For the past two years, I’ve been quietly pondering to recover and heal in ways that I didn’t know I needed. I’ve been a hibernating pupa, sheltered by choice, just waiting for my thoughts to come together and for me to emerge fired up and ready to go. This is my Eat, Pray, Love story. It is series that is part of a conversation that I want to have with the world to shift the way we think about wellness and self-care.
Start at the beginning of The Cocoon:
Introduction: The Metamorphosis: Finding Purpose
Part 1: The Candle Flickers: Work Burnout
Part 2: The Start of the A-Ha Moment: What is Emotional Labor?
Learning about emotional labor had me thinking about the pivotal moments of my previous positions that to this day stick with me as situations that led to my burnouts. They include*:
- Being told by a client that my number two was going to represent the company at a large conference. Then having the CEO hide out and avoid me instead of speaking to me face to face to discuss why I did not hear it from them.
- Given two extra weeks vacation time and then had it taken away, because the CEO realized the added cost.
- Taking over a department. Finding out that the sales goals I had included a sub-department that was budgeted to be about 30% of my numbers, had all new sales switched to another department. Sitting in weekly meetings being chastised for not hitting my goals, while the other department is praised for being brilliant.
- Asking for help and being told no. Then asked why I didn’t ask for help if I really needed it or why I didn’t push harder.
- Being given a promotion to a management position on top of my current position and having my pay cut without being told, because the management position was commission only.
- Getting asked if I turned down a promotion by co-workers after the announcement that a colleague was promoted to a new management position.
- Reading a comment from a client that I was clearly knowledgeable, but had no business interacting with people or being a manager, after receiving a hug goodbye from them.
- Wondering if I was going to be fired on a regular basis for something trivial, because of micro-management by the CEO.
- Working an average 70-80 hours a week, being given more work to do, and then told that I wasn’t doing enough.
- Being told there was no money for a raise, then having an independent contractor who was paid for an hour what I was in a day be brought on to the team.
- Being understaffed, needing to cover the shifts myself, and not having time to hire anyone new.
- Being told that I was fat by a manager, when I had 20% body fat.
- Having a manager purposely working to break up friendships to create a more competitive cutthroat work environment.
- Receiving a bonus that was ¼ of the previous year despite taking on more responsibility with a dual role.
I won’t deny that I worked for some of the best companies in their respective fields with some of the most amazingly talented people, because I did. I was given opportunities that I never would have expected and lived in places that I never thought I would. There were high points also, but the fact that some of these sting years later is the point.
Looking at all these moments, part of me feels like I’m just whining. “Oh woe is me” and my hard work life. But isn’t that also disregarding my actual emotions and feelings? Something we are taught to do as women.
I was surprised when I realized how little most of these moments had to do around guests. You would think for someone in the service industry that the crazy customer stories would come to mind, but they didn’t. It was the corporate oversight and management that were the sources of much of my frustration. The treatment of employees as cogs, who are replaceable that should be grateful for the paycheck and to work for great and powerful company. One manager held Isadore Sharp and his Four Seasons philosophy as an ideal, yet frequently led through actions that opposed the principles Sharp emphasized as crucial.
I am in awe, of how much I really let myself put up with. Instead of feeling powerful and secure in my career, as one should, there are too many moments where my self-confidence slipped away. No, change that, was taken from me. Because help was rarely offered or given by management, I learned to stop asking and to just get what needed to be done completed.
At one point in one of my roles, I refused to be silent. I knew the game that was being played and how I was being manipulated, and I used that knowledge to argue and stand my ground. I flatly ignored things that were trivial to focus on having a solid team. I knew my days were numbered and it felt good, but I also felt like the shittiest employee. Typing this, I think I would have hated me as an employee. But my team had my back and I had theirs.
I was exhausted from the emotional rollercoaster of constant unattainable demands, long hours, battles that seemed like two kids fighting over a crayon when both have more than enough, of leaving a meeting pissed off only to cry with a client who shared a very personal story, and the feeling as if there were thousands of eyes watching me to wait for that one tiny mistake. The emotional labor was massive and hit so many factors that were prime for burnout and failure: frequent and long interactions that required a high level of attention, a deep intensity with a wide range of emotions, little autonomy, and a high demand from myself, clients and colleagues. Add in being a woman in a caregiver role and there is a recipe for disaster.
That is why learning about emotional labor made so much sense to me. Now I need to look at that more to determine what I can do to change.
Continue the conversation in Part 4: Work Life Balance and Self Care .
Kate Hamm combines her 15+ years of experience in the fitness industry and high-end resort program development into sought after wellness adventures at AnamBliss. Visit www.anambliss.com for future retreat dates and locations.
 Note: I purposely am using generic terms to minimize what job they came from.