Attuned Leadership for Women Podcast

Episode 028

Career Downshifting: Prioritizing the Irreplaceable You in Work and Life with Melena Strehlow


Are you wondering if climbing the career ladder is truly worth the added stress and pressure? You’re not alone. Tune in as organizational development specialist Melena Strehlow shares her inspiring journey from surviving toxic work environments and burnout to discovering the courage to prioritize well-being. Learn about her experience with career downshifting—an often-overlooked strategy that allows you to slow down, recharge, and ultimately accelerate your personal and professional growth.

Don’t miss this enlightening episode reminding you that you are irreplaceable in your personal life and that taking care of yourself is key to achieving sustainable success and satisfaction.

Two white women on the cover of a podcast episode image discussing the topic of cringe-free self-promotion for women leaders.

About Melena Strehlow

Melena Strehlow is a dynamic and accomplished professional with a wealth of experience in human resources, organizational development, and project management across diverse industries including education, healthcare, financial technology, and transportation. Alongside her thriving career, she dedicates her time to coaching high school volleyball and serving as a collegiate chapter director for a sorority. Melena’s vibrant spirit extends beyond her professional and volunteer pursuits, as she cherishes quality time with her partner Noah, exploring local food and drink hotspots, and creating lasting memories with friends and family.

Quotes from the Episode: 

You are replaceable at work, but not in your personal life.”

Melena Strehlow

Working to live should not be normal. So let’s break that cycle.

Melena Strehlow

“Burnout is not a personal failing. That’s our body trying to say, hey, hey, we need to do something different.

Dr. Crystal Frazee


[00:02:36] You’re replaceable at work.

[00:07:27] Work-life balance challenges.

[00:12:25] Work-life balance realization.

[00:13:18] Role models and work ethics.

[00:20:14] Depletion, Burnout, & the Nervous System

[00:23:45] Women’s loyalty and overgiving.

[00:28:49] HR department challenges and focus.

[00:32:42] Job searching and self-care.

[00:36:41] Finding the right work environment for you.

[00:42:18] Finding joy in daily life.

[00:44:16] Embracing change for growth.


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Get updates about Crystal’s upcoming book!

REVIVE: The Working Woman’s Unexpected Guide to Recovering from Burnout

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Prefer to Read? Here’s the transcript!

*Just a heads up – the provided transcript is likely to not be 100% accurate.


Dr. Crystal Frazee:

Today on the Attuned Leadership for Women podcast, I’m talking with Melena Strehlow, who is an organizational development specialist with eight years in HR. She’s served in roles within multiple industries ranging from education, healthcare, financial tech, and now transportation. She’s typically the one looking out for the employee’s well-being, but in doing so, she learned a critical lesson about her own. I have her on the show with us today to tell her story because it’s an important reminder for each and every one of us. Here it is. You are replaceable at work, but not in your personal life. I’m excited to share this conversation with you. 


Dr. Crystal Frazee:

Where do established and aspiring women leaders go to get answers to their biggest challenges, like how to deal with double standards, break free from hustle and burnout, drive change without being bossy, and how to raise visibility by doing less, not more? I’m Dr. Crystal Frazee, your host and a women’s health and leadership expert and author. I’ve spent the past 15 years developing the answers to those questions. I believe that your body has all the wisdom you need and that without much effort, you can leverage it for things like faster, better decision-making, creating a magnetic presence for influence, and even navigating perimenopause so your performance goes up instead of down. In this show, I will teach you what traditional leadership approaches overlook, how to leverage your body wisdom to break free from time and energy traps, shatter barriers, dissolve the good woman programming that stops you from living on your terms, Level the playing field at home and work and be the most powerful leader you can be. Get ready to rewrite the rules of success and satisfaction using the practical strategies of attuned leadership for women.

Main Content: 

Dr. Crystal Frazee: Hey, Melena. Thanks for coming on the show with me today. 

Melena Strehlow: Thanks, Crystal. I’m so excited to be here. 

