A New Direction

I know there are some people who will hate me by the time they finish reading this. They’ll think I’m spoiled and/or self indulgent — and maybe I am — but I prefer to focus on the fact that I had an opportunity that few people are lucky enough to have, and I was also lucky enough to have the type of support that allowed me to take the risks I’m taking in good conscience. How could I not do it?

I am one of the many newly unemployed in this country — but I volunteered for it.

Unlike the other major turning points of my life, which I usually only recognized in retrospect, this decision will probably always leave me wondering about the road not taken. I am not angry with my former employer. I do have some suspicions about their role in changing expectations concerning labor policy and “legacy costs,” but maybe the company really is only reacting to a new reality. In any case, I’ll never know. They have always treated me very well, so I really have no complaints. My decision had a lot more to do with the fact that the company that used to hold unlimited possibilities for me no longer did.

Maybe those possibilities were never there, but I thought they were — and perception is reality. I always knew that I wasn’t a perfect fit for their culture, but it didn’t appear to be holding me back. Until last year, I was focused on one particular job that I thought would be perfect for me. I also thought this “dream job” would be the key required to open doors to the other possibilities I saw. Six years ago, I began trying to achieve that dream job in earnest. But through the help of no fewer than four managers, I discovered that those cultural mismatches were indeed a problem. To their credit, my managers did what they could to help me and even opened new opportunities to me for my development. These opportunities also expanded my possibilities by making me relevant to more than one variety of the dream job.

Due to a fair amount of reflection, a marriage to a great guy, and a surprising degree of burnout, I’ve slowly come to the realization that I no longer want the dream job that I’ve been aspiring to for so long. That job would have had more travel and stress than the one I just left. I’ve also come to realize that those managers were right about whether or not I “fit” the job. While I still believe I would have been capable enough to get it done, I would have had even more pressure to “look the part” than I was already experiencing. While I can pull it off when I try, the constant customer contact would have left me exhausted. I’m starting to realize that I actually prefer tasks that are more analytical. I like sitting at my desk, completely alone and ignored, totally focused, doing number crunching work like writing macros or working on a sales forecast. My current job was a mix — half analytical, half traveling to help business partners. That was a much better job for me than the position I previously thought of as my dream job.

Last year, I took the old dream job out of the “desired positions” section in my internal resume and tried to figure out what to replace it with. After nine years of traveling to drive process changes and conduct training sessions with business partners, I wanted less travel. Burnout was a factor, but it wasn‘t the only one. Despite my notoriously stubborn independence, I admit that my husband was also a huge factor in this decision. I know some people seem to be able to do it, but I never could figure out how to do my part in our relationship if I am never here. During the times I was here for an extended time, I got really used to the easy, close intimacy we have. During the periods that I had several back to back trips in a row, I certainly wasn’t able to help out with the house, and he felt very alone while I was out “having fun.” Although it was business, I won’t deny that I had fun on most of my trips: I’ve seen places I would have never seen on my own, and Platinum does have its advantages. But it really does get exhausting. And yes, I missed him. I really don’t know how so many of my coworkers stay married.

As I considered other options in the company for my future job, I only came up with one that I would like to have, but at least I saw something. I also felt I had time to work on the skills I would need — in fact, it was part of my job to do so. Then, the organizational changes we’d all been wondering about for over a year began to take shape. Time for a reorg!

Even now, rumor vs. reality isn’t entirely clear to me, but these are my perceptions. The forecasting methodology was changing, but it wasn’t supposed to matter to me because our group would no longer be a part of it. I strongly disagreed with these changes, and being removed from the process was not stopping me from feeling passionate about them. Although they may or may not have wanted me, I didn‘t want any part of moving to the new forecasting group.

The long-term goal for our business partner support role will encompass changes that will fundamentally transform my old job. Instead of being an opportunity to gain experience and move on, the focus will be on long-term relationships and local hires. This is not a bad thing, but it’s not a good fit for me.

My new goal job was still possible for me, but as I looked at the other changes to the organization, I realized that there were several people who also needed to be placed that had better qualifications for that job than I did. I would also probably have to move within a year.

Another job in the same location would be purely analytical. Because this job seemed fairly likely, it gave me a lot to think about. Would this particular job be worth moving for? I would still have line of sight to other jobs, but it could easily be a dead end.

Moving was a strong probability in all of these scenarios. Seeing fewer and fewer options that would actually make me happy, I was wondering if it was smart to ask my successful husband to leave his job to move to a new city. Maybe I would benefit more from extending my skill set into other industries. Because we own a house in South Florida, moving would also be a problem. We bought low, so the home value has only dropped 10% so far, but houses are staying on the market for a long time and prices in my neighborhood are steadily declining.

For several months I considered my options and wondered what I would do if they offered me a job I did not want. I felt trapped. All I knew for sure was that my current job would no longer exist.

After the economy worsened, the decision was made to combine the reorg with head count reduction. I can attest that we started hearing about the reorg and the new strategy back in late 2006, but at that time, it was just redeployment of resources in different ways. Now the reorg gained a new emphasis. Refusing the “box” you were placed in on the org chart could easily leave you out of consideration for any other jobs. Unlike previous strategic changes, this new corporate direction didn’t leave a lot of surplus jobs to target. When the company offered incentives to leave voluntarily, I took the idea very seriously. I was also worried about hearing “move or quit,” but I have no real reason to believe they would have said that.

So, finally, I left. I decided it was better to take control of my own career path. My husband was also very supportive. I think he believes that I needed to do this to grow, and to be happy. He’s probably right. So, here I am, looking for a job for the first time in 14 years.

One problem that I have is that my career so far has been very specialized. I don’t want to work for a former customer, business partner, or competitor, so direct application of much of my experience will be difficult. On the other hand, I’m good at analysis, synthesizing information, and presentations. Somehow, my brain likes details and the “big picture.” My current job search targets those types of tasks — competitive analysis, forecasting, business analysis, etc.

Another issue that may or may not become a problem is that I’m restless to try something new. Maybe I’ll see if I like accounting, or try to write, or enhance my (currently limited) programming skills, or somehow utilize my fascination with politics and the economy, or work with a nonprofit… Once again, my possibilities feel endless.

Even though this economy is scary, I know I wouldn’t have this opportunity if it wasn’t. The reorganization probably would have forced me to move or quit — with no support. I don’t know if I would have been able to do that. I have a problem with feeling dependent, and I may not have been able to convince myself to take the risk. If I did, I probably would have assumed my husband was putting pressure on me to find a job faster (even if he didn’t) because it was “my choice” to leave. Since I am lucky enough to have him to help support us, I feel more free to explore my options. I feel like I’m 22 again! I’ve already lost the rat race, so I may as well enjoy the scenery while I walk to the finish. Like all my other turning points, time will tell whether or not this was a good choice, but three weeks in, I’m insanely optimistic.

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