What a sudden life pivot taught me about putting my own happiness first

- June 2, 2022 4 MIN READ
Wooden signpost with the words ‘change is good’

Margie Ireland is a registered psychologist, highly sought after leadership coach and author of The Happy Healthy Leader – Achieve your potential even during a crisis, but it has taken some hard work and plenty of home truths to reach her full potential. Here, she bravely shares her journey from burnt-out and stressed to happy, healthy success.

14 years ago I had just become a partner in a highly successful boutique recruitment services firm, and was about to become a mother after three years of failed IVF attempts, followed by an even more invasive three-year journey to adopt a baby from Thailand.

You could say I was about to finally have everything I wanted: a successful career, a husband in a secure government role and soon, a baby would be in the mix – all while renovating our home.

Never judge a book by its cover. I was miserable.

The need for change

While I enjoyed some elements of my work, I had become exhausted by the constant pressure to deliver and ‘bill’.

What I did love was helping people see what they couldn’t see in themselves, to give them the confidence to take that next step in their career. I also enjoyed creating informative workshops to help clients understand how to attract and retain good people.

I loved the people I was working with, but after 15 years which had included a relocation to another state (purely to speed up the adoption process), the constant pressure to bill, and a body (post-IVF drugs) that no longer felt my own – I was burnt out. Wine had started to shift from a social weekend activity to a friend I looked for at the end of some days during the week.

Then, my husband got a great career opportunity back in our home city. I had to stay due to where we were in the adoption process, and realised I was happier when my husband wasn’t there. Be it the pressure of the pursuit to be parents, or that something in my marriage was unstable – or at least not stable enough to nurture an abandoned and fragile child from Thailand – a few months after my 40th birthday, I left my marriage, our half-renovated house, and the opportunity to be a parent.

Riding the wave of emotion to find happiness

This was a highly emotional, confronting and exhausting period of my life. However, there was something else calling me … a voice inside of me saying, ‘Don’t die with the music still inside you.’

My marriage and recruitment career were done; it was time for something new. During my recruitment career, I was always fascinated by why people stayed in a job they hated for so long, and what was the tipping point for them to leave. I realised I was passionate about people and their work, and what led to them having a meaningful career.

A close friend of mine, who had enrolled in an undergraduate degree in psychology, opened my door to this new path, career, life and – I can say today – happiness and wellbeing.

I found my passion.

Out on my own

The biggest moment in my life was deciding to take that first step into the unknown. To push off from the security of the shore I knew and head through uncharted waters.

It was not easy, and I know it was not easy for my ex-husband. I am pretty sure my ex-business partner was not happy either, but I just knew I had to start a new journey.

I also learned that I could take all the experiences and skills I had learned with me. All the hurts from the past including my childhood, turbulent teens, losing my 16-year-old brother to chroming when I was only 18, some bad decisions around men in my 20s, followed by meeting my husband in my early 30s. Losing my dad, aged only 69, due to mental illness a year into my studies as a psychologist. The irony and frustration.

All of it led me to realise what my potential was – and how much I wanted to help as many people as possible to reach theirs; to be the person and leader they can be.

One final, happy change

In October 2018, I achieved my goal of becoming a registered psychologist. I still pinch myself and wonder how I got there. A month later, on 13 November, I decided that alcohol had crept in as my strategy to manage the underlying anxiety and stress in my life. I also noticed that it didn’t always make me feel less anxious or reduce stress; in fact, it started to increase it.

Given I was about to embark on a career helping leaders better manage their stress, I felt a bit of a phoney if I didn’t sort out my own backyard. I embarked on a 30-day experiment of no alcohol, which became 90 days. Then I decided to make it a year-long experiment to see what life was like without it.

It is now almost three years of no drinking. I have never regretted this decision. I am the healthiest I have ever been, and my blood tests have proven this too.

All other areas of my life have improved, some dramatically. For example, my relationship with my partner, clarity of thought, ability to ride anxious waves (and not drink to manage these), fitness, coaching and psychological skills, financial independence … and lots more.

My friends laugh at my new ‘Lindt-ball habit’, which I enjoy every evening after my meal. Three or four Lindt balls is my reward for putting myself and my health first. The irony!

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