Dr. Crystal Frazee: 

Yeah. So I think your story has so many familiar elements that many of us listening can resonate with, no matter where we are in our career journey, whether we’re just starting out, whether we’re in kind of the middle of it, the thick of it, trying to navigate it, or if we feel like we’re kind of at the top. And that main idea that I shared in the beginning, you’re replaceable at work, but not in your personal life, is something I know everybody knows. We all know that cognitively. But I think that there’s a turning point for almost every working woman where there’s this aha. And for me, it was literally waking up in a pool of sweat from my bed one morning and saying, hell no, you know, something’s got to change. And that that moment is something that I think is so critical to highlight. So I’m going to pass it over to you and let you start wherever you want to begin in sharing how you got to that aha moment yourself.

Melena Strehlow: Yeah, no, I appreciate you sharing your experience too, because it can show up differently for everyone. I’m thankful enough, I think, that I am still young in my career, right? I feel like I’m getting to my 30s now, which is funny to say, but I am thankful that I figured this out, I think, earlier on than some folks do, especially I don’t have children yet. So some folks, right, it becomes that point where they have so many things, especially when they have kids, and I was able to figure that out a little bit earlier. My journey, I would say, looking back, as I was reflecting on our conversation, I’ve always been a high achiever. And I think sometimes companies can really take advantage of that. If you don’t find the right culture, you don’t find the right people to support you within that company, And I think, unfortunately, that is what happened to me at times. Women were very much taught from a cultural standpoint to please others, to say yes, to be all of the things, and often feel like we can’t say no. And so I kind of found myself in that place. So from early on in my career right after college, I just felt like this sense of wanting to grow exponentially and find that next step constantly, whether it was the next project, whether it was the next role. When I was changing employers, it was never a question to me of, should I look for similar roles? It was, nope, I need to find the next role. and not being just content with the performance that I had in my current level, which was, I’ve always been told that I was a high performer. So why wasn’t I okay with that? And so, as I was in my most recent role with my most recent employer, not the employer I’m with now, it was a higher role that I’ve had. with higher visibility, higher responsibility, higher influence, and I was all really excited about those things. I knew I was going to grow. I knew I was going to learn a lot and hopefully have a higher impact because that’s what was always important to me. And it just turned out to not be a good fit where you were worked as a machine. And what I noticed about that culture was they pride themselves on that, of saying yes before no, always saying yes before no. and pushing yourself to the nth extent when I realized that I was at my capacity, and frankly, over it. That was kind of a turning point for me. But before I got to that point, I remember telling myself, it’ll get better, right? Numerous conversations with my partner of waiting it out. Maybe this one thing will help change it.

Dr. Crystal Frazee, PT: And that it is the relationship with you and your team or the workload or the way you felt acknowledged for the quality of your work. What was it?

Melena Strehlow: Yeah, definitely. the way that I was acknowledged, I think, for the quality of work. There were some relationships that I felt valued and I felt appreciated, but it was the ones that I really needed to feel that from that wasn’t there. And I think we often treat work as critical. When nine times out of 10, we’re not, I’m not a doctor. I’m not a nurse. No one’s going to die. Right. If I don’t get this one thing done today. Right.

Dr. Crystal Frazee, PT: Or that owns a marketing agency. And she says, there’s no emergencies in marketing.

Melena Strehlow: No, no, there’s not. Yeah. And any of the industries I’ve worked in, I mean, I worked in healthcare, right. But I’m in HR. No one’s going to die. Likely. So that was another component of it, as I think. And that’s not just that company that I was at. It’s a corporate culture of everything is urgent, everything is critical, everything’s an emergency, when it’s really not. What is the give and take of, I need to get this email out, but I’m going to miss my kids’ soccer game, or whatever it might be? it’s just not worth it because from the beginning the tagline of you’re replaceable at work and not in your personal life like you are you get hit by a truck tomorrow, they will replace you and hope and hope that you had everything in place, right, right, right, that you were prepared that you are able to hand this off properly this roll off versus in your personal life, you are that only person to them, you are their only mom, you’re the only dad, you’re the only partner, you know, sister, brother, whatever term you want to use. And you can’t get that time back. So I found myself in conversations with my therapist, actually, on wanting to have difficult conversations with various relationships in my life that are important to me, but I simply couldn’t because I didn’t have the capacity to. And that’s sad.

