Cold Sweats and Tissues: Surviving My Workplace Burnout

What’s your worst burnout moment?

Let me share mine while you ponder.

It was 2013, a year before I finally exited the recruitment business I’d cofounded in 2004.

What began as an escape from early corporate nonsense (I was facing a potential hat-trick in retrenchments) became a legitimate business despite our inexperience.

At our peak, we were making $5m annual revenue with nearly 30 employees. But good times don’t last, especially when you lack the gumption and experience to make it work.

The slope got slippery. Before I knew it, I had a new business partner and two investors. With conflicting interests and a backstabbing partner, things took their toll.

I drank and smoked heavily, dreading sleep because I knew I’d wake up to face the same office nonsense again.

I’d wake in cold sweats, something I thought only happened on TV.

The breaking point came during a private chat with my Office Manager. Sharing the state of the business, I started to cry.

No, “cry” doesn’t cut it. I was bawling, full-blown.

It was the first time someone handed me a tissue box for tears.

The next day, I knew I needed out, or this situation would do me in.

In my book No More Bosses, I share other burnout examplesโ€”not mine, but others who experienced their own torments.

I mention Nancy Lai‘s story. She ran a startup when that term was barely coined. Investor pressure and partner conflicts culminated in a tough moment for her.

Fortunately, she faced this early in life when we were best equipped to confront such difficulties.

For those closer to my mid-career age, the mind might be willing, but the body isn’t.


There’s the former Global HR Director whose asthma relapsed after endless 20-hour workdays.

The Head of Data Science was hospitalised for a month after wearing seven hats at work for too long.

The Sales Director whose eczema flared as markets shrank and sales dwindled.

And you know what?

These are the happy endings.

We noticed the sirens and moved inland before the tsunami hit.

Since my exit, I haven’t had another cold-sweat morning, and the HR Director hasn’t had more asthma attacks since quitting her demanding role.

And the data scientist’s only hospital visits now are to accompany his grandma for checkups.

A healthy person wants a million things: the newest car, the biggest house, the latest gadgets, the trendiest clothes, bi-annual transcontinental trips, and the richest, most diverse cuisines Instagram showcases.

An unhealthy person wants one thing – health. Without it, everything else is immaterial. You lack the quality of life to enjoy them.

Like my friend battling a suspected case of Parkinson’s, I wrote about recently.

By now, you should recall your worst burnout moment.

Let that be your wake-up call. Act now, and you might join the ranks of these happy endings, too.

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