A year ago, I got overtaken by stress and I told no one about it…
Updated: Oct 23
🚨 A little over a year ago, as we all went into lockdown, I got overtaken by 𝐬𝐭𝐫𝐞𝐬𝐬 and I told no one but my wife about it. I feared that revealing my vulnerabilities would label me as broken and that it would get in the way of future career opportunities. My stress was driven by a decade of corporate life trying to always be strong and by the realization that my identity was completely dependent on my job. If I didn't have my job, if I didn't have to go to the office everyday, who was I? COVID was my stress trigger and for a great part of 2020, I struggled to get myself back up.
I have gotten back up and I feel better than I have in years as I've managed to redefine who I am. That being said, I wanted to share my story, which I do in the article below ⬇️ . Please read it! Why? Because we shouldn't be so scared of being vulnerable and we need to be better at not holding other people’s struggles against them. Everyone talks about mental health and psychological safety at work but we don’t talk about the immense courage it takes to be vulnerable and to admit we are not fine. Sometimes it helps to put a face to the struggles, so here is my face. I struggled, I got back up and I am ok. 😊
Growing up, I have always admired friends and acquaintances of mine who didn’t have a strong need to conform. You know, the eccentric friend who dares wear out of fashion clothing or the one who dares say their opinion even when it’s controversial. Growing up, I admired these people as I envied their courage to stand out. Growing up, I was the exact opposite as I was ruled by a critical need to fit in and a great fear of standing out and being judged for it.
To fit in, I pretended for many years. I was tough when I needed to be tough, I wasn’t really sick even when I was sick, I said that I was feeling good even when I wasn’t. It might have looked like I was strong from the outside, but I wasn’t, at least not all the time. I was simply hiding my vulnerabilities and trying to control what people would think of me so I wouldn’t get hurt.
Over 10 years ago, I entered corporate life and as I did, I assumed my best rehearsed performance of confidence and strength. I felt great even when I was stressed, I worked even when I was sick and I was confident even when I felt lost. My need to fit in has defined me for years.
I have always wanted my peers and my managers to see me as a strong performer as I feared any vulnerabilities would be interpreted as weaknesses and would prevent me from advancing my career.
As COVID hit in March 2020 and everyone went into lockdown, my whole facade collapsed and I got overtaken by emotions I had repressed for years. As I found myself working from home, trying to guide my team through these unprecedented times, I panicked. I don’t mean for a moment or for a day, but I mean I was taken over by general panic. I got extremely stressed to the point that I started fearing losing my job without any reasons. There was no rational justification for these feelings, but it was the accumulation of a decade of impostor syndrome combined with pretending to be strong everyday. In addition to this, as we were all sent home to work, I lost my bearings and realized that my whole personal identity relied on my job. I realized, and that’s probably why I got so scared of losing my job, that without it, I had no idea of who I was. For a decade, I worked +60h per week and put so much of my spare time into work, that I didn't know anymore who was I in this lockdown and who would I be without my employment? It was early April 2020 and I was freaking out!
I was in this dark place for a while, a few weeks to be honest. Besides my wife, no one saw any of it. I hid my stress from my team, my peers and my friends. I cried quite a few times, worried to my stomach that I had lost myself trying to fit in, trying to be strong and that I had built my identity solely on my job. In between the stress and the tears, I continued to smile through all my online calls, I showed up for friends who needed my support and I just continued to pretend I was fine although I wasn’t.
Why didn’t I tell my team, my manager or anyone?
I didn't want to be seen vulnerable or for others to think Laurence was broken. I feared this would impact future opportunities at work, promotions or even worse, would lead me to be let go during the pandemic. I continued to pretend and I hid my vulnerabilities.
It’s been a little over a year since my identity crisis took place and it took me a great part of 2020 to find myself back, to redefine who I am and figure out what my identity really is if it isn’t my job. I started writing, I got a coach and I found other hobbies than work to occupy my spare time. This need to fit in, to be strong, to hide my vulnerabilities and to attempt to control what people think of me consumed me for years and at the end of the day, it hit me right in the face when COVID hit… COVID was my trigger, but it could have been anything else.
Now, some might wonder why I would write such an article and publish it here. Why should we care that I had stress and hid it from everyone?
Why should we care that I woke up in a pandemic petrified to lose my job and my identity?
I want to share my story because I want others to feel comfortable sharing theirs. We need to stop shaming vulnerability and learn to be kinder to ourselves and others. I want people to realize that falling today doesn’t mean you will be on your knees forever and everyone can fall from time to time. It doesn’t have to become who you are, it doesn’t have to get in the way of future opportunities or your next promotion. We are all human and like so many others, I got stressed, I went through an identity crisis and I am better for it today.
Over the last few months, I have promised myself to be more authentic and to be vulnerable at work and all around, and I have. I have written about my impostor syndrome, I have shared my struggles with people and I have started to talk openly about my dreams, something I have never dared to do before. From this new experience where I embrace my vulnerabilities, I have learned that being vulnerable is powerful. By being vulnerable, I am a better person, a better leader and someone people can relate to.
Everyone talks about mental health and psychological safety at work but we don’t talk about the immense courage it takes to be vulnerable and to admit we are not fine.
We don’t talk about that part, the courage part, in corporate culture and we don’t take time to teach people how to be courageous. We simply hope and expect that people will come forward when they don’t feel good. But will they? Will they fear like me that this will impact their career and future opportunities? Will we promise not to judge them and not to hold it against them later? I don’t think the corporate world can make this promise yet, but I believe that by sharing my experience, I can make others realize how common these struggles are and make people realize that my struggles haven’t damaged me forever. On the contrary, they have helped me grow and become better at what I do. I didn't have the courage to admit my battle last year, but today I have the courage to write about it and share it publicly.
Almost all of us want to fit in and that’s innate as that’s how humans have survived for centuries. We need others to survive, we are all programmed to find our tribe as humans need each other to survive in the wild. That being said, in today’s corporate world, we continue to try so hard to fit in, this time not to survive, but so we don’t lose our job and so that we don’t miss out on the next opportunity. That being said, fitting in shouldn’t get in the way of mental health and we should all feel safe enough in our lives to ask for help when we need it. In addition, our current job shouldn’t become the core of our identity, we should learn to build who we are on a multitude of facets and remind ourselves that we are whole with or without our current employment. If you are reading this article and you aren’t feeling great, reach out to a friend, a colleague or reach out to me. I will be there and I will listen.
Overtaken by stress.