Dr. Crystal Frazee, PT: Right. Let’s dive into some of what you’ve already said for a second. if we kind of go back to what you were experiencing early on in your career, and I’m going to keep giving my all and eventually they’re going to notice me sort of thinking, right? That is so universal and such a shared experience. That’s that societal training that so many, if you identified as a female at birth, that you were validated for. being helpful for, you know, making others look good. You know, you were praised for achievement and, you know, really expected to kind of pull things together and see the gaps where things needed to be done and make things work. That’s a generalization, but I resonate with that. Many of my clients resonate with that. And that’s really at the heart of it. And when we can name that, it helps us not feel responsible personally that we’re actually trained to do that. So we get A++++’s for doing exactly what we’re supposed to do. Because where’s the cultural message that says, and how’s that impacting you? It’s missing. It’s missing in the workplace. It’s missing, you know, even potentially in our spiritual practices. It’s missing in the education system. It’s missing in family conversations. And it needs to be reestablished. We need that piece of how is this affecting me? Where am I in this? And then you are kind of moving from one job to another job. thinking, well, something will change, something external will happen, right? And was it maybe thinking that working in a different team would help? What was it about shifting organizations initially that you thought would make it better?

Melena Strehlow: Yeah, that’s a good question. So I think one boundary that I have always had was, feeling respected and valued is really important to me. And I have a very black and white view of respect. And I think that has shot me in the foot at times, it has benefited me at other times. So when I’ve left jobs, that really is based on that. So when I was switching in my previous roles, I didn’t until this last role really have this epiphany, because I really wasn’t one, worked as hard, but two, felt so undervalued. So when I was switching jobs, it really wasn’t based on that because I was fine with that. And looking back on my life in my previous years, work was my whole life. It wasn’t, I didn’t really have other things like, you know, I had friends, I had family, I didn’t have a loving, respectful partner that I do now, which has helped me significantly, but work was my life. And Now that I have moved away from that, I finally have that epiphany during my last role that it’s just not supposed to be that way. You shouldn’t work to live. You should just live. And work is a part of that, right? Right.

Dr. Crystal Frazee, PT: Right. So it’s kind of like how extractive should work be of your energy of your, you know, creative bandwidth of your feeling vibrant and alive inside yourself. I mean, those are qualities that we should all be able to have and make a living. So I’m curious if it’s okay if I ask, about early role models. I think that that influences a lot of us, either having a specific role model who was a powerhouse that we were emulating or having a lack of role models and figuring it out on our own. Either way, I think that it’s really important to reflect on, what have I seen done? Because it’s so much harder to replicate something we’ve never seen than to follow in the steps of someone we admire for doing it well.

Melena Strehlow: Yeah, good question. So growing up, it was interesting because I had parents and luckily they were still together. So I had a single household. And both of them had very different views of work, which I always felt was very interesting. So my dad had very much the view of I go to work to get a paycheck. He liked what he did, but it wasn’t something that he would talk about with us at the dinner table. My mom, she was on the opposite end of the spectrum. She wasn’t necessarily a formal leader in her organization, but she was a very high performer, highly relied upon, was there to pick up the pieces when things were broken, right? So learned that from her. And so then I kind of need to figure out like, what did I want in my life? We always had fairly high expectations as kids growing up, which I think led to me being a high achiever and, and wanting more, but never really understanding, like, well, do I want this for myself? Or is this something that culture or cultural norms have taught me? And now looking back on it, I do question some of the things and decisions that I made. And why did I continue to try to work up and up and up? uh for for what right like if i’m making enough yes yeah if i’m making enough money if i’m satisfied if i’m producing you know high quality work why do i need the next step yeah um the gold star the different title yeah what is it really about it’s a good question yeah yeah and i think that the answer is different for everyone and i think everyone’s wants and needs are different and can change throughout life which is okay too But as far as role models go, two people stick out to me. So one is a good friend of mine that we were actually good friends in high school, and she ended up passing in my later years of college from cancer. I was a very, I think, more passive person in high school. And she was a very strong-willed, strong-minded, passionate person. And I just remember thinking, she just doesn’t let anyone step on her toes, right? Like she’s not a doormat. And I always really appreciated that and saw her as like an older sister figure. And so that always stuck with me. And with her passing, wanting to lead that legacy, and do more for myself. Because at that time when she passed, I didn’t have a lot of healthy habits, behaviors. So that really was a turning point for me in my younger years. And then in my older years, one of my first leaders that I had, we’ve stayed close since I was at that employer. And she is a truly authentic, vulnerable leader. She is open with the struggles she’s experienced. You always know what you’re going to get from her. When you talk to her, you don’t feel like you’re talking to a leader. You’re talking to a human that has real problems, that doesn’t have it all together, and she’s not afraid to be honest about that. So she, so shout out to Abby and Courtney. They stick out to me as role models.

