The moment: Swallow your pride

A burnout could be a turning point to decide to do what makes you happy.
Illustration: Marly Hendricks

Turning points: Sometimes you recognize them straightaway, and sometimes only in retrospect. In this series, WUR folk talk about a moment they will never forget. This time, Meira van der Spa, previously an event organizer and now a translator.

‘Ten years ago I had a severe burnout, after organizing events for WUR for over 15 years. One year later I began the reintegration process and I was determined to return to the same work. A big mistake, in retrospect. I was being guided by my pride. I wanted to prove I could do it. I should have been honest with myself then and asked: does this suit me, and will it make be happy? The answer to that was no.

But I only realized that last year, when I ended up off sick for the second time. Something had to give. I always felt I had to do my best. But in the end, I really had no wish to go on proving myself anymore, and I was very unhappy.  I said to the doctor, “I’ve had enough, I’m stopping.” That was such a relief. I was listening to my needs at last.

It would have been good if I’d thought of doing that 10 years ago. But I think it was also something that comes with age. As you get older, you get less tolerant of bullshit. So then I started looking around. What would suit me? The work of events organization is never done, and it could always have been done better. I’m a perfectionist and I take criticism very much to heart. And I like to have clear-cut tasks to do. I studied languages at university and did a postgraduate course in journalism. So I came up with the idea of translation work. It is much less stressful, even though it is often very busy and there are hard deadlines. Every task has a clear beginning and end. And it is wonderful to sit down on the sofa in the evening and think: right, all done and dusted! And also, I thoroughly enjoy it.

As you get older, you get less tolerant of bullshit.

It is quite a step to make a big change like that when you are 52. And I was scared of how colleagues might react to me continuing to work at WUR. But they were all positive. I would say to other people who get stuck like I did: don’t be tempted to stay on the same track because you think that’s just the way it has to be, or because it’s what you have got used to. However good you are at something, if it doesn’t make you happy, the price you pay is too high. I think it’s logical to change tracks like this more than once in the course of a career. And I think you can learn to do anything if you are interested in it. You usually demand higher standards of yourself than other people do.’

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