Historically, I have a tendency to arrive at a point in a job where I assess that it is all too difficult, and I decide that it is time to leave. This usually happens at around 12-18 months into a role. The reasons for it all feeling too difficult can be varied. It might be that I feel challenged by a personality. Most often, it might be that I feel challenged by my own opinions of myself in the role. Whatever the trigger, the outcome is always the same: I decide to cut ties and move on. I am not always discriminatory about where I move to, and so the pattern continues. As I write, I realise that one of the few times that I have not experienced this pattern of behaviour is in my current place of work, and I believe that this is a testament to both the amazing organisation in which I am so grateful to be employed and my current level of peace with who I am.
I was only weeks into my career year from hell when I started wondering whether it was time to leave. I was horrified when that thought first came to mind; this was way too soon, even for me. When I started to receive coaching, I made a declaration to myself that I would not make a decision about my employment until I felt at peace with myself. When I felt at peace with myself, I would make my job the topic of a coaching conversation. I am going to break this cycle. And when that time eventually did come, I wanted to be clear on my reasons for staying or leaving and take action from there, rather than simply reacting.
And so I sat in a job that I didn’t enjoy and didn’t feel cut out for, refusing to give up, until I could find a place of peace about myself and my contribution to the world.
Finally, in January, six months after commencing the coaching process, my intuition told me that I was ready for “the job conversation”. I rocked up to that conversation feeling at peace with myself, and ready to make a decision. This was what I had been waiting for. I was ready to understand what path would serve me best with regard to my job, and why.
Something that became quite obvious for me in this conversation was just how scared I was:
- I was was scared of leaving my job.
- I was scared of staying in my job.
- I was scared that the people leading the program at that time were not capable.
- I was scared that the approach of the organisation didn’t align with my values.
- I was scared that I would not make a difference.
Throughout the conversation, it also became quite apparent that making a difference was incredibly important to me. It occurred to me that I had some things to reflect on, and I walked away from that conversation with a list of question to reflect upon:
- What am I scared of with regard to my current role, and why?
- What does “leaving my current role for the right reasons” mean to me?
- What does “making a difference” meant to me?
The learning that came from reflecting on these points was amazing. What I realised was that most of my fears about my role were not related to fears about myself or my ability to do my job. Further, what occurred to me was that I was more scared about how the organisation was going to cope with the future than how I was going to cope. I was no longer concerned about my part in the organisation. I felt confident that I could perform my role well; whether or not I wanted to perform that role was a different story. I held the assessment that I could stay with the organisation and face any future challenges. My biggest concern was that I didn’t think the organisation and current leadership could cope with future challenges. It was quite an amazing feeling to realise that none of my fear about staying had anything to do with me! Well done, Deanne. You have just made the move from Self-doubter to Not-quite-enough-yet-but-definitely-going-to-get-there.
As part of reflecting on fear, I also started to reflect on how I felt about leaving the organisation. Previously, I had been scared of leaving the organisation. What if no one wants me? What if I am not good enough? At this point, what occurred to me was that I was no longer scared of leaving. If I chose to leave this organisation, I had the ability to obtain, keep and do another job, and I would take on whatever challenges life presented to me. I can do this! Wow, for the first time in a long time, I was actually telling myself that I could do something! This was big!
What I realised at this point was that my fears were no longer fears, and they would not be the reason for me whatever decision I made. This felt important. Making a choice from fear, regardless of that choice, would feel I was like reacting and running from something. Removing that fear meant that I was potentially removing the need to react.
When I had initially put off making a decision around leaving the organisation, I had said that I wanted to be certain that I was leaving “for the right reasons”. My interpretation was that leaving for “the wrong reasons” would be me reacting to a situation that could possibly be resolved by me doing something differently. I realised that I didn’t have an understanding of what I meant by “the right reasons”.
Upon further reflection, I realised that what I meant by “leaving for the right reasons” was that I wanted to leave based on a grounded assessment; it couldn’t simply be a reaction. What came to me when I realised this was that the expectation that I would work long hours and what appeared to be an inconsistent approach to family commitments were major contributors to me wanting to leave. It occurred to me that I could ground my assessments around these. I also started to notice that I had formed an assessment that the approach of the leadership team in this organisation, especially on the program on which I worked, was not aligned with my views of leadership.
