A few weeks ago, I heard seven words that unlocked my soul. "I give you permission to lean out."

It’s amazing what the word “permission” can unravel for a person. Once a tightly wound ball, one single word intentionally framed up by a good friend gave me the freedom to chase my dreams – and not anyone else’s idea of the “shoulds” and “coulds” of my life. Liberation is priceless.

Veronica is one of my best friends when I lived in DC and someone who is more driven to succeed than me. She helped me find one of my most favorite positions in my career. She advocated for me, was my biggest champion, and also the best person to call with a PR or crisis communications question. She is savvy and a grammar queen. (In fact, she’s probably cringing at the fact that my work likely needs another editor.) She is also brutally honest and vulnerable about working the grueling hours of an agency, trying to make it in a power-hungry city. We forged a friendship as single women, and it evolved as we married and moved away from the Nation’s Capital.

In fact, we hadn’t caught up in a long time beyond stalking each other on social media. When my son was born, she sent what would become his most beloved books. It wasn’t until I had acute anxiety (read: panic attack) one morning around 2 am that I decided to cruise over to her Facebook page and see what she was up to.

One post instantly caught my eye, starting with “This small mud puddle is symbolic of the reasons we moved away from DC. Slower living raising my kids around things that matter.”

I originally reached out to get her secret. I mean, she seems to have it all together, right? Two kids, working remotely as a Vice President for a prominent national non-profit, strong marriage. My message was part desperation, part loneliness and a dash of hope. Let’s face it – it was a cry for help. Seeded in between each word was a whisper to be seen in this incredible tense moment.

We connected briefly on Facebook and it took a couple of phone calls to connect in real time. She was making dinner for the family when I called during nap time – the curse of being 3 hours apart. What I love about these kinds of friendships is that it takes very little time to fall into an old groove of support, encouragement and love. We talked like no time had passed. Seeing that I had a brief window of time, I got straight down to the point.

“Tell me more about how you carved out this wild and beautiful life.”

Again, one of the most driven women I know is able to make it work as she grew her family. And I knew I’d get real, tangible advice. We talked about her transition to motherhood with her first kiddo, how she realized that the late nights, weekend work, and initiatives dictated by news cycles weren’t helping her live a full life. After therapy and a lot of soul searching, she carved out a refresh of her career that allows her to live fully and be there for her family.

It gave me hope to know that someone I view as a role model in this, someone who has seemingly accomplished it all, was able to engineer a life that is full and not solely focused on her career as the ultimate goal. It gave me more hope that it was possible for me. We talked about how we set out in our careers to reach upper-level management, to prove that it was possible. And I discovered the secret sauce – she realized that she achieved her goal. I had met that same accomplishment, and I still hadn’t realized that I was there. And then seven words from Veronica set me free.

“I give you permission to lean out.”

I started weeping. I didn’t know that I needed to hear it so badly. When I became a mom, I felt that I had even more to prove to show that I could do it all. If I was leaning in before, I was jumping all the way in once Brendan turned a year old. And it made me an exhausted, burnt out mom and a very irritable wife and partner. Leaning further in was the only option. Or so I thought.

I’m back in the feeling of burnout, and have been waffling there back and forth for the past few months. It’s a unique game of limbo when you restructure your career after reaching certain milestones. Once you manage people or large initiatives, it’s not easy to go backward. I feel too senior to go to more of an independent contributor role, and frankly, the idea of telling my manager that I’m way too overwhelmed feels like an admission of defeat.

I’m learning to let go of a lot of things, one of which is to hold loosely to dreams that don’t serve me anymore. Where will this take me? I don’t know, but I’m excited to find out.

Author’s Note: This was written back in March at a time where I was considering taking a few weeks PTO before completely burning out. (More on that story later.) I decided to keep it as is to hopefully show my progression through real professional burnout over time.

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