A Career Year

“There are years that ask questions and years that answer.”
― Zora Neale Hurston, Their Eyes Were Watching God

It’s not an easy thing to leave a job, especially one you’re finding success in. In recent months I received one raise, negotiated another, and was promoted–all the result of a lot of hard work and a lot of determination. And then, somewhat suddenly, I decided to leave my position.

I’ve mentioned this briefly in previous posts but in a lot of ways, I feel like I need to make up for lost time career-wise. I graduated as the recession was kicking off and was the primary breadwinner while Jeff was still in school. Hindsight being 20/20, I should never have stayed at my first job as long as I did but when you’re in a mindset of just paying the bills, it’s easy to let small setbacks (like not being able to go abroad with your husband to grad school, or having to wait a year for a new visa) add up to big ones. The long term benefit has been an internal commitment to not allow myself to ever get “stuck” in a job again–whether in progress, advancement, money, or learning opportunities. And in spite of a lot of the growth over the past year in particular, I found myself feeling a bit stuck.

Behind the scenes I called 2015-2016 my “Year of Career” due to the amount of work I was putting in. Willingly, might add. Due to my sense of falling inadvertently behind, both I and Jeff (who somewhat shares my feelings, though slightly less so as he spent a year getting a masters degree that paid off in exactly the way we hoped it would; namely, getting us to London) agreed that we’d be willing to burn the candle at both ends for a few years to gain as much experience and as many opportunities as we could. Our end goal is to position ourselves to have a more balanced life, but we were willing to put in the long hours and weekends needed now to get us there.

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It has been an intense year. Coworkers have come and gone, a new mentor entered the picture, projects grew or got smaller unexpected, and I was thrown into [the right kind of] sink or swim projects that allowed me to learn. My instincts were tested, as were values, resilience, and skills. I hired and eventually had to let go of my first assistant, then hire a second one, I put together not just individual marketing campaigns, but got to develop whole top line strategies, I vastly expanded my network of contacts in both the business and creative world, and I had some pretty high highs. I also fell on my face a few times, lost my cool, struggled as my department grew and shrank and grew again, occasionally thrived on the uncertainty, but other times struggled with it.

But in spite of all the bustle, increasingly I recognized that nagging feeling of “stuck-ness.” Some of it was internal, some of it was external, but it was unmistakably the feeling that I once ignored for too long: I had a very strong impression that it was getting time to go. Just as I had really come to the conclusion that I would listen to that feeling and start hustling to make something happen, the universe placed a not insignificant opportunity right in front of me and I decided to grab it with both hands.

My new position contains many elements of my old plus some fresh new challenges and I’m still finding my feet a week and a half in, but tremendously grateful for and enjoying the new work.

However I’m recognizing the need to shake up more than where I work, but how I work. My old position was a crucible in many ways, a major support role in a team relatively small to be in charge of the amount of assets we managed. Everyone wore a lot of hats, I was on at least half dozen projects simultaneously, and our department was involved in every single phase from research before an acquisition all the way through to the final sales. The amount of learning opportunities I had were amazing. But there was a dark side. Because we were a small team, it was nearly impossible to “switch off.” This was not just me, I learned eventually, it was part of the culture that the company developed. For a while, my first whole year there, I didn’t see this as too much of a problem because I was committed to burning the candle at both ends if needed, but nobody can work like that forever before both you and the metaphoric candle burn out.

I came close to burn out more than once in my old position. Emails on the weekends, occasional whole weekends in the office, taking work home with me…it added up. At one point I was having actual nightmares about spreadsheets and waking up in the middle of the night composing tomorrow’s emails in my head. My new company makes a priority of balance and working hard…during work hours. People are expected to go home at reasonable times, not to be available during atypical hours, and to take holidays. I’m only a week and a half in (plus I had a week of break between positions) but it is a bit shocking how much adjustment this mentality is taking. I knew I didn’t like the imbalance I felt previously, I didn’t know how all pervasive it was, and I definitely didn’t appreciate I am going to have to relearn balance–it is NOTHING like riding a bicycle.

But I need to. In many ways, this job represents a step towards that longer term goals: I worked hard for nearly two years so I could work smarter for much longer. There’s still a lot of work to do setting up in my new gig, plus I’m working on some side projects again after they fell (out of necessity) by the wayside, but for the moment at least, I’m seeing how my year of career paid off.

 

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