are about trekking the wild terrain. I’m excited to see how the whole experience transforms Jen and all the women who step out of their comfort zones and into an adventure of a lifetime.

Some Final Thoughts

I’m so proud of my friend Jen. There are soul-crushing jobs, and then there is the ordeal that she went through. Jen is such a strong, independent woman who was put in a number of really bad situations. It’s heartwarming to see her come out of the other side stronger and, of course, happier. Leaving a bad situation is never as easy as it sounds. But as Jen shows us, it is sooooo worth it.

Our Walk Guatemala G’WA will be both a reward and another step in her journey. Jen will get the “me time” she deserves, and we’ll help her put the pain and hardships of that soul-crushing job behind her. I am honoured to help every way I can, and so glad to be a part of her journey.

I hope you can join us in February 2023, too! Learn more about this one-of-a-kind trek here:https://shewalksthewalk.com/gwas/walk-guatemala/

The trap of careerism.

I came across a new word the other day while reading about American actress, Renee Zellweger. She was always someone I admired — her early Bridget Jones renditions were impeccable — but she seemed to disappear off the face of the earth. I watched her win the Oscar for Best Actress and became curious about where she’d been hiding. Thanks to the fine folks at Vulture and HuffPost, I stumbled on her relatable story, referencing a conscious choice to break away from the acting business in order to rediscover herself. Turns out that even hugely successful peeps can also wrestle with identity issues and depression. The article spoke of Careerism and though I got the gist of what it meant, I hit up google for more.

Two definitions jumped out at me. Wiktionary defines Careerism as: the overwhelming desire or urge to advance one’s own career or social status, usually at the expense of other personal interests or social growth. While, dictionary.com explains it as devotion to a successful career, often at the expense of one’s personal life, ethics, etc. 

Hmmmmn. It got me thinking — why are many of us so driven? What’s the point here, guys? Yes, the point is we seek fulfillment, and, we need money. Right? We compete with the masses for our own unique expression of self-actualization, which often comes in the form of a career.  And, we target the highest potential income along the way. Because, quite frankly, we deserve it.

We push. Climb. And achieve.

Yet for some, satisfaction is short-lived, so we continually chase more. I know from personal experience.  I felt inspired to dig into the subject but want to acknowledge there are many happy, gratified people who would probably tear this discussion to shreds. For some, their career is everything they hoped it would be. They have a healthy balance in life. For others, it’s intertwined with their identity, and that brings them joy. And then there are those who openly admit to feelings of emptiness and “what’s-the-point-ness”, (and perhaps a subgroup of folks who suppress these emotions). I think I’ve been in all of these categories! 

I’ve climbed two versions of corporate ladder in my life, nose-down, grinding away. The first, as an employee: my budding career in the world of Performing Arts fundraising. I had everything to prove and nothing but energy. Ever the pleaser (and also just legit eager to see what I was capable of), I poured myself into the job and quickly made a name for myself as an accomplished doer. Sam Wrenshall got shit done! I moved up through the hierarchy of titles and the infamous “salary grid” and found myself making more than $60,000 in my mid twenties. In the late ’90s, that was a lot of dough for a young person! Never mind the fact that it was the arts — reputably under paid. It came at a price, however: an expectation of increasing results. Every year, they moved the damned cheese on me. Instead of having to raise $500,000, it was $750,000 then $1M. And that went up, too. The presumption of meeting these lofty goals resulted in me literally cracking. At 26 (and just two years in), I burnt out. Couldn’t even string a sentence together. During my three-month leave, I learned a valuable albeit cynical lesson. We’re all replaceable. And, nothing changes. The workload is still there, right alongside its faithful companion: pressure

At the time, I remember feeling so let down. This vision of happy-go-lucky Career Girl felt like a crock. I was far too young to be jaded, but I was.

Like most difficult times, however, the breakdown revealed some powerful gifts. Most notably, newfound self-awareness, and the promise to create healthier boundaries given my workaholic tendencies.  

After 6 years, I left that world and joined another — that of self-employment. I confess I was switched on by the opportunity to control my time and walk in the field of “unlimited potential income.” (Who doesn’t want that?!) Turns out these carrots were not lies, though they came with some fine print I didn’t pay any initial attention to. (1) You will work your ass off for the first five years, if you want to survive in this business, no ifs, ands, or buts; this includes evenings and weekends, no excuses and (2) The income you make is directly related to your own talents and effort. Nobody is going to hand it to you. Cue the roller coaster!  