Dr. Crystal Frazee, PT: That’s so important that we have that. And even as a listener, if you can’t think of someone who has displayed the qualities that you want to embody from them, you can make up one that can be kind of like, you know, your higher self, your older, wiser self, or it can be somebody from media. I wouldn’t know that I’d take Meryl Streep’s character from Devil Wears Prada, but there has to be some influence, something from media if you don’t have anything else. It’s so important that we have that image in our mind. And it’s also one of the reasons why it’s so important to have relationships with other women professionals to see that we’re not the only ones with these struggles and also to develop some of those. And maybe you get a certain quality from one person that you want to take on and another quality from someone else. But kind of like in what you’re describing, Melina, you may not have even known those were things that you wanted or that you admired until you saw it in someone else and you were sort of experienced that in your body like a, wow, that’s powerful. I want to experience that myself. If we kind of stick with the idea of being in your body, what do you remember it feeling like when you were working at your edge, it sounds like.

Melena Strehlow: So a couple of things stick out to me. One is I always had to use a mindfulness app to go to sleep. Always had. And, you know, that’s good on a normal day to day basis. Mindfulness is great. But to shut my brain down, I had to use it. Right.

Dr. Crystal Frazee, PT: So instead of just like insomnia and be up for a while.

Melena Strehlow: Yep, would be up for a while, would be on my phone. So that was a key that helped me, but I recognized like I needed it. It wasn’t because I wanted to try it out and see how I liked it. I really needed something. The other thing is I have general anxiety and that would just increase significantly going into work, leaving work, at work, sweaty, heart racing, constantly fidgeting with whatever I could get my hands on and couldn’t sit still. So those are things I noticed in my body, but also just my mood. Two of the big turning points I would say is one day, I recognized when I was at volleyball practice, because I coach high school volleyball, so young women, that they weren’t necessarily doing something wrong, but they just needed some extra support. And I didn’t have that to give. And I remember coming home. and crying because they don’t deserve that, right? I need to be there for them because that’s my job for them. And that’s way more important to me than my corporate job. And so that was one thing I noticed is just my mood towards others and my capacity to give more when others that I cared about did need more from me. Right. You were just depleted.

Dr. Crystal Frazee, PT: Depleted. Yeah. Yeah. And the way the nervous system works and the endocrine system is Typically, we’re adaptive. You can push yourself, you get the shift in your mood and some of the other things, you know, difficulty sleeping, increase or decrease appetite, shift in your anxiety where you’re vigilant and on edge, those kinds of things. And then a normal system can recover from that. But over time, that high level of stress, it diminishes our ability to be able to respond. And actually what the brain science shows is that the more we’re activating the amygdala, which is that stress response part of the brain, the more sensitive it gets over time to lower levels of stress. So to feel that anxious, it takes actually something smaller and smaller and smaller. And so we kind of stay in that state. And even if you don’t really feel anxious, your physiology is activated where your heart rate is up, your blood pressure is up, and you’re sweating and all that. And all of that influences your nervous system and then can show up in your mood, irritability, difficulty sleeping, memory recall, and all that. just to normalize that that is a physiologic response to the environment that you’re in and the way that you’re feeling and just the fact that you sustained it probably for so long. So just to specifically say that’s not a personal failing to you or anybody else to feel that way. That’s our body trying to say, hey, hey, we need to do something different.

