Problem-solving and multi-tasking have always been Megan Miller’s strong suits. Whether she’s hitting a high A on stage, transforming discarded opera house pamphlets into couture-style dresses, self-teaching web design to manage an employer’s e-commerce site, or working full-time while side-gigging and raising a son — it’s safe to say that Miller thrives off chaos.
But what happens when that chaos becomes a little too… well… chaotic? Like most women who find themselves “doing it all” for everyone else, Miller was forced to confront her own burnout and make a needed change. It wouldn’t be until the midst of a global pandemic that Miller would summon the courage to take that leap of faith.
A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Opera House…
Up until 2021, Miller worked as the marketing director for Opera Carolina for six years where she founded Opera Recycles — an innovative and strategic initiative that transformed wasted opera pamphlets into couture-style dresses. These wildly popular creations were featured in New York Fashion Week in 2016 and 2017, Paris Fashion Week in 2018, and Charleston Fashion Week in 2019. Not only managing the opera house’s marketing materials, event planning, and nonprofit efforts, Miller also performed as a mezzo with Opera Carolina.
Having a job this demanding would be enough for most people, but not Miller: While she championed a series of successful marketing campaigns for the opera house, she was simultaneously spearheading the branding strategy for Community Brewing Ventures. In addition to working full-time with Opera Carolina, she led the marketing campaigns for two breweries in the Charlotte area.
“I’ve always been the person to squeeze in as many hours and seconds into the day,” Miller says. “But I told myself that if I felt like I never wanted to get in the car and go to work, then I’d need to make a change. I was starting to get to the level of being burnt at both ends.”
That day came unexpectedly for Miller: During the summer before the COVID-19 pandemic, she began to sense a shift in her attitude towards her work.
“I started noticing a lot of burnout, but it was burnout in different ways,” she explains. “It wasn’t necessarily exhaustion or that work was slacking — it was burnout in a sense that I was not enjoying what I was doing. I felt it was more of a task than it was a passion, and I knew I would need to look inward instead of outward to change it.”
But Miller wouldn’t get the opportunity to do such soul-searching until the pandemic hit in 2020. Suddenly, the world was at a stand-still. Miller was no longer driving into her office or taking two-hour meetings that could have been one-paragraph emails. For the first time, she was able to analyze her time and find that she was easily able to fit in multiple outlets within a day’s work, so long as she was taking charge of her schedule. Overnight, her work-life balance seemed to click in a way that had previously been lacking.
“I realized that I wasn’t putting my oxygen mask on first,” Miller recalls. “I was making sure that the job was taken care of, the clients were taken care of, the home was taken care of — but I wasn’t taken care of. So, now I was thinking about leaving my job of nearly seven years.”
Miller isn’t the only person contending with burnout during coronavirus. According to the APA’s 2021 Work and Well-being Survey of 1,501 U.S. adult workers, nearly 80% of employees experienced work-related stress in the month leading up to the survey. Additional surveys by Indeed confirm these findings, with 67% of employees saying that burnout worsened during the pandemic. The usual workplace stressors coupled with uncertainty surrounding COVID-19 drove many employees to make tough decisions when it came to their jobs.
“Once the pandemic hit, I knew I had to talk to my boss about what I was feeling,” said Miller.
From Burnt Out to Fired Up
During that conversation, Miller essentially laid out the plan for what would become Megan Miller Marketing, Charlotte’s newest female-led marketing firm. Rather than performing a non-stop balancing act between the stage, marketing the opera house, and branding local brew pubs, Miller sought to combine these efforts under one umbrella. Recognizing her ability to multi-task the needs of multiple clients when able to take charge of her own schedule, Miller carefully laid out her vision for how she could better serve her employer — and herself.
Finding the courage to have this honest conversation with her boss ended up being the best decision Miller could have made. As a result, Opera Carolina fully supported Miller’s efforts, becoming the first client in her marketing conglomerate.
“There’s a lot of empowerment in having this conversation about making these decisions, and the what-ifs will eat you alive,” she confesses. “But it’s been such an incredible experience. I’ve been able to structure my workload around my life versus structuring my life around my workload.”
Most wouldn’t view starting a business as an exercise in self-care, but that’s exactly how Miller describes her entrepreneurial journey.
“For women especially, we feel these obligations to fill these baskets of home life, work life, social life, and self-care life,” Miller explains. “I realized I needed to recalibrate the way I was running my life. Self-care doesn’t have to be a day at the spa — it can be reading a book for an hour before bedtime, or setting a do not disturb on my phone to prevent against distractions.”
Owning her own business has made this type of self-care possible for Miller, allowing her to navigate her professional life the way she sees fit. With lack of autonomy being one of the biggest contributing factors to workplace burnout, it’s easy to see how taking control over one’s job like Miller did can provide the much-needed boost to her motivation.
Relationships, Instincts & Entrepreneurship
While launching her own business helped reignite her passion, Miller acknowledges that her entrepreneurial journey has come with its own set of stressors and challenges.
“I don’t feel that being a woman has hurt me, but I do feel that there is a definite intimidation factor that has a strong hold with powerful women,” Miller explains. “When it comes to speaking and being seen as an industry leader, a lot of times I’m met with statements like, ‘Who else is on your team?’ or ‘How is it just you?’ and ‘Show us your success metrics.’ It can be a little off-putting.”
The need to bring more to the table is less about gender bias, in Miller’s opinion, than it is about the culture of competition and measurement in which she grew up.
“If you would have asked me in high school, I would never have thought I’d be a business owner because I was never taught that I could be the breadwinner or a thought leader because I wasn’t a good test taker,” she says. “When it came to presentations or projects, I killed it. But scantrons always killed me. I always felt like I had to be more than and bring in extra value wherever I went with work because that was always embedded in my head: You’re being tested and you’re not being successful.”
Overcoming self-doubt is something many entrepreneurs struggle with, and Miller attributes her ability to rise above the “imposter syndrome” to her strong relationships.
“Building relationships and having mentors that I could call and talk things through this entire time has been the largest win for me,” she stresses. In fact, building strong relationships prior to even started the company is what helped Miller form the foundation for her business. Because she spent so long fostering her professional relationships throughout her career, getting new business to support her new company was much easier than she expected.
“I had this whole plan to market my company after launching, basically doing the same thing I would do for a client but for myself,” she recalls. “But as soon as word started getting out within my personal network, I was signing contracts from people I’ve met and built relationships with in the past.”
Inundated with service requests purely from word-of-mouth, Miller is a shining example of how important it is to foster professional relationships. But while these relationships and mentorships have helped jumpstart Miller’s business success, she cautions against relying solely on the guidance of others. When asked what her greatest piece of advice would be to a budding entrepreneur, Miller replies, “Don’t listen to anybody else. If you feel it’s the right thing, just do it. If you’re going to fail, fail fabulously.”