What is your emotional well-being worth to you? It’s a question every careerist may ask at some point. While we can quantify the value of our job by looking at salary, appraising our internal state of affairs is more complicated. The irony is that we do better work when we’re in a better headspace. People who get a sense of worth from professional success can find it hard to know if stepping back for personal TLC will help or harm. However, more and more people who have invested years in their careers are now taking stock to realize that “survival mode” is no setting to thrive in. 

Rewriting the Mental Health Conversation Among High Earners: Did One CEO Finally Make It Acceptable to Step Down to Focus on Mental Health?

Few people in leadership roles feel comfortable revealing their struggles with feeling miserable on the job. But, in 2020, one CEO decided to reset his priorities in a way that we can all learn from. As CEO of EarnUp, Matthew Cooper led a Silicon Valley fintech startup that handled billions of dollars in assets to success. But, behind the scenes, Cooper struggled with debilitating anxiety, panic attacks, and depression that required hospitalization. It culminated in him stepping down from his CEO role. While Cooper could have discreetly faded into retirement, the CEO decided to go public about why he was leaving his career to focus on caring for his own needs in an open, transparent letter published on Quartz

Is There a Silent Epidemic Among High Earners?

To get to the top, many successful people operate in survival mode for years. This is something you may be able to relate to as you look back on the long hours fueled by adrenaline and coffee that it took to push forward on projects. For many high earners, the pressure of being responsible for the salaries and investments of so many people can feel like a crushing weight. The expectations and workloads involved can cause many to live in a perpetual fight-or-flight state. Unfortunately, the drive that propels people to success can also drive them too far in the direction of self-neglect.

You may be at a point where you’re discovering that the cost of getting everything done while under so much pressure for so long was self-neglect. You’re now left wondering if you can ever justify leaving the role you worked so hard to obtain. So how can you determine if it’s time to step down to focus on your own care? Honesty is the first rung on the ladder to freedom.

Deciding If It’s Time to Move On

While this decision is one that only you can make, it’s helpful to get some outside perspective. The first step is simply assessing your emotional well-being. Is it healthy or safe to continue at your present speed? Here are some questions to ask yourself as you consider the possibility of stepping down:

  • Do you constantly feel like you are “hiding” your emotional state in work settings?
  • Is the environment in which you’re working exacerbating your anxiety or depression?
  • Do you have trouble finding meaning in the work you are doing?
  • Has your job performance suffered?
  • Are you struggling to engage with your work?
  • Are you becoming physically incapable of functioning in your job role?
  • Are you intentionally sabotaging projects?

There is a point for some people where their work becomes incompatible with protecting their mental and emotional well-being. Stepping away from a role can feel like getting off of a runaway train that was going a million miles an hour. When they retreat from the role, they can once again find purpose and centeredness. However, this is not a decision to be made hastily. Making a drastic exit without adequately assessing the relationship between a specific job and your internal state can exacerbate anxiety and depression by creating catastrophic regret. 

When stepping down for these reasons, it’s essential to have a plan that will allow you to feel “in control” and “covered” as you move to the next thing. This often includes having a new career path in mind that allows you to “step off the runaway train” that has become your busy life of expectations and pressure without necessarily stepping away from work. To do this, you must get in tune with the skills and assets you have to work with as you carve out a reinvented professional identity. What’s waiting on the other side may be the work-life balance that you were always striving for in the back of your mind during all the years of self-neglect. 

Peter Sherer is a nationally recognized career coach who offers clarity and confidence to mid-career and senior executives in transition. In just two short days, his rigorous assessment tools enable his clients to identify a meaningful assignment that uses all of their skills and experience. Learn more and get in touch with Peter today.