Who: Magazine Editor
Where: Manchester, England
What: How one magazine editor’s pursuit for perfection built and broke her and then empowered her to start again.
The job was meant to be a happy compromise. I was okay with earning half as much as I used to when I was an award-winning national magazine editor in London because my work/life balance had been far from great then – actually, by the time I sadly resigned I was close to full-on burnout. I put so much pressure on myself at work that it took over my life.
After I had a baby, my priorities had changed. Or so I told myself. Less money, more life, that was my new mantra, but old habits die hard.
Not long in the new job and I was back to my old tricks, working past midnight multiple times a week.
The job meant less status, less salary, but not less work. There was pressure to increase sales – which I did, and to make big changes but with no extra resource to do it.
Eventually it felt like rising damp – work seeped into everything – creeping into holidays or weekends. An evening with my husband at home went like this – me working on my laptop on the sofa next to him rather than in my office, because at least that way I told myself we’re together – if only physically in the same room. “That’s something”, he’d say before going to bed alone. I will never forget him saying to me: “If we don’t have another baby because we can’t conceive, that’s fine – I can live with that. But if we don’t because you’re up working every night rather than coming to bed, I’m not sure I can be okay with that.”
Then there were more times than I’m okay to admit that the child we do have padded over to me quietly shutting my laptop with a podgy hand and saying:"Mummy, play!" I'd offer her one more episode of Hey Duggee instead.
Despite how hard I worked, there was still self-doubt and rumination – wide awake wondering if I was good enough? Would people think I’m terrible at my job? I slept no more than a couple of hours at a time. That’s the thing about living without setting yourself boundaries at work. You can always do more. Always be better.
Then came the turning point: my husband found me hysterically pacing the hallway at 3am, consumed by post-deadline terror that I’d made a mistake in the magazine, convinced this was the time I’d be sued or sacked.
An emergency doctor’s appointment the next day resulted in a prescription for beta blockers to help dull the anxiety symptoms. I was at burnout – again.
It really hit me when I heard a friend talking about a former colleague who was promoted. She said: “I can work her like a dog and she’ll never complain”. Boom. There it was – the mirror reflecting back at me, the pointlessness of my own boundary-busting perfectionism.
So I quit – after much thought and talk, even to a therapist. Since then I have recognised that I am part of the problem, so I am embracing boundaries – my picket fences of protection.
I work in my office and only in my office. I have a work wardrobe – before I bath my daughter at night I change out of those clothes and put on my civvies. It signifies the end of the working day. I have a work phone that does not get answered after 8pm. It’s not perfect, but that’s exactly what I’m trying not to be.