At this point I was starting to feel comfortable that a decision to leave that role would be for “the right reasons”. It was time to look at what “making a difference” meant to me.
After much reflection, I arrived at the assessment that “making a difference” meant that I wanted people’s work lives to be better because I was in it. (I think my interpretation of “making a difference” has since changed, however this is what it was then) Making a difference seemed very important to me, and it was clear that I gained an energy from it. I was motivated by doing well and by achieving, and I saw making a difference as doing well and/or achieving.
Was I making a difference in my role at the time? No. Not to a level that was satisfactory for me. Could I find ways to make a difference in my role now that I had realised the important of doing so? Possibly.
As I completed this reflection, there was a massive piece of learning that I wasn’t expecting: I actually held an assessment that the leadership on our account was atrocious. At first, I was shocked by this. I also temporarily questioned myself. Don’t most people blame leadership when they don’t want to accept responsibility for themselves? No, Deanne. Stop it. You have grounded your assessments. The leadership in this organisation is not what you expected it to be. Accept that and work out what it means for you. Don’t judge yourself for it.
The evidence on which I based this assessment was:
- I had been yelled at and sworn at on a number of occasions
- The most senior person on the account had a pineapple that she handed out to the last person to arrive late to our daily meeting, and the rule was that the “guilty” person was expected to carry the pineapple with them everywhere they went that day so that everyone knew that they were late. (Yes, a real pineapple, and yes, it really happened!)
- I had been told that I was expected to work 50-60+ hour weeks and that not doing so was not good enough.
- On more than one occasion, I had been asked at 4pm or later on a Friday to find people to work for the weekend, including on a long weekend.
As I reflected on the leadership on my program – the missing conversations, the inconsistencies, a seemingly ad hoc focus on issues, what appeared to be a refusal to seek to understand, an apparent disrespect for our staff and more – I formed an opinion that I could not change this. Even though I found myself accepting that I could not change these points, I could tell that I didn’t like that I couldn’t change it. This led to my next question: If I don’t like that I can’t change the leadership on this program, then for the sake of what future action would I be staying? At that point, I realised that I would be staying purely so it didn’t look as though I had given up. However, if I was staying in an environment that I felt that I couldn’t change, wasn’t I giving up anyway? How could I make a difference in those circumstances?
My decision was made. I was leaving.
There were many people in my life who have told me that they rejoiced when I finally made the decision to leave the organisation. It was something that, to them, had been quite obvious. My interstate family confessed that my way of being in my phone calls to them had worried them for months. To them, it was obvious that this job was not healthy for me. In a way, I think I knew too. However, I believe that if I had not waited to make this decision, I would have missed out on significant learning.
As I look back on that time, I realise that what I had been waiting for was a sign that I was ready to be a learner about my usually hasty decision to leave an organisation. I didn’t know to articulate it in that way at the time, yet that was what I was waiting for. When I was ready to be a learner, I could see what about my way of being was and wasn’t serving me, what assessments were no longer valid, and what I really wanted.
If I saw someone in a similar position today, I wouldn’t judge them for where they were at; I would see if they were willing for me to help them to be a learner.
I mentioned that I wanted my assessments to be grounded. There is an entire process around this, and this is something that I offer to coachees in my coaching programs. This process, I believe, can be the foundation for incredible learning.
Finally, although I didn’t realise it at the time, I think this decision came down largely to a shift in focus from what I was concerned about to what I felt that I could influence. Upon reflection, I wonder whether perhaps Circles of Influence, as described in “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” by Stephen R Covey, may have some relevance. I have included a link to a Youtube video about Circles of influence here.
Points to Ponder…
Think of a situation that is not currently working for you:
- What are you concerned about that you can’t change?
- What would it take to help you accept that you can’t change the situation (even if you don’t like that you can’t change it)?
- What can you influence in this situation? How would focusing on that help you?
- What learning are you willing to accept that you are waiting to happen?
- From what moods are you making your decisions? What moods would be more helpful?
I am a leadership and life coach, available for coaching and facilitation services. If you feel that it would be useful to have a conversation with me, please feel free to view my services on the Leading and Being website.