In 36 hours I’ll be returning to work in Silicon Valley after a blissful two weeks of vacation. This was the longest break from work I’ve ever taken where there was no traveling involved and although it’s gone by quickly, there has been a lot of much needed downtime. I felt that this was especially needed because in two days I’ll be embarking on a new stage of my career - taking up the position of Diversity & Inclusion Program Manager at Google.
If you’ve listened to the podcast I co-hosted in 2018 with my friend Sydney, Everyday Woo Woo, then you may have heard me talk about how I’ve been experiencing considerable stress in the last 9 months around my job. Looking back on it now after time to rest (and knowing that I will soon be starting a new chapter), I can see more clearly how much pressure I put myself under unnecessarily and can also see how I was able to use the experiences of the last 12 months to land a job that I would consider to be a dream job for me. Although my situation is - like all of our own journeys - unique to me, I hope that by writing them down and sharing that there might be some takeaways for others or even for my future self to benefit from!
9 months ago I was in a job that I found, for the most part, fairly easy and enjoyable. I had enough time to get done what I needed to do, I could take breaks and go to yoga if I wanted to, and generally I felt like my performance was strong. I was also training to become a facilitator for a course on Mindfulness called Search Inside Yourself - a course that changed my life forever when I took it in 2014. I didn’t feel like I’d found my calling, but I was having a great time experimenting with different areas that interested me through 20% projects - Google’s old tradition to let you work one day a week on another area of the business. These projects had enabled me to work in some amazing areas including Mental Health, Disease Prevention and Gender Equality but as of yet none had developed into a full-time gig.
Out of nowhere one day, I was asked by a leader in my reporting chain to take on a new position that would involve a considerable increase in responsibility, complexity ,and visibility with senior leaders at Google. I remember being in the room and feeling conflicted - a part of me was elated as this seemed like the validation I’d been working so hard for over the last decade, but another part of me was concerned that this would take me away from the things that really mattered to me, like my work-life balance, my peace of mind and my current 20% work for the women@google community (including leading the creation of a mentorship scheme for women for my part of the organization). I decided to sit on my concerns and take up the role - after all I’d always prided myself on never saying no to a challenge or an opportunity, and I jumped in at the deep end.
The first few months were really tough as I felt so much personal pressure to up-skill quickly and be everything to everyone, even though I was still figuring out the role, my responsibilities and the relationship with my new manager. I had so much autonomy and I struggled to ask for help or guidance around what to prioritize, in fear of showing everyone that I wasn’t good enough, smart enough or experienced enough to do a good job. I was also terrified of asking for feedback because deep-down I thought I wasn’t meeting everyone’s expectations, which meant that I constantly felt like I was walking on eggshells and looking for ‘clues’ about whether I was performing well enough. Every week it felt like there was some big deadline or high-profile meeting sending my cortisol levels sky-high. In hindsight, it was too much, too soon and although much of my stress was self-induced through the pressure I put on myself to be ‘the best’, I wasn’t experienced enough to get the help I needed. Around 4 months into the role, I remember crying on the bus home from work to my boyfriend on the phone, feeling absolutely exhausted and hopeless. I told my boyfriend that I couldn’t go on like this anymore and that I had to start looking for a new job and although he was supportive, he said all the things that were already spiraling in my brain; I had made a commitment; I couldn’t let everyone down; I couldn’t give up. I felt trapped and overwhelmed. I knew I couldn’t keep up this pace for much longer as my health was deteriorating rapidly through stress and lack of sleep, and although there were lots of areas of the role I enjoyed, there seemed to be too much of it for me to do effectively and I felt like I had completely abandoned my work-life balance and had lost my zest for life. The only thing that still really lit me up was my work around Diversity & Inclusion (D&I) and although I was stretched for time I continued to prioritize those projects over the other things that needed doing but didn’t light me up or excite me.
I sat down and did some soul-searching and decided to have my first tarot reading whilst I was on a break from work in the UK - I needed guidance. The tarot reading strongly indicated that this job wasn’t right for me and that I needed to follow my passion for doing something ‘deeper’ and for connecting with communities and helping others. I asked the tarot reader if my path was pointing towards a job focused on diversity & inclusion and working for equality for under-represented groups and the cards gave me a strong ‘yes’ signal. I came away from the reading feeling buoyant - it was as if I’d finally been given permission to admit that this job, as amazing an opportunity as it was for someone, wasn’t right for me. I knew that if I was going to be happy I needed to give up worrying about the expectations of others or comparing my own path to other’s definition of success. For me, success would be waking up everyday and doing something I loved that made a positive impact on the people around me and the world. Although I felt emboldened by what the reading told me, I was also at a loss as to how I could make this a reality! I checked in with my intuition and asked how much effort I should put into finding a new job right now and I got the answer to ‘let go’ and ‘it will come’, So upon my return to SF I got back to work and tried as best I could to focus on my health and not let work stress bog me down as much as it had been previously.
