Growth Can't Be Self-Sacrificial

Courtney Branson
7 min readMar 7, 2022

No one is putting up with companies or people that reward burnout — How to prioritize mental health and growth.

Photo by Volodymyr Hryshchenko on Unsplash

After becoming a mother, I silently faced my third time with an eating disorder. It's a terrifying experience𑁋hurting myself gave me what I wanted. I felt better about my appearance, and others validated that. When I recovered, the validation stopped. Imagine my surprise to learn that I transferred that control to work. I received praise for overwork and when I stopped, so did the praise. I wanted to improve myself𑁋get to the next ideal weight or target salary. Nothing was ever enough.

Self-improvement shouldn't be self-sacrificial. It can't be.

The self-improvement illusion

Throughout my childhood, my dad played self-help tapes during truck rides. I remember the anxious feeling of needing to improve. I pictured it like a race𑁋self-improvement was an end post, and once I got to it, well, then I was finished, complete, whole. To me, we were all running to the same end post.

The cassettes washed my mind with feelings of inadequacy. I believed I was inherently flawed, and life's journey was to become less flawed. Accolades, education, and titles became mile markers in life. They served as tangible signs that I was in the race. Then, after years of running, I burned out. I wasn't improved; I was depleted.

For improvement to be sustainable, it can’t deplete the source.

Many of us spend our whole lives playing self-improvement mantras on a loop. We feel compelled to lead personally fulfilling lives that contribute to the greater good for all. That's a tall (and exhausting) order in a world that doesn't necessarily understand or reward those things.

I didn't want to constantly be reading about how to be better; I wanted to put myself in situations to be enriched and where my values and talents uniquely contribute.

I thought that I had found my home working in startups.

Working at my first startup felt powerful𑁋I was part of something bigger, a "family" that was by most accounts more accepting than my own. However, growing in a startup is…