Melena Strehlow: Yeah, there was one thing that struck me. And I believe I was actually speaking with my manager of the job that I left that I’m referring to. And she said, it’s not that you don’t want to do it anymore, you’re choosing that it’s not good for you. right? You’re making that choice. It’s like you said, not that you failed. It’s just not a good choice. And I think that there’s a lot of stigma around that too, especially with younger generations of skipping jobs and leaving jobs and not sticking it out. But in reality, I tried for a year and it’s just not sustainable, right? If you don’t see any change happening, it’s just not sustainable for you. And you can make that choice. You have any choice to leave something that’s not good for you. So that was something that struck me too, because there was a lot of guilt associated with it and questions of, could I have done more? Is this my fault?

Dr. Crystal Frazee, PT: Loyalty is a trait, a femininity that sometimes harms us. the feeling that we should be loyal and keep trying different approaches and make things work. And think of the energy of that, the energy outpouring of that. And you are more than loyal, so loyal. And yeah, I think that if more women were able to listen to their body and really experience this almost rejection, the body saying no, just no, and make those critical changes. So much more time could be more enjoyably spent. It’s a whole year, a whole year that was really hard for you.

Melena Strehlow: Right. Right. Exactly. And sometimes that goes longer for people, right?

Dr. Crystal Frazee, PT: Oh, my gosh. Yeah. Decades for some people. Absolutely. Exactly. Yeah. You said something when we talked before that I really just want to highlight. And that was that before you left, you were thinking, hey, I’m at a higher level role. So maybe it’s normal that I feel like this. Maybe this increase in responsibility, this increased pressure and visibility should be like this. And I think that’s also maybe a piece of what you’re questioning is, should I be able to handle this better? And It also sounds like at some point you realized, oh, that’s not what I’m feeling. That’s not what this is. This is actually pushing beyond my capacity and then not feeling seen or recognized or valued for doing it. Was that like a slow aha? Was there a conversation or like a single event? How do you think you kind of made that flip?

Melena Strehlow: I think it was a slow realization because I kept wondering with the state of where we were at as a team, as a company, there was a lot going on. So I do think it was a slower realization. When I was leaving, numerous people said, well, you were working so much. And my response to them was, yeah, I was. And I’m fine with working more than normal at times if I’m appreciated for it. And I didn’t feel valued or appreciated. So that’s what it was for me. And that’s what I think it is for a lot of employees too, from an HR perspective is they want to feel appreciated. They want to be told that, like who has told you did a great job on something and that creates a negative emotion for them, right? Like, right. Nobody. Nobody. Whether people want to admit it or not, hearing that they’re doing a good job and hearing that they’re valued is a positive thing.

Dr. Crystal Frazee, PT: Yeah, if nothing else, that’s a sense of purpose, right?

Melena Strehlow: Right, right. And I think that’s just what I wasn’t feeling in that role. And that’s where it just drew the line for me. If I’m not valued here, and if I’m not given that energy and same respect that I’m giving, then what’s the point?

Dr. Crystal Frazee, PT: Yeah. And you even shared one of the values of one of the former companies you worked with was something like say yes first or something like that.

Melena Strehlow: Yep. Saying yes before no. Say yes before no.

Dr. Crystal Frazee, PT: Which is so unhealthy to ask employees to say yes. I’m thinking of you know, someone who’s in sales saying yes to a client request that the company doesn’t have the capacity to deliver or, you know, all of the ways that having that in any department within an organization could backlash and deplete resources, overdraw everyone’s capacity and cause all kinds of problems.

Melena Strehlow: You know, I’m sure there was a different purpose for that core value, but how do you communicate it in a different way? The yes, no, you know, revelation of someone being like a yes person, it is such a stickler for people and something that’s very real, that people struggle with. So, like I said, it was almost like you have to find a culture that prides itself on taking care of people first, and not on the business. I was listening to your episode with, I think her name is Natalie.

