To back up for a minute: I grew up in a South Asian American family with a super high-achieving home culture. My dad is a professor, so education has always been very important to him. There was always this sense of guilt constantly weighing on me about how my parents sacrificed everything to give me a better life. In fact, my mom got pregnant when she was in grad school, and she ended up dropping out so she could help make money to raise me.
With all of that in the back of my head, I ended up pursuing the “practical” fields of computer science and business. After graduating, I wound up taking a job in finance, and at a company with a super corporate, intense culture. I thought all of it was what I wanted.
This job ultimately led to the most traditional definition of burnout—I was working all the time, and it seriously impacted my physical health. However, this was in 2012, and no one talked about mental health or burnout culture. We didn’t even know what to label it. So I just experienced physiological fatigue and exhaustion, but I didn’t know how to channel it. I remember trying to journal about what was bothering me, what I needed to get done, or what was causing my anxious feelings.
And whenever I would start to notice those unsettling feelings creep in (usually every six to 12 months), I would just try to cover it with a bandaid solution and move along. Sometimes, I would pivot jobs, but that didn’t necessarily fix anything. With my computer science degree, I took several positions as a software engineer, as I was conditioned to believe in building a safety net. As a result, because I was living to achieve someone else’s dreams, burnout would creep back in.
Then, I ended up moving to San Francisco to start a new job at a company that was about to go public. I was dating a new guy (spoiler alert: my now husband). On paper, it looked like my life was pretty incredible. However, I was still waking up feeling tired, even when I wasn’t working long days. I was also constantly unhappy, cranky, and negative—all the things you wouldn’t necessarily expect as a high-achieving woman whose life was checking all her own boxes.
What I began to realize, however, was that I was chasing society’s definition of success—but not my own. I was living life on autopilot rather than one that aligned with my personal core values. It wasn’t just the amount of work that was causing my burnout; it was a lack of fulfillment in what I was doing every day, because I knew I wanted to be doing something else.