Think your job is stressful? Talk to Alyssa Mastromonaco, who spent six years as assistant to the president and deputy chief of staff for operations during the Obama administration. In her recent memoir, Who Thought This Was A Good Idea?, Mastromonaco writes that her schedule was so hectic she and her team found themselves sleeping on the floor of Air Force One and sharing two tiny bathrooms to change and freshen up. Sleep wasn’t something she had much of during her time at the White House. In an interview with NPR’s Fresh Air, she described the side effects of sleep deprivation as one one of the things that forced her realize it was time to leave her job.
About the end of 2012, I was in my office with David Plouffe, and I was typing while I was talking to him ’cause I can do that. And he said, ‘Alyssa, what are you doing?’ And I’m like, ‘What do you mean?’ He’s like, ‘None of the words on your computer screen are words.’ And I looked and it was just, like, gibberish, basically. And I realized that I wasn’t quite right, that something was off. I thought about it. I had been forgetting things a lot lately. Like, not big things but the things that are easy, like I’m in the car halfway to work and I couldn’t remember if I had fed my cat. And it turned out—they give me a gross neurological exam—that I was basically functioning on like 50 percent of my capacity and that I was very sleep deprived. And so that was actually when they said, ‘Look, you’ve got to start going to bed at 10 …’
And after about three weeks, I took the test again and I was up to, like, 85 percent. And so I was on the right track. But it was a sign that I was probably coming to the end of my time, and that I was so lucky to have had such incredible experiences. Maybe it was time for someone with fresh legs to take over and have the same experiences that I did …
My ideas just weren’t flowing. I was becoming the person who sat at the table and when someone had an idea, I’d be the one who said, ‘We did that, it didn’t work. We did that in 2011.’ I had too much memory. I’d been there too long. And so I decided that it was time for me to go because I wanted to leave on a high note. I never wanted to be that person that people are secretly meeting about about how to get them to realize their time has come so that they go. And so I was glad to sort of decide on my own terms that it was time to go. And it was a really nice send off.
Mastromonaco made a tough decision to leave the job she loved for two reasons. The first was her health. The unrelenting pace, the stress, and the lack of sleep had a detrimental impact on her wellbeing and ability to function. The second reason was that she’d run out of new ideas and felt stuck in a rut.
If you’re wondering whether it’s time for you to move on, look for the source of the problem. If you don’t have a solid work-life balance, is it because you’re burned out with work-related stress, or have you not prioritized life outside work? Most of us who don’t work at the White House typically don’t have the always-on schedule that had Mastromonaco fielding 3AM phone calls, but that doesn’t mean that we’re good at disconnecting from work and re-energizing. If you feel that your health and energy are suffering, follow Mastromonaco’s lead and try getting enough sleep and taking better care of yourself. If you don’t see your thoughts becoming clearer and your energy increasing, it might be time to look for a new position that will let you start fresh.
Likewise, if you’ve become the person on your team who is always quick to shut down new ideas, try taking a step back from “this is the way we’ve always done it.” Find an opportunity to restart, whether it’s the end of a project or the start of a new fiscal year, and try to approach your role and your organization as though you were a new employee. If your mental and emotional connection to the past still won’t let you recapture your creativity and passion, it might be time to look for a different role that’ll let you apply your expertise to a new challenge.
Think it’s time for you to find a new job? We’re here to help you take the next step.