Dr. Crystal Frazee, PT: Yeah, Natalie Lussier. Yeah. At XSLA. Yeah.

Melena Strehlow: And she was talking about how her company has three goals, right? To take care of each other, to take care of their customers and to make better products. wasn’t about stats and metrics and how many sales we were going to make and dying over those things, right? It was pretty simple, taking care of each other and trying to do the best you can. And that’s what I think it should be about. I think corporate, we just get caught up in numbers and doing more and more and more versus saying, what is this doing to our employees, right? What are we actually benefiting from?

Dr. Crystal Frazee, PT: Yeah. So for an HR professional that could be listening, is there anything you want to say to them? Because isn’t it correct that you have a large part of that role is in the HR department to evaluate when you have those kinds of values, what’s the impact? Are we reaching it? Kind of the trickle down effect. Yeah.

Melena Strehlow: I think often HR can become a more corporate-focused when it should be employee-focused. That’s why we’re there, right? We were called people services at another organization, not HR, because we’re there to serve people. And oftentimes I struggle when HR takes the side of the company or of the leader and almost devalues or invalidates employees’ perspectives and experiences. It’s a hard role. HR is really hard because you’re balancing a lot of different types of people, personalities, emotions, situations. It’s very gray. But I think it’s really important to make sure that you understand everyone has a different perspective and that is their reality. And so how do you support them through that? And how do you ensure that you’re balancing the business and how you become successful, whatever that looks like for the business and keeping your employees at the forefront? Because if your employees weren’t there, you wouldn’t be there. The business wouldn’t be if it wasn’t for employees. Absolutely. And respecting that idea of work is not your life. Your life is your life, and work is just a simple puzzle piece of that. So we liked to talk about work-life balance a lot, but I like to call it work-life blend, right? So there’s seasons of work where maybe you do work a little bit more over time, but then how do you offset that and make sure that there is more of a blend and not trying to sustain this overworking mentality for such a long period of time? But, you know, being able to do things like that bring you joy outside of work and not be hindered by work, I think is so important. So really respecting that employer-employee relationship, I think is really key. And I just feel like it’s turned so much more into you work, work, work to live.

Dr. Crystal Frazee, PT: Right. So some of the things that you’ve experienced that sound like have been most meaningful is you had the experience of working for a director, someone, a leader over you who welcomed you to be your real self and helped you come to some really critical realizations without you feeling judged or criticized. And you still continue to have that relationship, it sounds like, which is great. And also really looking at the culture of an organization before you, I guess, take the job and also really decide, I’m going to give this place everything that I have. that you’re evaluating, is this really aligned? Is there more than just the bottom line for the organization that we’re working towards? What’s purposeful and fulfilling for me? Am I feeling like my good work is going noticed?

Melena Strehlow: Yeah, and that’s what’s so hard about job searching, right, is you don’t get like a trial run at a company. You have your interviews and maybe you know someone that works at the company and maybe you don’t, right? But I think trying to do as much research as you can and not feeling guilty when it doesn’t work out. and not feeling like you’re stuck because you always have the choice. Is it a pain to job search? 100%. But it’s worth it in the long run if it is significantly impacting your life and your relationships and those things that bring you joy. I was reflecting on even the simplest things that I have energy for now that I didn’t before, like meal prepping and washing my face at night and making my bed in the morning. Those littlest things I just didn’t have energy for. I didn’t have the capacity because I was frankly depressed. I just wanted to sleep. But then at the same time, I couldn’t sleep because I had more work to do. Right? Right. You gave it all. Yeah. Yeah. So then it hit, you know, my true breaking point was when I was catching up with a friend and she had told me she had recently taken a leave from her work for her mental health specifically. And I remember just talking to her a little bit about the process of that with her, but then just kind of triggered in me, is that an option at this point? And then I talked it over with my leader and we agreed that it probably wouldn’t do anything because I would come back and it would still be the same. It would give me a temporary relief, but this isn’t sustainable for me long term. And so that’s when I kind of made that realization, okay, I need to just be done here and I am totally okay now in a role that was probably technically a demotion, right? But I’m fine with it. And it’s an adjustment, having to come home and tell my partner, I don’t feel like I have enough to do. And he’s like, live it up, though, for a little bit, like, be okay with that. And maybe this is more normal than what you were doing. Right?

