Opportunity Costs of a Career

On Friday of last week I left my job. I left my job with a simple plan starting today. Take a break and focus on other goals and priorities in my life. I took this decision roughly six months ago. This has been enabled by the support of my husband, but I don’t think you have to have a partner to do such a thing. You just have to have clarity of mind about what you need and the tenacity to put pieces in place to make that clarity happen.

It’s been a very interesting period of time to experience my decision through the questions and commentary of others. I’ve also learned a few things about leaving a work environment that I think we should all keep in mind.

Starting with the latter point what I’ve learned by leaving is two-fold:

1. People really don’t know the whole me. They know what I present at work (or elsewhere) and what they think they know about my own goals. I own not sharing these more openly, but they own not seeing and imagining someone for more than what they articulate and or present in a given moment. Empathy and understanding are pretty powerful and I’m sure I didn’t give others that latitude either. I need to work on that. Imagine if we sought to understand our colleagues, family, friends with a bigger lens and appreciate them for the arc of their journey and not just this moment?

2. We tell people they are valued far too seldom than what is needed. In the last few months in particular I’ve received thoughtful and informed feedback about what I’ve done well over the years as well as evidence for what I could work on. Where was this feedback all along? I got some in micro-moments, but nothing as thoughtful and deep. Why wait to tell someone they are valued and or appreciated? Like really. Not just two sentences for a performance review that may or may not get articulated directly. Why wait to debate points of view that could have helped myself, the org or the relationship grow? We can hypothesize the answers to those questions, but more importantly I think we should challenge ourselves to live authentically today and every day. It makes our interactions more rich and our contributions more profound. I’m going to try to hold myself to this standard. For those of you who know me — keep me honest if I don’t.

On the decision to leave. The series of questions below represents the consistent batch of queries I received over the last chunk of time. They came from friends from all phases of my life, colleagues current and past, family members, and even total strangers. I believe these questions reflect this moment in the world and the debate we’re having about what it looks like to ‘have it all’, whether that even matters, as well as the expectations of the workplace which are downright unrealistic for most people who want to have any sense of balance. I share this to simply open up the dialogue. Put it out there. Inspire others to debate and think differently. By no means do I think my decision is what is right for anyone else but me, but I do think we’d all benefit from thinking creatively about our options and challenging the societal norms about what is expected.

Here are the questions followed by the response I wrote to the friend who sent the questions through. Enjoy and happy reading. I’d love to hear your thoughts, reactions and own experiences.

Questions: What about the whole issue of “getting back into the workforce” after an extended leave? How hard they say it will be, the gap on your resume, the time away from the field, loss of advancement opportunities, looking like a liability, etc. How are you managing that? Do you intend to return to the workforce eventually? If so, what is your runway plan?

My Response: To be totally frank I’m not worried about if and when I want to get back into the workforce. Let me start with some context on my mental model. Many aren’t aware, but when I went to <Graduate School> it was simply to follow an interest and curiosity. I knew I had to get a job that would pay my debt as a result of getting the degree and I did that. I’ve had successes, learned a lot and a path to continue was laid out for me, but honestly I’ve never felt bound to solely stay that course.There is so much else I’m still curious about. Having this in mind this recent transition has been easier. Not easy. Just easier.

Shifting to less me-specific and more specific to your questions. There will always be jobs. The workforce needs smart, hardworking capable people. I don’t think any of us that have something to offer should ever fret about being able to find work. We may have to build up new or different skills, be flexible on location or employer, but there will always be work.

The real tax of taking time off is that you are making a tradeoff. A tradeoff in time to trajectory. What I mean by that is that by taking a step away, or lessening your role, it will take longer to achieve certain goals. Whether that goal is a title, experience, or seniority, or something else. It’s the opportunity cost of the decision. You could play that same opportunity cost the other way and think about what you are missing if you stay the course at work. That is the ultimate decision and it is entirely personal and unique to you. every person has to make the call that is best for them, their life and their situation.

To your other questions — my personal view is that the gap on the resume can be explained with the truth (see my updated linkedin profile). If an organization or a person doesn’t want me because I made this choice well then I don’t belong there. Yes, this means it might take more time to find the right organization, but that is worth it to me. I don’t want to be in an environment where working all the time is what is celebrated or it’s shunned to be a parent and all that it entails. Life is too darn short.

Reading this you might think I’ve gone off my rocker. Maybe I have, but I do have plans to continue to pursue things I’m interested in. Maybe I’ll discover something else and follow that. I do hope to maintain my current network in the event I want a runway back to the world I’ve worked in for the last 10 years. I’m going to still keep my reading up, stay connected with folks and seize moments where I can continue to learn, develop, grow. Bottom line is — I’ve personally always subscribed to the idea that the most important thing to do is to follow your curiosities. What you want to learn about and where you think your work can be most valued. In some moments I’ve had to make trade-offs , but I’ve always been learning. Once that stops, the opportunity cost becomes too great, or both I know I need a change.