Newton Cheng is the Director of Health and Performance at Google, a world champion powerlifter, and a father. Throughout his 14 year career at Google, he overworked himself due to people-pleasing tendencies and began getting misaligned from his priorities and values, leading Newton to take a mental health leave in January of 2022. In February of 2021 his symptoms of burnout, anxiety, and depression got to the point where he started to realize just how significant the toll on his mental health was. He found himself struggling to get out of bed and felt a lot of shame for how he was failing to show up the way he wanted to as a husband and father. However, it still took awhile for him to decide to go on leave, because it felt like giving up. When Newton returned to Google after his mental health leave, he decided to share his story and be very upfront about his experiences to help others who may be suffering alone.
“I was raised in a culture where we talked a lot about mental toughness and this felt like the opposite of that. But what I knew was I was not showing up the husband and father that I wanted to be, so something had to change,” shares Newton Cheng. When Newton started talking about his leave at work, he was a little surprised by how many of his co-workers chose to refer to it as a sabbatical. Mental health is still so stigmatized in today’s society that people can feel uncomfortable even just saying the words out loud. However, this does a disservice to everyone who is suffering in silence and who just needs someone to listen and understand what they are going through. Newton had gotten to the point where he was unable to get out of bed and dreading going to work, even though he loved his job and felt his work was important to him. He was not able to be the father he wanted to be or the husband he wanted to be, and the shame ate away at him. As he began to share his mental health struggles more, Newton found that many of his co-workers of all levels across the organization were suffering from similar symptoms of burnout and depression. Many people who burn out in these situations choose to quit their job completely, but Newton’s problem was not with the job, but rather with his approach and how he chose to structure his boundaries or lack of boundaries. Once he stepped back and reorganized his life to align better with his values and put boundaries in place that allowed him to spend more time with his family, Newton was able to break through his burnout and stay on at Google.
Burning out at work does not necessarily mean you have to change your job. Sometimes all you need is to take a step away and restructure how you are approaching your work so that it can align better with the lifestyle you want. Tune into today’s episode of FRIED. The Burnout Podcast for a conversation with Newton Cheng about experiencing burnout in a corporate setting and how to move forward while keeping your job.
“February 2021 was the first time I physically couldn't get out of bed. And I had read about this in terms of others experiences with mental health and depression, but I had never actually felt it. And it wasn't so much like a physical paralysis, it was overwhelming dread. So from there, I started seeing the employee assistance provider and he told me I was exhibiting early signs of burnout.” (7:18-7:42 | Newton)
“I was raised in a culture where we talked a lot about mental toughness, and this felt like the opposite of that. But what I knew was I was not showing up the husband and father that I wanted to be, so something had to change.” (10:13-10:30 | Newton)
“When I told people I was going on leave, people started calling it my sabbatical. And I kept reframing. I'm like, my ‘mental health leave’. And that was very interesting. I’m like, I think you're probably doing that out of respect, because you don't know my boundary there and I very much appreciate that, but I don't think that's helping anyone. It's not a sabbatical and people know it's not sabbatical. But if we call it a sabbatical, we're just reinforcing that we have to hide things.” (28:26-28:56 | Newton)
“If we don't name what's actually going on, we can't actually address it.” (29:18-29:21 | Newton)
“As I have shared my story, the people who have come to me privately to say, ‘I'm suffering too’, they are people like me. They are people junior to me in organizations, they're my peers, they are above me. They're all around us.” (55:22-55:40 | Newton)
“If you are suffering and you're in a situation similar to me, you are not alone.” (55:49-55:53 | Newton)
“To leaders who are in a position like mine, change doesn't happen, transformation doesn't happen without true leadership. True leadership requires those of us with the privilege to take some risks, to try some things, maybe to take some things and fail. But we got to do it and we got to share what we learn. And that's how we're going to move forward.” (56:06-56:25 | Newton)
Connect with Newton Cheng:
Resource Newton Mentions:
Byron Katie: https://thework.com/
If you know that it’s time to actually DO something about the burnout cycle you’ve been in for too long - book your free consult today: bit.ly/callcait