Dr. Crystal Frazee, PT: Yes. Absolutely. So I was talking to somebody lately who was like, But I love working. So I go to work early, come home, have dinner with the family, and go back to work. It’s what I enjoy. It’s my favorite thing. I love it. And while I do first prioritize the physiology, how’s your body responding to that? Really, is it OK? We still have to look at your life as a pie with sections. And to have a well-lived life, we need things in each section. We need connection with other people. We need our physical, emotional, and mental health. And so many different components go into that and those other things get depleted. And whether you’re overworking or whether you’re staying longer than maybe you should in a job, that is making a choice that causes you to lose out on other opportunities, right? It’s the like cost benefit? Yeah, I guess it’s a cost benefit, you know, analysis of not accidentally waiting too long in one role or not overworking and thinking that you’re not also missing out on something else because there’s only 24 hours in every day and we don’t know how many days we have. And so I love that, you know, your epiphany was Work is work and you do a great job and you care about the companies that you work for and the way that you serve within those roles. But what’s really important is knowing that you have agency and control over your time and energy when you’re at home, that you get home and it’s not like there’s nothing left of you. It’s that you’re done with work and you’re like, great, now what do I want to do in my real life? what’s next, what’s important to me, and that you’re filling in that whole pie. So how did you go about finding your current work environment and the job that you have right now that’s so different than before?

Melena Strehlow: So that was an interesting experience. So when I started interviewing, I even found myself trying to go towards bigger organizations, thinking that the bigger organization will have a better culture, will have better processes in place, will care about their employees more. But I was kind of applying to anything, right? So then I had gotten an interview with this employer. and the pay was much lower than where I was at. And so I wasn’t very hopeful. And then when they kept asking to interview me, I’m like, okay, that alone, them willing to raise where they were currently at in the pay shows how much they valued what I would bring to the table. So much so that I had also been interviewing with a very large organization at the same time, and for very much over what I was currently at and I decided at that moment to take the demotion almost, right? Take the role that is probably going to be less demanding for a smaller company for the same pay versus going to another large organization that probably also makes some people feel like they’re a machine and not a person. Trying another new role that might be challenging for me. And then what struck me the most in my interviews with the current organization that I’m at is the chief transformation officer who my team reports up through, a white male, older white male, called me a powerhouse in the interview. And I’m a young female. That was huge. And then they also mentioned they always want to ensure that their people leave the workplace with their dignity intact. As it should be, yeah. As it should be, right? I mean, it shouldn’t be the opposite, right? It shouldn’t be our goal. But yeah, we just had a lot of conversations about the culture and where they were at and the culture of that team. And I was very open with them also about what I was trying to get away from. And I think that’s another weird thing about the corporate culture is interviews and like what you can and can’t say and how transparent you should be and how vulnerable you should be. but you can’t seem like you’re complaining, right? Because then they won’t want to hire you. But I felt like I could be really authentic and transparent with the hiring manager, who’s now my current manager. And she was very honest with me. So I think that really helped my choice as well, is being able to have those authentic, vulnerable conversations, even in the interview process, when you’re looking at companies.

Dr. Crystal Frazee, PT: Yeah. Was there anything they asked you that stood out as, oh, wow, they really care?

Melena Strehlow: what I could tell about the hiring manager was that she really wanted to make sure it was a good fit for me too. So I was very open with her about how I appreciate more of a progressive culture regarding DE&I and things like that. And she was very vulnerable and transparent with me that that’s what they want, but they’re not there yet. And that’s something that this role would be able to help build. And she wanted to make sure that this was just as much of a good fit for me as it was for them. And I think that’s where that balance of the employee employer relationship is key, versus an employer just checking off the box saying, Okay, they have everything that we need in a role. But are they really going to be happy in the role? Because at the end of the day, if the employer is just as concerned about that as you are, it’s going to be more beneficial for them. Because if they bring in someone that they know isn’t going to be happy, then that’s just going to turn over, and you’re going to have to hire again. Yeah.

