From burnout to business owner
Updated: Apr 26, 2021
A journey of self-rediscovery
I come from a family where entrepreneurship is frowned upon (to put it mildly) and where women don’t choose their career paths. My three sisters and I, as well as most of my cousins, were raised to believe that to be successful in a career you should:
Get (at least) a master’s degree in a respectable field
Be employed in a multinational company
Stay in the same company for decades
Climb to the highest position
Stay there until retirement
Most of my family members consider this trajectory the proper and only way to succeed. In my 20s I realized that there were alternative career paths. One path that was invisible, shameful, and dangerous for my family was the path of an entrepreneur.
In 2014, after one too many board meetings, I decided that there was much more to my job as a designer than helping multinationals get richer. I started freelancing as a Branding Strategist and Senior designer helping entrepreneurs and small companies conquer the world. At the time I was living in Shanghai, China, and everything felt possible in this buzzing city full of opportunities.
Health issues brought me back to France in 2016. I re-launched my freelancing business in 2018 while settling in Lyon but failed to create the proper network to make it sustainable. For most of my career I had worked with French people but from China. The method and rhetoric of networking in France are completely different from what I was used to. By the end of that year, I had to face the reality: I loved working for myself, but my business was running me, and I was not making any proper money from it. Re-adjusting to France after 6 years abroad, was another adventure I wasn’t ready for. I didn’t have the finance nor the experience so I had to start looking for a job.
In 2019, I started working at a marketing agency. It felt like the continuity of my freelancing job – I was doing the same tasks, but with a boss and fixed salary. It sounded like the perfect sidestep from my entrepreneurial dreams. My new boss, with toxic working behavior and environment, mirrored some of the same tendencies I had as a freelancer: overworked, undervalued, underinvested, fear of delegation and asking for help, etc. The same harmful traits that I, as an entrepreneur, would have in my own business, were at play in this company. It was also the first time that someone used my passion for my job against me – why would I get paid for extra hours when I was passionate about my job?
" If ever in doubt, choose trusting yourself! "
I ignored my better judgment and stayed put in this position, which was supposed to bring me back into my family’s vision of a “proper career”. Then COVID-19 hit.
The first thing I remember feeling when we were told to work from home for several weeks, was relief. Relief to stay away from an office that had become my nightmare. Relief due to the physical distance from my managers. Too bad I needed a global pandemic and a lockdown to realize this!
The first weeks were hard to acclimatize. My managers, who were not particularly great at managing people, didn’t become better when working remotely. They didn’t trust their employees and I was micro-managed. I had multiple calls a day where my managers were double-checking if I was actually working. At night I was required to write an email describing what I had worked on during the day and the amount of time dedicated to each task. One of them even said that I was not “productive enough to be worth my salary”. Being in this toxic environment combined with pandemic anxiety overwhelmed me.
However, it was not until French President Macron announced that we would be coming out of lockdown by 17 May 2020 and my boss said she would be expecting us back in the office, that I fully cracked. I had daily panic attacks, nightmares that would wake me shaking or crying, the inability to concentrate on anything… I called my psychologist who diagnosed me with burnout. I realized that I needed to resign from my job. I was finally able to do so in July 2020, a year after being employed there. It felt like a clean break.
I still had to answer the bigger question – what was I to do with myself? An urge to get back to work ASAP was boiling inside me, even though I was still recovering from the aftermath of burnout. I started searching for a new job. It took me three months to admit that entrepreneurship was still my dream. I realize now that it was the first step in my healing process.
A year later, I’m now running my newly (re)-started company – Maison Veia – a branding and strategy studio for women entrepreneurs. I built this new project on the lessons I learned from my past “failures”. I’m still healing from my burnout and I learned the hard way that it takes a long time to heal.
The greatest lesson I learned from this experience is to love myself unconditionally for both my strength and my limits. However, to get to that conclusion I had to go through a complex personal journey: rediscovering who I was and who I am, what I want, and how the past still influences me. I needed my burnout and the lockdowns to get through this process to become more self-aware. It made me realize that the hardest times in life are the moments that will push and shape you to become the superior version of yourself. You shouldn’t fight them, instead, you need to believe you are strong enough to get through them. If ever in doubt, choose trusting yourself!
Founder & Brand Strategist, Maison Veia
Co-Founder & Creative Director, Wovid Diaries