'Stressed and worn thin' workers seek more fulfilling jobs, better work-life balance amid COVID-19

For Michelle Rickert, the COVID-19 pandemic gave her time to realize that while she could do it all, it was wearing her out.

The owner of a consulting business in New York City, Rickert says she decided to put work on hold last spring to focus on her family, including her children, ages 8 and 12.

"That time gave me the space to think about how I could balance things, and really I don't need to schedule meetings from 8:30 in the morning to 5,''  Rickert, 52, says of the break. "If it’s time to pick up my kids ... or I want to make breakfast or whatever it is so we can spend time together, now I make space for that."

The pandemic has spurred many workers to reevaluate their lives and the role work plays in them, leading some to set fresh boundaries, find new jobs or maintain the side hustles that got them through the shutdowns and layoffs. 

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Nearly 6 in 10 American workers in an October survey by job search site LinkedIn said they had gone through a career awakening during the COVID-19 pandemic, whether it was a desire for better work-life balance, deciding to pursue a promotion, or redefining their meaning of success.

"The pandemic drove many people to reevaluate what’s most important to them in life, including not just where, and how, but why they work,'' says Catherine Fisher, LinkedIn's career expert.

The survey also found a majority of American workers who say the pandemic has altered the way they feel about their career report being less fulfilled in their current positions.

"We’re seeing that lack of fulfillment motivating people to make changes, whether they’re looking for a new job, a new career or picking up a side hustle,'' Fisher says.

Aimee Gindin changed the focus of her career after cultivating a new passion during the pandemic.

'I was scheduled to the hilt'

Rickert has been in the workforce for decades. 

"Like many people, I've been working since I’ve been in college, so really my go-to is ... to try to handle everything,'' she says.

Rickert was able to make it to her children's events and deal with her many other tasks, "but I was stressed and worn thin,'' she says. "If something ran over, there was a lot of pressure that something else was getting cut into. I was scheduled to the hilt.''

But as she dealt with her children's education and other concerns during the pandemic, Rickert decided to temporarily stop working, and she began to reconsider her previously frantic pace.

"The perspective that I really gained was it benefited no one,'' she says. "It didn't benefit clients, it did not benefit myself and it didn't benefit my family although I was getting everything done. During the time that I took a break and paused, my definition of success changed greatly... I needed to have more positive boundaries.''

Rickert returned to work in September, but now she tells clients "there are going to be times when I'm not available,'' she says. " We can handle what's needed before and after, but I'm going to be focused on my kids and, afterward, we can handle the rest of what we need to do.''

Her clients have been overwhelmingly supportive, she says.

"It doesn’t hinder my ability to be a high-performing partner with them," Rickert says. "It helps because I’m a happier person."

'I will never let myself get stuck ... again'

Two cats named Peanut Butter and Fluff helped Aimee Gindin blend two passions into a single career.

Her family, which lives in Sharon, Massachusetts, adopted the rescue felines last November, and Gindin began snapping their pictures during lunch breaks while working from home.

“I just thought, wouldn’t it be funny to start an Instagram account for Peanut Butter and Fluff,’’ says Gindin, 38, who was employed at the time by a marketing company that worked with cybersecurity firms and other industries. “I felt like I wanted to do something that made people feel good.'' 

During the pandemic, Gindin also began to reflect on how she felt stagnant in her job. As she carved out a presence on social media and burrowed into volunteer social justice work, she says she decided to pursue a job that felt more fulfilling. 

A year later, her Instagram account Peanutbutter_n_fluff has 8,000 followers and, as a digital creator, Gindin earns income both from Instagram and brands that she promotes. Gindin also has a new job, heading marketing and strategy for a digital health company that supports family caregivers.

“Even though this started out as a fun hobby, seeing the success of it gave me the confidence I needed to finally switch jobs and do something that I love,’’ she says adding that her new position allows her to combine her passions for health care and marketing.

“I will never let myself get stuck in a career rut ever again,'' she adds. "The only thing holding me back was having the confidence I could make a big shift.’’

Marcela Kartaszewicz, who works in PR and communications, was laid off during the pandemic; with her newfound free time, she pursued her hobby of home decorating to make wreaths and created a business and launched a website.

'More money than I made in my regular job'

Marcela Kartaszewicz, 46, had always loved decorating her home in Granada Hills, California, during the holidays, including creating wreaths.

So when the communications executive was laid off during the pandemic last November, she fell back on her hobby.     

“My husband and I both lost our jobs,’’ she says, “so I’m locked in the house, nowhere to go, no one to see, and I have all this time and the urge to start creating things.’’  

She was giving away her homemade decorations, but as friends told her they’d be willing to buy the wreaths, she decided to try selling them. Kartaszewicz took a course on how to develop a website and launched Languageofwreaths.com in September. 

Kartaszewicz thought she might sell about 40 wreaths by the end of the year, but as of early November, she'd already sold 80.

“In the last two months, I made more money than I made in my regular job,’’ says Kartaszewicz, who is once again working full time. "It really was unexpected. … It’s allowing me to discover a part of myself I never explored.’’ 

And it's also shown her what she's made of, she says. 

"I’ve learned in these crazy two years ... you have to have comfort with the unexpected and you have to be flexible,'' Kartaszewicz says. "It’s proven to me that I can survive even if I’m unemployed.''

She's not stopping. "Now,'' she says, "I have two full-time jobs."

Follow Charisse Jones on Twitter @charissejones