Dr. Crystal Frazee, PT: So expensive, financially and energetically. Yeah. Yeah. So yeah, the takeaway from this, I feel like, is don’t settle. not content, you can keep your job that you have and also interview and look at what else is out there. And so for you, it was the interactions and actions taken by the organization and the values that they stated and demonstrated that you were feeling out. And that’s just really great input, I think, for anyone that’s looking on the market to keep in mind.

Melena Strehlow: Yep, don’t settle and do what makes you happy. Because like you said, before, you don’t know how many more days you have left. And I think experiencing a significant amount of loss early on in my life has really taught me that. to make sure that you keep your standards high while also having compassion for yourself, right? So some people thrived in that environment. Do I think maybe they need to look a little bit more internal at their self, I guess. Maybe they’re not listening to their body, right? But I think really taking a step back and thinking about what you want out of your life. I think sometimes people just go through it so mindlessly. that we’re just doing what we were taught, getting a job, going to school, working, coming home, taking care of things in the house. They don’t think about, well, what would bring me joy today? And do I have time to do that?

Dr. Crystal Frazee, PT: Thank you for saying that. It really is the heart of it all, right? And that’s absolutely the meaning of when I say attuned leadership is being aware of that bigger picture of what is all this work for? What do I want? And actually being able to answer that question, which is so challenging for so many women. And I think that because it’s so hard, we fill up our lives so that we don’t have the ability to choose anymore, because that feels easier than actually listening and learning from ourselves. What is it that I want? So I so appreciate you sharing the story and echoing some of these principles that I’m just so passionate about having more women hear these stories so that they realize they’re not alone. and that there is another way. Thinking about taking a position that may have a lower title or a different pay or something else, I want the listeners to really reconsider how they think about that, because to me, that is really strategic. Because if we think about an athlete who has had an injury, let’s say we’re talking about Tiger Woods and he tore his hamstring, is it better for him to change his tour the next season and not play as many games and let himself recover so that whenever he decides he can get back out there and win? Yeah, that’s exactly the strategic choice. And so when your body is telling you something isn’t working, the faster you respond, the faster that’s going to get better, and the sooner you’re going to have more options again. And so doing that is so smart. It’s not stepping down. It’s not anything negative. It’s so smart. And probably what you’re discovering are things that you’re going to be able to step into another role if you choose to at some point in the future and take with you that are now uncompromising. You’re not going to let those things go. You’re going to shift your work so that your life stays the same. And it’s doable. And people don’t realize that you can.

Melena Strehlow: Yes, because I think people are afraid to go down the path because it’s uncomfortable. They want to stay in their comfort zone. It’s important to sometimes feel uncomfortable by the choices you make, because it is making you grow. And it’s making you become a better person for what you want, right? I think sometimes people really struggle with challenging themselves, right? Challenge the norm of this isn’t normal. Working to live should not be normal. So let’s break that cycle. But being the person to break the cycle is also hard. So recognize it’s not easy, but it’s worth it.

Dr. Crystal Frazee, PT: In the long term, it is worth it. 100%. Melina, thank you so much for coming on to the podcast and talking with me and sharing this story today. I really appreciate it. Thank you. I appreciate your time, Crystal. To the listeners, thank you for listening to Attune Leadership for Women, where I aim to disrupt women’s leadership and contribute to a future where women achieve success without sacrificing satisfaction or sustainability. If you like the show, please share it with a friend. Think of someone right now that might want to hear this message. and go ahead and forward it to them. That’s how the show grows. And that’s how I’m going to get these ideas to more emerging and senior leaders that will help us shift the tides. Your actions matter. So please, if you haven’t, rate and review the show and Apple podcast with what you think sets it apart and why you listen. Thanks again. Take care. Be well and stay attuned. Bye.