PART I: SUFFERING IS A CHOICE
From Burnout to Business Owner: My Story
Kate Bagoy, September 2017
I started my corporate career in what you might describe as a “dream job.” I worked for a global sportswear company doing fun & creative work, with people I loved. It was amazing.
And then, slowly, it wasn’t.
It became a nightmare. I was working sixty to eighty hours a week. I’d come home most days to microwave a meal, binge Netflix, and drink or cry (or both!) myself to sleep.
I knew there was more to life, but I didn’t have the energy for it.
I kept thinking something would change. The new CEO would fix things, a different project would help… but it never did.
I found myself bitter and angry most of the time, which isn’t who I am at my core.
I realized I was responsible for changing my life – only me – and it was a choice to continue to suffer in a job I hated, waiting for my circumstances to change.
I quit that job without a plan in 2008.
I didn’t have savings, or know what was coming next. I don’t come from money, had a lot of student debt and no safety net. But I knew if I stayed in that job, I would end up killing myself in some manner or another.
I took piecemeal work to survive, and a series of corporate jobs that weren’t ideal but paid the bills and padded the resume.
I started to breathe a little, and to see brief flashes of a life worth living.
Nothing felt clear, but I took time to explore and recover, while I earned my master’s degree in business. I still thought I’d be working in the corporate world forever, and I wanted to understand what was going on in in these companies.
When I graduated, my plan was to move to Silicon Valley. I had a vision of a future where I’d take a job at a start-up, work for a few years, and ultimately became a project manager at Apple before doing my own thing. I was gonna be the next Guy Kawasaki. It was awesome.
So I did it. I got a job in the Valley, and moved down. And, guess what?
It was worse than anything I thought could have been true about the Valley. Everything you’ve seen on HBO’s Silicon Valley is accurate. The start-up worked for was in a shitty, shitty office park with no character, sandwiched between a tire store and a Walgreens. But the parking lot was full of Maseratis and Ferraris.
The work wasn’t much better. We spent all of our time focusing on competitors and preparing for the next board meeting, and no time thinking about our users or audiences. I felt like we were serving no one, and really just treading water. I hated it, and I started drinking myself to sleep every night.
But there was a silver lining…
I got to try my hand at entrepreneurship and working in a startup, and I loved it.
I’ve always been a huge learner. I love to read, be hands-on, try new things; I loved getting my hands dirty in a million different parts of the company. I liked seeing what worked and what didn’t and testing everything.
Even though I was languishing in that shitty Mountain View office park, I’d found something I loved.
Eventually, I quit. Again, I didn’t have a set plan, but I knew I could start freelancing. It was hard.
I struggled a lot, flailing for piecemeal work, and didn’t know who I was targeting. I didn’t think about my work as a viable business, but as a mix of short-term projects that would pay the bills.
I was stressed out all the fucking time, and I didn’t have good coping mechanisms at the time. I smoked and drank and ate and binged, because I didn’t know better ways to manage my stress.
Whether it’s alcohol, drugs, food, online shopping, or something else, we can all fall into the trap of unhealthy coping mechanisms.
To be effective as an entrepreneur, we have to quit these. I learned that the hard way.
During a particularly challenging period I realized my problem with alcohol was beyond poor coping and I made the decision to quit behavior that didn’t serve me. I found the resources I needed to quit drinking, started focusing on self-care and stopped shaming myself.
My entire world changed with that decision.
By making changes to what I put in my body, how I lived my life and how I treated myself physically, I started to recover from burnout… and, more importantly, I started to return to being a happy human being. I started to feel healthier and more vibrant, and was kinder to my body and mind. I had more energy to pour into my business and into my life.
In retrospect, it might seem quick to sum up these changes, but they.were.so.hard.
During this time, I dug myself into a financial hole. I had to short-sell my home and move into my friend’s basement. It was brutal, and it’s taken a long time to get out of the deep financial hole I dug. But through it all, I learned. I got closer to who I wanted to work with and, more importantly, who I didn’t want to work with.
Along the way, I took a full-time job to start getting myself out of my financial hole. I liked the project and the people; it was good work, a dream job by many other people’s standards. I was – and still am – passionate about the project, and it was a crucial stepping stone to where I am now, but it just wasn’t it.