A friend of mine is a talented artist. She had grown her online presence to tens of thousands of followers over the years and had been commissioned to work on international projects.
For outsiders looking in, she seemed to have it all: a successful career and enjoyable job. That was until I received a call from her telling me she had put her paint brushes in storage and would be checking into treatment for anxiety, depression and an eating disorder.
“My career is heading upwards, but my mental health isn’t,” she told me. “I won’t be successful if I stay on this track.”
She confessed to me that a part of her thought her career was over when she was only 25. But treatment changed everything.
Five years later, she evolved to become a better artist and successful entrepreneur. She explored other creative outlets, such as writing, provides online art classes for hundreds of students and is now working on a series of illustrated books with a leading international publisher.
In a world where many young people feel pressured to succeed and achieve major milestones before the age of 30, my friend’s journey is a case study in the importance of patience and self-care. Despite the conventional belief that an entrepreneur’s career trajectory shouldn’t be interrupted, especially if they are performing well, my friend paused to take care of her health and her choice helped her become successful.
Growing up at a time where overwork is glorified and the pressure to achieve success at a young age is encouraged by peers and pop culture, I wasn’t comfortable with doing absolutely nothing, even when I was exhausted.
I thought back to a time when I was hospitalised from exhaustion and asked my sibling to bring in my laptop so I could get some work done, instead of “wasting time and doing nothing”. To me, doing nothing equated with failure. My doctor walked in on me while I was working and warned that if I continued down this route, I’d lose both my health and career.
Our social media feeds often include posts that encourage us to “hustle” and “grind”, while working on holidays and weekends is romanticised by entrepreneurs and social figures.
But this mindset has taken a toll on employees. A 2020 survey of 1,000 Americans by Telus International, a global customer experience and digital solutions provider, found 80 per cent of respondents would quit their job for a role that focused on employee health.
What we see more of now are entrepreneurs and personalities who are putting self-care above everything else – and businesses are supporting that, too.
A few months back, Nike-sponsored tennis star Naomi Osaka pulled out of the 2021 French Open citing mental health reasons. Nike, which had been advocating destigmatising mental health in the past few years, backed her decision.
Last May, the brand teamed up with Crisis Text Line to provide everyone in the US with free mental health support via text message. In an article published on Yahoo!, John Donahoe, Nike’s chief executive, wrote: “I strongly believe that sport can no longer be defined by only traditional activities. It’s about movement, dance, yoga and – yes – mental health”.
The pandemic has pushed us to reflect on how we perform our jobs and how we want our workplace to be once we go back to a new normal. It has also emphasised the importance of mental health. With more celebrities, athletes and entrepreneurs speaking about mental health and destigmatising it, we hope to see more companies following suit and implementing policies that support mental health in the workplace.
My friend’s pursuit of a non-linear career path, in which she prioritised her mental health, proves how calling it quits can be a step in the right direction and lead to success.
It was only when she learnt to slow down, and stopping when her mind and body needed it, did she achieve her goals faster than she expected.
Manar Al Hinai is an award-winning Emirati journalist and entrepreneur, who manages her marketing and communications company in Abu Dhabi