As a first-generation Vietnamese American raised by a single mother and a first-generation college graduate entering the workforce, I battled Imposter Syndrome when I was hired at Google right after graduating college. Despite an inclusive culture and welcoming peers, I worried that if I showed any signs of weakness, I would be “outed” as an imposter.
I took on more and more work to constantly prove my worth. While trying to prove I “belonged” at Google, I took on extra responsibilities and projects at the expense of my hobbies, family relationships and my physical and mental health. Despite promotions to more senior sales leadership roles, I never felt accomplished.
I was also affected by childhood traumas: I struggled with depression and anxiety stemming from anti-gay bullying, and despite years of therapy, I carried this into adulthood. All of this led me to feeling emotionally, physically and mentally exhausted. I was experiencing burnout.
So many people feel burned out, whether for personal or professionals reasons — or, like in my case, a combination of both. I was fortunate enough to have the tools at my disposal to work my way through my burnout, and even found new opportunities in the process.
Recognizing the burnout
The first step for me was realizing and acknowledging that something was wrong. People formerly described me as charismatic and energetic, but I was becoming defined by exhaustion, stress, and lack of creativity. Activities I enjoyed — exercising, meeting with friends and mentoring others — no longer interested me. I slept less, felt more anxious and suffered a host of physical symptoms associated with underlying health issues.
Don't be afraid to speak up
I knew I needed help and reluctantly decided to take a paid medical leave, a benefit offered by Google, for my health. This was a difficult decision, but my manager and team reassured me that everything would be alright. While I saw myself as weak for taking leave, my team saw me as strong and resilient for prioritizing my health and well-being.
While on leave, I sought treatment for my pre-existing mental health issues and went through a program that taught me how to cope with stress, process my childhood traumas, and ultimately equip me with the tools to manage burnout. I rediscovered who I was and was reminded of my strength and passion for helping others. It was at this point I decided to pursue a career that focused on helping others also realize their greatness as well as how to avoid burnout.
Utilize your resources
My manager and colleagues were incredibly supportive of my career change. I was able to take advantage of "20% projects" at Google, an initiative that allows employees to work on business related assignments that might have value to the company. I took courses on learning design and program management, offered by Google, and was able to transfer to a leadership role in Sales Enablement Learning & Development.
The burnout and exhaustion I’d felt was replaced by inspiration, excitement and purpose. My success in building learning programs for employees to learn and grow led to a promotion, and now I’m leading a team while mentoring and coaching Google employees across the globe. I also decided to take advantage of Google's education reimbursement and student loan repayment programs to concurrently enroll in a doctoral program in workplace education and organizational change. Even though I spend more time studying and working than before, I have more energy than ever because I’m passionate about what I’m spending my time on.
Going through personal and workplace burnout and deciding to make time and space for my mental health taught me the importance of prioritizing my wellbeing. Not only did I do what was right for my health, I reassessed my priorities and passions. So if you’re experiencing all or some of these things, don’t give up. Prioritize yourself, because you will have nothing left to give if you don’t.