Photo Courtesy of the John James Audubon Center at Mill Grove, Montgomery County Audubon Collection, and Zebra Publishing

This post was originally written and published on March 19, 2022 via Substack.

Every morning, as I sit in my office, drinking my coffee, looking at the list of things I need to accomplish that day, I hear our resident woodpecker. She… (I don’t know that’s she’s a she, but I imagine a bird working that hard to communicate is probably a woman. Sorry, that was probably not nice.) Moving on… She pecks and drums for about an hour. They do this drumming to communicate, and I like to imagine that she’s hurrying all of her little ones along to eat, grab their backpacks, and be on their way to school, because she’s got work to do.

Then, magically, around 8 am (about the time school starts), the drumming stops.

“In many ancient cultures, the symbolism of the woodpecker is associated with wishes, luck, prosperity, and spiritual healing. Other cultures consider the woodpecker to represent hard work, perseverance, strength, and determination. Woodpeckers are also among the most intelligent and smartest birds in the world.”

I even spotted Ms. Woodpecker once. She had a patch of red on the back of her head, which, if we’re being factual here, probably means she’s a he, so fine. Whatever. Men work hard too.

As a matter of fact, I think we’re all working hard these days, aren’t we? I’ve read so many stories and listened to a number of podcasts lately where the writers or hosts have talked about being overworked. Also, they often mention that they are overwhelmed and burned out.

And related to these stories are the articles and news stories of the “Great Resignation of 2021.”

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 4 million Americans quit their jobs in July 2021. Resignations peaked in April and have remained abnormally high for the last several months, with a record-breaking 10.9 million open jobs at the end of July. (Credit: Harvard Business Review)

Also, according to the HBR article, the majority of people who made up the statistic above were workers in the 30 to 45 year old range, what HBR refers to as mid-level employees.

And resignations were higher in the tech and healthcare industries.

I don’t think anyone is surprised that people in the healthcare industry did a career assessment in the summer of 2021, a year and a half into the pandemic, and then said to their bosses, “Y’all, life is too short to be this overworked and overwhelmed on the daily basis while also putting my own health in jeopardy.” Who could blame them?

I’m also not surprised by the fact that employees in the 30 to 45 year old range make up the majority of this staggering statistic.

It is in that age range that the following is happening:

  • Many in that age range are having and raising young children.
  • That is the age that many employees/workers have reached a certain expertise in their job/career.
  • They’ve had enough time to work the job/career to know if they like it
  • At that age, they probably already knew a lot about the company they were working for, and whether the company had strong core values. But at that stage of the pandemic, these employees got a front row seat into how their employer handled the pandemic. They got to see if their employer cared more about their employees’ wellbeing or if they cared about the company’s bottom line.
  • It was about July 2021 that schools were deciding (again) whether they’d be in-person, remote learning, or some sort of hybrid. This had to completely overwhelm parents who were in the, you guessed it, 30 to 45 year old range.
  • And speaking of kids, anyone in the age of having children who had needs more important than their own, were making whatever decisions they had to make. Period.

There are so many factors that probably led to The Great Resignation, but I think the most important thing to consider is that people are overwhelmed by so much going on in the world and in their own personal lives. I know that in my own personal life, everyone around me has dealt with their own struggles in recent years. We’ve lost people we loved or cared about. Some lost their jobs. No one has escaped the hurt and overwhelm that the pandemic has caused.

Not even the writers and creatives out there, who were already working from home for the most part when the pandemic began, have escaped feeling overworked. (I’m only in the creative landscape for half the year, but I know many who make their living like this.)

This group of people had their own struggles. Many lost the ability to concentrate on their art or craft. Most suddenly had people in their homes all day every day, when before, they had peace and quiet during working hours.

Those two items might not sound like that big of a deal to some/most, but when a creative whose job is to create content all day, suddenly finds his/her life full of constant interruptions and distractions, it’s a big deal.

Despite all of the reasons that so many of us feel overwhelmed, overworked, and burned out, we all have to choose our own path away from those feelings.

And let’s face it, not everyone sees or has a path out. It’s not lost on me that the idea that I can encourage us to seek that path, or that you might even have the ability to resign from a job or quit a certain situation, comes from a place of privilege.

Many people in our society are in this place of overwhelm and burnout because they have to work long hours or multiple jobs. Then need those jobs to put food on the tables.

And after those jobs end, their job as a mother or father or caregiver to others begins. They don’t get to quit their jobs. That’s not an option for them.

So while many mid level employees decided to quit their jobs last summer to pursue other dreams or other careers, or maybe they simply had to quit their jobs because their children needed to be homeschooled, the bottom line is this: Everyone is overwhelmed.

Everyone has been asked to take on more—personally and professionally. No one has escaped this.

I said earlier that I work as a creative for part of the year. I also, if you don’t already know, work as a CPA for the other part of the year. It’s complicated, but I make it work. It’s the path I was privileged enough to be able to choose. But it also gives me a unique perspective.

I’m able to imagine the hurt, anguish, and opportunity that the 30 to 45 year olds went through to make the difficult decisions to leave (or to stay) in their jobs.

I have children. I know what it was like to raise them during a time with no pandemic or school boards who argued about what was best for my children. I can only imagine that the past two years has been extremely difficult for those with school aged children. Or for those who were left with no day care options.

I’m also able to see the company side of things. Again, I’m a CPA. I’ve watched companies struggle to find a way to pay their employees, or figure out how to retain employees, when their businesses were all but shut down. I’ve also watched companies not give a care in the world to their employees. I know of a bank who continued on, business as usual, as the pandemic fired up around them.

All in all, my advice is this… Whether you’re an employee, business owner, or someone just starting their careers, make decisions with compassion for others. If we make decisions while thinking about how our decisions will affect others, but also making the best decision for our own needs, then it’s the right decision.

In other words if you’re overworked and truly burned out, and you can see a path away from that, then make the right decision for you.

If you’re an employer who has simply run out of money to pay your employees, and you’ve already taken as much of a pay cut as you can possibly take, then you have to make the decisions that are best for you.

If you’re just starting out, and everything inside you is telling you that you’re not heading in the right direction, seek sound advice from someone you trust. Or simply trust yourself to know what your gut is telling you. If feeling overwhelmed and burned out seems like a temporary thing, give it time before going down another path. But if you’re overwhelmed and burned out, and you’re not seeing a possible end to that feeling, then I’m afraid it’s time to make the difficult decision.

I never know where a post like this will take me, but as I was writing, I could feel the intense emotions that come from making hard career choices. I’ve been in that position many times in my nearly 30-year career. In the end, I always made the decision that was right for myself and my family, and almost always in the course of delivering the news, the people around me reacted in such a way (good and bad) that proved it was the right decision.

Trust yourself! You matter.


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