How My 10-Year-Old Really Sees My Working Mom Burnout

Peta and Lewis

This exercise changed how I see my own struggle for work-life balance: as a family matter.

A consultant mom reflects on her days as a single mom working in an executive role–and how she relearned her life once resigning.

A burnout experience is never your own–it would be selfish to think that it was.

Your actions and behaviors have a ripple effect on those around you that range from small to seismic, but here’s the thing: It isn’t like dropping a stone in a pond with immediate effect. The burnout stone is stealthy in nature; it gradually sneaks up on you and those in your life, moonlighting as the ugly stepsisters–stress, anxiety and fatigue–until you hit the wall.

As the rolling stone gathers momentum, those around you politely accommodate your step-sisters, adapting to your behavior and accepting this as who you are. All the while, your inner conflict is mounting, your confidence deteriorating, and your subconscious efforts of self-preservation see you withdraw.

You know this life isn’t working. Still, you put your foot down harder. Friends’ calls are left unanswered and social invitations dry up; work becomes your excuse because it makes you feel important and justifies your behavior. Unwittingly, you create an identity that isn’t easy to coexist with while those around you leave you be.

Therein lies the problem: acceptance. From everyone, including you. With burnout comes a decline in mental health and overall well-being; others might recognize the problem, but until you’re ready to admit it yourself, you won’t listen.

Those around you don’t understand why you continue to put yourself through it. They don’t understand the fear driving you– of losing your identity and high income. Of never being successful again. Of leaving what you worked so hard to build.

If you don’t understand it, how can you expect anyone else to?

My inner circle is made up first and foremost by my boy, Lewis. For the first 10 years of his life, he knew me as one type of person–one I didn’t like much and, as I found out recently, neither did he.
Five years ago, I was forced to resign from a lucrative career that no longer served me well. It turns out being on call 24/7 for 14 years, servicing the implant needs of Melbourne’s spinal surgeons, had a finite end for this single mother.

At the time, I chose to share what I was going through with Lewis. With only two of us in the household, I couldn’t hide what I was going through, nor did I want to. He knew the reason I resigned was because I wanted to change the person I was. He knew I visited my psychologist every month and was piecing together a new, more fulfilling life. One that for the first time, prioritized us. I was redesigning myself, piece by piece.

Relentless curiosity that served me well as a sales professional became my self-discovery superpower. Energy became my currency as I searched for my purpose–understanding what I stood for, what lit me up, and how to protect that fiercely to prevent myself from ending up in the same mess ever again.

No longer would success be defined by my sales number. It would be defined by the integrity of what defined me and how I brought that to life through the gesture of giving, human connection, and learning.

Today, as I watch Lewis wolf down steaming crepes drowned in amber maple syrup, I can’t help but cast my mind back to the times where he sucked his breakfast through a thick red and white straw, a barber shop pole sticking out of a domed plastic cup. Some mornings we would be in such a flurry it was like the house vomited us out the door. I would speed dial the local cafe as I started the car ignition and ordered our liquid breakfast ahead of time. If anything came up on the way, we were late.

There are no words to describe how happy I am to leave that morning pressure cooker in another life. In comparison, today’s teenage mornings are best described as a slow-cook-simmer. We rise without the unwelcome intervention of any shrill alarm, our bodies and minds well rested and ready for the day ahead. The morning is calm, as is my brain.

The new relaxed pace has given my brain the opportunity to heal from 15 years of reality I had swept under the carpet. To relearn how to function using its entire capacity rather than singeing its edges through a constant state of emotional reactivity. It’s a brain that is happy where it is, not desperately wishing it was somewhere it wasn’t.

I recently had a light bulb moment grabbing Lewis, his teenage enthusiasm, and a rainbow block of Post-Its. Together, we completed what I can only describe as an intimate moment of truth.

With a line down the middle of a blue poster board, I asked Lewis if he would be happy to share how he felt within himself and how he would describe me, before and after I had left my job. I reassured him he had free reign: “say what you like, be honest, there is no right or wrong here. I will respect everything you write.” I was going to do the same from my perspective, the left side representing “before,” the right being “after” my resignation.

His Post-It notes were pink, mine were yellow–and did he paint that board pink! He let loose. Pink notes were slapped left, right and center with gusto: “angry,” “lonely,” and “never listening to me,” staring me in the face, impossible to hide from.

There I stood thanking God his words on the right–“calm,” “laughing,” and “listens to me”–now balanced the scale. Phew.

Two particular notes that needed some explanation were the name of the company I used to work for on the left and “Sitcheff,” my last name, on the right. “What are these for, buddy?” I asked. “For ages, I thought that was your surname, Mom.” I guess when your mom has answered the phone that way your whole life, you probably would too.

I was stunned. In that moment, I was instantly grateful for giving it all away. And for the realization that my journey would always be his journey too.

Peta was forced to press pause on life following a 14-year career working with Melbourne’s spinal surgeons in the relentless world of medical device sales. The year that followed was her beautiful mess. Today, as a consultant, speaker and coach, Peta inspires teams and grows businesses, always advocating for more sustainable professional practices that minimize burnout. She recently published a book of her experience working in the medical device sales industry and subsequent personal transformation: My Beautiful Mess – living through burnout & rediscovering me. Connect with her on Instagram, Facebook and LinkedIn.


This exercise changed how I see my own struggle for work-life balance: as a family matter.

A consultant mom reflects on her days as a single mom working in an executive role–and how she relearned her life once resigning.

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