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‘It’s Not Just Burnout:’ How Grind Culture Fails Women

With the pandemic serving as a reckoning point for women in the home and workforce, emerging trends make it clear it’s not just burnout; everything is broken.

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“I’ve thought about how I want to spend my time and life, and this role is simply not aligned with those plans.”

Those were the words I believe I said when I quit my CEO position just three months into the role. But it could have been any variation of jargon that actually came out—my body was pulsating with so much anxiety it’s hard to remember. As I tapped the red “end call” button, an unfamiliar wave of relaxation slowly elbowed out the pit that had lived in my stomach for months. For the first time in my life, I’d quit. I quit! There was no immediate action plan. I just knew there was a new way of being in this pandemic-ridden world, and I could no longer lead others without imagining a brave new future for myself. I knew very little about that future, but I knew it meant a life that didn’t revolve around sharing memes commiserating over Sunday scaries.

After two years of outrunning Covid through relative isolation, it finally caught me. While I laid in bed sick, the thoughts that occupied my mind during bouts of insomnia were moments of deep curiosity about what life on the other side of the virus would look like. How would I heal the grief that had gone unaddressed since the task of surviving took center stage? Why weren’t we admitting that the way we were living wasn’t working?

These thoughts were much more primal than my previous ruminations typically focused on ambitious career pursuits. These primal thoughts were tied to the need to reconnect to love, friends, and nature. It became clear that the grind culture I subscribed to for more than a decade of my career was thin enough to split wide open with the pressure of a pandemic on top. And I wasn’t alone.

According to an analysis of the latest U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, men have now recouped all their labor force losses since February 2020. Meanwhile, the labor force in January 2022 counts 1 million fewer women, compared to February 2020. And while all women have been impacted, the groups that have experienced some of the most significant challenges are working mothers, women in senior management positions, and Black women.

These figures can tell many stories of what it means to be a woman in the workforce—stories that cement the damage done by the gender pay gap, the disproportionate divide of caretaking responsibilities, and racial injustice. These stories confirm how broken our system is, but also highlight the ways grind culture has failed women in a much more complex way than the buzzy burnout explanation. With the veil pulled back, girl bossery looked like women getting access to the proverbial table only to clean up messes caused by a system that wasn’t built with us at the center.

But burnout is not only about work; it’s about the flaws in our approach to work and the low value our full lives hold in the scheme of capitalism. So it makes sense that as we battle the complexities of equal pay, maternal rights, healthcare rights, and the layers of racism, sexism, and misogyny that overlay these issues, many women are considering an alternative to relentless ambition and are exploring what a life of “ease” might look like.

Leaning into ease isn’t about laziness or a refusal of productivity. It’s simply a rallying cry to attempt to center something new: Ourselves. It’s an admittance that we are not armed by society to thrive without sacrificing our wellness. Ease doesn’t always look like quitting or complacency. It looks like a profound reimagining of who the systems we exist in are built for and a radical re-examination of rest.

This year, when I joined the great resignation, I did so in pursuit of a new way of living. One that prioritizes the health of self, community, and overall wellness over productivity. It is a privilege to have the ability to step back and reassess my life’s pace, but in my case, the alternative is exploring the dark space that follows burnout. It is evident that no one is coming to save women, so we must find new ways of being that allow us to save ourselves.

Personally, stepping outside of the tire-burned rat race has looked like unlearning habits taught in environments built to exclude me while prioritizing places where I am allowed to feel soft, valued, seen, and supported. It looks like making room for friendship and all manners of love, applauding more women who choose to explore a new way of being, and committing to finding new ways to do old things.

During this time, I've sat with friends, former colleagues, and peers to have conversations about this new world and realized I am far from alone in navigating the newness of this cultural shift, and if you've made it this far I am sure you also resonate. So, I’ve gathered some of the stories, tweets, podcast episodes, and Fleabag monologues (you’ll see why) that illustrate how the paradigm is shifting. Think of them as a non-required reading list that I hope brings together some thoughts and ideologies that make us all feel a little less alone and a lot more hopeful for whatever it is we decide comes next.

Image by Nadya Ustyuzhantseva/Getty Images

“I Want a Soft Life.”


Rachel Hislop: “I’ve seen this tweet shared over the last few weeks, and it is a beautiful proclamation about an alternative way to consider being.”

The Age of Anti-Ambition

Noreen Malone
The New York Times

RH: “To understand how this changing world affects women, we first have to know where we are and how we got here. This piece is a great primer that helps dig into the ties between the pandemic and its altering effect on attitudes towards work and happiness. Come for the Richard Scarry Busytown descriptors; stay for the stats.”

Have We Been Thinking About Burnout All Wrong?

Eve Ettinger

RH: “This piece takes a critical look at burnout culture by definition and holds it against C-PTSD, a medical condition that results from long-term trauma. As the country’s mental health and happiness rates decline, I am always interested in conversations that push us to think a little more about how buzzy terms often blanket profound truths.”

