I’m not ashamed to admit that in the past I’ve had a breakdown or two at work. They weren’t the cutesy, “oh she’s just frustrated” breakdowns either. They were real 100% unfiltered moments, where I said exactly what everyone was thinking, but didn’t want to hear.
The moment that stands out the most happened after delivering back-to-back training classes for months. This meant being in front of a classroom Monday through Friday, 9-5, drilling lessons, procedures, and systems into employees who really just wanted a job. And if that wasn’t enough, the end of class was followed by on-floor training and supervising.
Needless to say, I was beyond tired. I was waiting for someone to relieve me or say, “You look like you need a break, Marietta,” but that didn’t happen. That’s when my frustration started to build up inside.
One day I glanced over at my team members who at the time were in their cubes laughing and comfy—in my head it must’ve played out like a sitcom dream sequence where they were partying and laughing at me in slow motion because I had to work.
Suddenly, I was fuming and found myself walking over to their area. Without even thinking about it, I went off about how I’ve been busting my butt while everyone else had all this free time. I then turned my attention to a particular team member who was casually reading a newspaper at his desk like he was sitting on a park bench. I called him out for making $20,000 more than me, yet he didn’t work half as hard as me or anyone else on the team.
I was over it.
My colleague at the time who also happened to be a new friend was shocked at what she just witnessed. At that moment, I wasn’t the happy-go-lucky person she knew me to be. To this day, we joke about how I stormed off afterwards and muttered to her when she innocently said goodbye. (I can laugh about it now, but it was far from funny then).
After the big “incident”, I stayed home the next day and finally got the break I was in desperate need of. When I returned to work, I saw that someone else was assigned to supervising the new trainees and it was business as usual.
Life went on without me.
My manager talked to me in a conference room about my “inappropriate behavior”. Although I knew I didn’t handle it the best way, I found it ironic that I was somehow seen as the bad guy even though I was one of her best workers.
The thing is this: When you’re good at what you do, it can look easier than it really is. The people around you do not see when you go home completely drained or drag yourself out of bed because you’re so tired you can barely keep your eyes open.
What makes top-performers stand out from mediocre workers is preparation and dedication. In my case, no matter how tired I was, I gave my all each day. At night I would think of fun icebreakers to start the day with. On the train ride home, I’d wonder if the quiet person in the corner was really getting it.
This is typical for anyone who cares about their personal brand, but it can also take a toll on you. Hence, my breakdown.
If you’ve ever had one of those moments, it’s probably because you were closer to your limit than you realized.To avoid getting pushed to your limit, you must be aware of your stress signals.
Do you tend to overeat? Do you get more irritated than normal? Does your skin breakout? Do you start playing out crazy scenarios in your head like Jan from The Brady Bunch? All of these things can be signs of a potential breakdown if it goes on for too long.
Listen to your body and make sure that you take a break to breath if you feel yourself becoming overwhelmed.
It’s also important to ask for help if your workload becomes unmanageable. Set your own boundaries of what you’re able to realistically tackle. Don’t wait for someone to offer it because it won’t always happen. Sometimes managers take for granted that even strong employees need support.
After my breakdown, I learned the importance of assigning priority buckets to my tasks (high, medium, low). If I was given a number of projects that had conflicting deadlines, I became better at asking which is most important and juggled them accordingly.
Hindsight is 20/20, of course. Looking back, I still would have brought up the disparities, but in a way that was more appropriate.
I should have stopped myself from approaching my team during a moment of frustration. I should have communicated to my manager that I needed help instead of trying to be a martyr. I should have asked if someone could relieve me for a few hours so that I could regroup.
But with all the should-ofs, the harsh reality is that you’re only as good as your last praise. You don’t ever want your actions to hurt your personal brand because you lost control of your emotions. If you’re a passionate person, this will always be a test. But being aware of your stress triggers can make a difference–although some days may be harder than others.
It’s more than normal to get frustrated at work, but the key is to not let your emotions take away from your message, which is often valid.
In fact, the real issue may be that your job is no longer conducive to you being happy personally or professionally, in which case you need to move on. This will not only save your reputation, but most importantly, your sanity.
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