The Black Woman's Career Playbook

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5 Ways to Protect Yourself from Ambition Burnout

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Career Woman
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Dear Lovely Dream Chaser,



Congratulations on your ferocity! If it were up to the world, you would be too paralyzed with fear to push into the unknown and too reliant on the comforts of routine to compromise your professional stability. But here you are—launching a business, pursuing a promotion, carving an entirely new position where there’s never been one before—fully immersed in the vision that takes up too much space in your heart to be ignored.


Mornings find you excited about advancements, however small, that entice you forward. Nights aren’t really nights at all, but a blur of working hours strung together with intense focus on the goal. You’re getting better every day and in the process, you’re getting closer. It’s happening as we speak. 



When a woman is a go-getter in her professional life, she’s a go-getter all the way. Rare is she who can straddle the line of kinda sorta being passionate about her career. She either is or she isn’t. And when she is, she has where she wants to go clearly mapped out in her mind while she works an alternate plan in the meantime or she’s actively doing the thing, inching, stepping, maybe even rocketing toward the end game, but making some kind of movement ahead.



As exhilarating as chasing the dream is, it doesn’t come without potentially damaging sacrifices to your holistic health. Much attention is being paid to the benefits of physical care and that is inarguably essential. But your mind and your spirit, the core of who you are, also need to be preserved, even bolstered, as a gauntlet of unforeseen issues and problems challenge your internal peace. There’s no way you can weather the highs and lows of certain uncertainty and enjoy increasing levels of achievement when you’re offering your mental and spiritual health as a living sacrifice to the very objectives you need them intact to carry out.



Here, a handful of tips on keeping yourself sharp and sane, ripped from the real-life lessons of a fellow goal-getting dream chaser (who just so happens to be the author of this post):

Regularly evaluate the purse for the prize fight. Don’t stay so zeroed in on the version of your dream that you’ve been reciting in your head that you don’t allow it room to grow as you do. You can’t expect yourself to be the exact same person in the space of 5 years, 11 months, maybe even 3 weeks, so your vision will similarly shift as you learn more about your field, get exposed to new ideas and identify additional skills and talents. Be flexible enough to step back regularly—or fully disengage for however long you need to—and ask yourself if this thing that you’re working towards is still exactly what you want. The goal isn’t to be partially or occasionally fulfilled. It’s to spend every day doing what you want to do. Be clear about what that is.

Be creative, even if you aren’t the creative type. Art forges an alignment between the mind, body and spirit and fosters self-expression that even the best communicator can’t get across with words. Everyone needs a creative outlet to birth fresh problem-solving and new perspectives. Don’t think strictly traditional painting and dance. Try gardening, cooking or rearranging furniture (bonus points if you don’t put everything back in the same, all-you-did-was-flip-stuff-around order). Exercising creativity keeps you from being bored with yourself and your journey which, let’s be real, is not always going to glisten with exciting goings-on. 


Run far, run wide for some alone time. Yes, God speaks through other people but He also needs space to be heard when He’s speaking directly to you. Constant dealings with other folks’ thoughts and opinions—not to mention their demands, expectations and agendas—is a drain on your you-ness and can sometimes make it difficult to distinguish what you really feel and think from what has been dumped into your subconscious. Find some daily alone time to clear and declutter your mind, even if it’s only for 20 minutes. The solitude itself is restorative; the revelation that comes from it is affirming. 


Hook yourself up with a good therapist. The encouragement and sympathetic ears of family and friends is tremendous, but they don’t substitute the care of a licensed professional who studies the human mind and went to school for degrees in it. Left unchecked, the stresses of everyday life compounded by the stresses of ambition in progress can cause panic attacks and depression or exacerbate pre-existing issues you didn’t even know you had. Don’t become a martyr to your own belief that because you volunteered to chase your dream, you can’t vent your frustrations or disappointments. A mental health professional, preferably one referred from an existing patient, can ease the transition of a career-related change like a relocation, a shift in responsibility level or a fluctuation in salary.


Stop working. (Seriously, come up for air.) When you’re trying to make it happen—whatever “it” is—the compulsion to work at it all the time can be overwhelming. Taking any time away feels like a missed opportunity. What could be happening if you hadn’t accepted this invitation to go to the movies? If you hadn’t been guilted into going to the playground with the kids? If you weren’t taking this unnecessary shower? Probably not as much as you think. Few folks have missed out on professional breakthroughs years, sometimes decades in the making by hitting happy hour for a glass of wine with a friend. Get a life and enjoy it. You’ll be better in your professional pursuits because of it.

Janelle Harris is a writer, editor and entrepreneurista who finds that many nouns are better when you add -ista to the end. Chat her up on Twitter and Facebook.

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