The Real Reason Why We Are Tired and What to Do About It

Saundra Dalton-Smith
TEDx Talks

RH: “Why are we so tired? It’s because we’ve deprived ourselves of engaging in all seven types of rest. Physician and award-winning author Saundra Dalton-Smith reveals why we are chronically tired despite getting the requisite amount of sleep.”

Women’s Pain [WATCH]


RH: “Few television scenes have stuck with me like this ‘Fleabag’ monologue by Kristin Scott Thomas as Belinda. At first, it seems like a poignant talk about menopause, but it’s really about women and our natural relationship to pain. I revisit this scene when I try to make sense of the many parts of this world built without women in mind.”

The Work You Do, the Person You Are

Toni Morrison
The New Yorker

RH: “As I’ve tried to find new meaning outside of holding a big job title, Toni Morrison’s quote rings as a welcome command: ‘You are not the work you do; you are the person you are.’ It reminds me that work is simply a job, inside of a career, and a career is inside of a singular life with many more uses than merely producing.”

Why Black Women Are Divesting From Excellence & Embracing Mediocrity

Kathleen Newman-Bremang

RH: “This piece has done its rounds in my group chats. The tropes of Black excellence, Black Girl Magic, and ‘strong Black women,’ have, in the end, misaligned perspectives and have forced us to tie our worth to how much we can endure. A step back from this thinking is a step towards a reimagining of identity and our relationship to the world.”

Black Girl Burn Out [LISTEN]

Kelley Bonner

RH: “Kelley Bonner was my undergrad professor before she pivoted to being a burnout specialist. Her podcast is an under-the-radar gem dedicated to helping women manage the stress of daily living. I admire the way she navigates topics like quitting with grace and opting into softness.”

How a Nap Guru Gets It Done

Amina Khan
The Cut

RH: “Tricia Hersey is the founder of The Nap Ministry, an organization that examines the liberating power of naps. It ties back to rest as a spiritual practice, a racial justice issue, and a social justice issue. I love Tricia’s approach towards life, rest, community, and a reimagination of being. And I especially love her taking up space in a column that usually platforms women who ‘get it done’ through overwork.”

“Love as the Practice of Freedom” [PDF DOWNLOAD]

bell hooks

RH: “When I am drawn to read about love, it always brings me back to bell hooks, specifically her examinations about what it means to live in a society rooted in a love ethic. This essay introduces her ideals around love which is a necessary stepping stone towards imagining a new future.”

I’ll Meet You Anywhere

Saeed Jones
The Cut

RH: “This piece by Saeed Jones is a brief but deeply moving exploration of the expansiveness of friendship. Shifts can happen personally, but friendships hold a particular type of ease and softness that should be centered with the same zeal as professional endeavors.”

A Bit of Life Advice From Hol

Remembering Holly Butcher

RH: “We spend a lot of time pontificating the value of life as if we have forever to live it. Once we get clear about mortality, prioritization becomes clearer. This note, written by 27-year-old Holly Butcher the day before she died of a rare form of cancer in 2018, is an excellent reminder of how we balance the days we have left to live.”

How to Use the Wheel of Life Coaching Assessment for Personal Fulfillment

Scott Jeffrey

RH: “The first time I did the wheel of life exercise, I felt exposed. Mapping out where you spend your energy and where you feel fulfilled can be a critical step towards building a new vision for the future. And it helps you realize it’s less about harmonious perfection in all areas of our lives, and more about being intentional in the care and effort we give to the whole.”

‘Lawdy, Lawdy, He’s Great’

SI Staff
Sports Illustrated

RH: “This one is a wildcard, but stay with me! It chronicles the 1975 ‘Thrilla in Manila’ match between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier. Outside of it being a beautifully descriptive piece of journalism about a scene as gruesome as a boxing match, it ends with a quote from the people’s champ, Ali, contemplating his personal ‘why.’ The quote is a reminder that sometimes the things that seem the hardest allow you a new vantage point on your abilities and purpose.”

Losing My Ambition

Amil Niazi
The Cut

RH: “While I was doing research for this collection, The Cut released a series of stories about life after the pandemic. This essay about the loss of ambition was a perfect culmination of the links above and a very welcome ‘ah, I am not alone’ moment. I know the token rule of the Internet is to not read the comment section, but make an exception here; the comments are almost as rich as the essay.”

Rachel Hislop

Rachel Hislop is a New York City native, writer, editor, strategist, and public speaker whose knowledge of digital culture has aided in the growth of some of the biggest brands and celebrities to date. In October 2023 she was named one of Mozilla’s RISE 25 honorees.

Most recently, she served as the VP of Content of OkayMedia and Editor-in-Chief of both Okayplayer.com and OkayAfrica. Prior, Hislop ushered in the unprecedented and now-historic growth of Beyoncé Knowles-Carter’s digital footprint as Digital Content Director for Parkwood Entertainment. As a speaker/moderator she has captivated audiences at Instagram, Google, Global Citizen, AdWeek, and Stanford University, to name a few.

Currently, Hislop is somewhere behind her MacBook consulting with mission-led businesses and brands helping them tell effective digital stories. You can find her on IG @Amazingrach.