I loved both careers for varying reasons, but the latter especially. It taught me a myriad of lessons, introduced me to clients who’ve become some of my closest friends and colleagues I’d walk to the end of the earth for. But most impactful, it showed me ongoing perspective. There’s always someone worse off, we really have zero to complain about. And, nothing like delivering a big cheque to a grieving, young widow to remind you that tomorrow is promised to nobody! Yes, I know I say this ALLLLL the time, it’s kind of my credo in life. I also really dug working alongside my Dad over the years. What a blessing that’s been. 

Yet Careerism for me was most definitely a THING. Once again, I had something to prove. Uprooting my family and taking on the role as main breadwinner meant there was a great deal on the line. I poured myself into the work with feverish commitment. Then there was the internal daughter/father pressure I felt. Never from him, more from myself — that desire to make him proud. It wore on me over the years; and even as I became more successful and recognized in the industry it never felt legitimate. I always found myself looking over my shoulder, not quite certain if I’d be “found out.” 

Along the way, I didn’t burn out, but the fragile layers of my spirit slowly eroded inside. It was so insidious, I almost didn’t notice. In 2010, around the time my kids were 7 and 2, I bumped into my first identity crisis. I was 36 years old and feared that I didn’t know myself. Like, my true self. Hiding underneath the labels I had woven into my life (Mom, Wife, Business Partner/Owner), I felt an emptiness that scared the beJesus out of me. I became convinced that the answers lie in trying to achieve greater success. 

I tried this out for awhile, and each time I met a new goal, I did not reach a new level of happiness. I’ve spoken about this before. Sure, the initial “Oh wow, I did that!” felt pretty cool.

But I knew this was all ego, and thus, fleeting.

So, what’s the deal? It’s this: I’ve been on a deliberate mission to rediscover myself on a gradual basis over the last decade. What makes me tick? What makes me happy? What are my interests? At one point, I was certain I had none, unless you count drinking wine, and that isn’t something I’m excited about admitting! 

I began to throw myself into extreme situations of discomfort wondering if any would resonate. Many did. I found myself drawn to adrenaline-filled expeditions, connecting with people from other cultures and learning to drop the facade of who I thought I should be. I was attracted to countries where the people had very little in the way of material/status possessions but appeared happy and content nonetheless. Places like Nepal, Guatemala, Ecuador, and Bolivia all spoke to me at my core.   

But unlike Renee, I never retreated from “public life” and, in fact, I’ve been quite open with my weird self-exploration over the years. Hindsight sure is a great teacher, though. Looking back, I can see that losing myself in a career of any kind was ultimately going to break me. Even if I wanted it, and I wanted it badly. Success, recognition, continual career growth. I wanted it all! I’m supposed to be this tireless Capricorn… the “hard worker” in the family. Now? I’m entering a period where I want to play. I’m refusing to forget who I am at my core. I hope to encourage others to do the same. 

To be clear, I see nothing wrong with having a career, or creating a business that becomes the pinnacle of our self-expression and in a way we can best serve others. Hey man, that’s what I’m after, too! I genuinely believe we are at our very best when we are in service. However, a career can also be a mask… a clever way for you to avoid looking under the hood to better understand yourself. Or, it can be a trap, keeping you in a quasi alive-but-dead state. Is it time for you to wake up? Are you all good there?

For those who wish NOT to be disturbed in their current career paths, or their quest for more, I salute you and wish you well on your journey. Ambition is a value of mine. I just know that for me, Careerism ensnared me over time, but only now do I have a name for it. 

Back to that Renee article. She went on to say how she needed to not have something to do all the time. She wanted to allow space in her life for some accidents. “There had to be some quiet for the ideas to slip in.” I totally get that. I also loved the analogy she shared from her friend, actress Salma Hayek.

“She shared this beautiful… metaphor? ‘The rose doesn’t bloom all year … unless it’s plastic.’ I got it. Because what does that mean? It means that you have to fake that you’re ok to go and do this next thing. And you probably need to stop right now, but this creative opportunity is so exciting and it’s once-in-a-lifetime and you will regret not doing it. But actually, no, you should collect yourself and, you know … rest.”

So, maybe it’s time for all you tired-out career folk to rest up?

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