As fate would have it, the Diversity & Inclusion work started ramping up more and more and the week of my 31st birthday I found myself working around the clock to support our women@ communities in the aftermath of a New York Times article that described instances of sexual harassment that allegedly took place at Google. The women@ group that I help run had the idea to co-ordinate a number of listening sessions for people in my part of the organization in which they could share their thoughts and emotions in response to the article. I found myself offering to help run the first session, using facilitation techniques that I had learned in my facilitation training for Search Inside Yourself. I could never have guessed that the training for my personal passion for mindfulness would soon be directly applicable to my job! Even though I was nervous facilitating that type of session for my colleagues who knew me only in a professional setting, I knew I had the ability to do it. I also knew that being nervous didn’t mean that you weren’t going to do a great job, as I had been SO nervous when I facilitated the 2 day SIY course for the first time but that turned out to be one of the most amazing experiences of my life. The listening session was a true honor to be a part of and I was in awe of the courage of my colleagues to share so openly and honestly with each other about tough issues like sexual harassment and gender and racial equality. That week, I worked to scale the listening sessions to hundreds of people in the organization and although I was exhausted I was happy to be doing such important work.
A few weeks after these events, I heard that there was a new role opening in my department for someone to do Diversity & Inclusion work full time. I couldn’t believe it as this was exactly the role I wanted and had asked the tarot reader about! I would be able to keep all of the D&I programs I’d been working on and utilize the relationships in the organization I had built up over the last 3 years. But part of me was worried - what would happen if I admitted to my boss that I wanted a new job? What if I didn’t get it, would I be sabotaging the relationship with my bosses? Would everyone be upset, disappointed or angry with me? I realized that a lot of my worries came down to psychological safety and feeling like I would be abandoned or ostracized for speaking my truth. Through working in therapy over the last few years I was able to see the connection between these feelings and my experience growing up as a child and dealing with my parents’ divorce. Through seeing that connection, I was aware that although it felt scary and anxiety-inducing in my body, those feelings were being exacerbated by my mind and my previous experiences and there was no reason for me to be fearful based on my solely positive experiences with my managers at Google to-date. My managers have been nothing but supportive since I told them about my realization that this work is my passion and that I wanted to pursue it in a full-time role. Although the interview process was nerve-wracking because I really wanted the role, I kept checking in with my inner voice and hearing the message that all would be well and that I needed to let go of my fear.
Before I share my lessons learnt throughout this journey, I want to take a moment to acknowledge the privileged position from which I write this post: I am a white, cis-gendered, educated, able-bodied woman who has been lucky enough to work at Google for almost 5 years. I know that my privilege means that my experience is likely very different to many others who may be in a similar situation but may not be afforded the same luxuries as myself, such as a very supportive workplace, a platform to share my viewpoints freely without fear of discrimination due to the color of my skin, and savings in the bank that mean I will not go hungry if the worst happens.
As I look forward to the next phase of my journey in my career, here are the 3 lessons I’ve taken from my own story.
Follow what lights you up, even if the path isn’t clear: I am pretty certain that I would not be starting this new role if I hadn’t have invested so much of my time volunteering for the women’s communities that meant so much to me. If I hadn’t followed the ‘ping’ from the universe to teach Mindfulness and share the learnings that changed my life so much, I wouldn’t have had the experience and confidence that were so useful in a time of crisis and directly contributed to me getting this role. So, if you find yourself in a job or situation in which you aren’t happy, ask yourself what in my day currently lights me up and gets me in a state of flow? Follow those things, even if you think they’ll never amount to anything financially - start that podcast/club/blog/band/business and see where it takes you! I guarantee it’ll be somewhere you never even dreamed of!
Trust your inner voice, especially when times are tough: In moments when I feel overwhelmed, I turn to my inner voice for guidance. There are lots of ways you can do this and it’s important to find what’s right to you, but I like to close my eyes and bring awareness to my heart and stomach area and then bring a question into my mind - and then just listen to what you hear! I often know if it’s my inner voice speaking to me vs my mind as the inner voice often speaks in just a few words and sometimes comes out with things that I would never have thought of saying! I have also been recently trying journalling with the inner voice, by writing down a question and then free-flow writing a response trying to minimize the thinking as much as possible. Jess Lively is one of my favorite people who talks extensively about inner voice work - you can hear her teaching her clients how to ‘bobble down’ to their inner voice on her podcast The Lively Show.
Listen to your fear - what is the story it’s telling you and where has this shown up before? When I realized how much fear I was feeling around admitting to my bosses that I had realized my passion for this work I was encouraged by my therapist to give a voice to the fear. Although the fear and anxiety felt overwhelming and I didn’t feel, at first, like I could put it into words, with practice I realized that the fear was saying “I’m scared of being told-off, I’m scared of people being angry with me, I’m scared of being abandoned”. It was when I put a voice to the feelings that I became aware of how child-like those emotions were and I was able to have more compassion for that side of me that was just replaying old childhood wounds. The fear of abandonment is something that I’ve been working through in many areas of my life, so hearing that theme come up, albeit in a work context, made sense to me and helped me to understand that it wasn’t a ‘real’ fear for right now. Next time you feel overwhelmed by an emotion, what would happen if you put words to it? Chances are it’ll be a story that is familiar to you and one that may have been showing up in other areas of your life. A story that, with some personal work, you may be able to release yourself from.