How I shifted my career
I laid in bed after a rough surgery to remove my wisdom teeth, with a mouth full of bloody gauze and trying to think about anything other than the pain and discomfort.
Perhaps it wasn’t really the physical pain and discomfort that I was feeling. There was something more to it.
“Do I want to go back to work?”
The answer was No.
This honest answer was so hard to admit out loud but, during this particular recovery time, it was screaming through my head.
Ultimately, the pain I was feeling was a job-fit mismatch (sounds like such an HR term, but, keep reading). I spent nearly four years as a budding human resources professional, sold on the vision that human resources professionals changed lives.
They do, in fact. They make very important decisions about people’s careers and set organizations up for success. HR as a career gave me many things, like understanding requirements of a new team member (recruitment), determining the pieces that go into a person’s salary to make them choose us over the competition (compensation), and carefully making adjustments to thousands of employee records without hiccups (HR systems). I learned how to have difficult conversations, find gaps in processes, and “manage up”.
All of these experiences were critical in my development as a professional and my general maturing as an adult, but at some point, the carrot of “it’ll look good on your resume” satisfies you only so far. Your definition of success and happiness takes shape, sometimes without you knowing it, and the organization or job may not be dancing to the same beat.
The organization then begins to notice you’re mentally out of the groove. That spark and confidence has evaporated. But it’s nuanced. Disengagement doesn’t happen overnight. It’s a little sand mole that gets bigger and bigger.
I stopped reading the HR Reporter, a monthly newsletter that got delivered to the office. It would pile up, unopened. I’d attend the HRPA conference and hear about the same old trends year after year (1 in 5 have a mental illness, etc.). I stopped mentoring HR students at my alma mater, especially when I began making sarcastic remarks about the day-to-day. I opted out of company social activities because employees would stop talking when I walked into a room. I dreaded the question, “so, what do you do?”
I was a hollow shell, held together by glue and staples.
Yes, there was a “pivotal moment”. My former workplace frequently rented out space to an organization that held coding workshops. I peeked inside and saw something magical happen. Young people were making apps! Older people were feeling their brain be flexible again! I participated in a few and got hooked. I looked forward to the weekends to work on something new.
I was having drinks with a friend who lit up when she talked about her work. I wanted that glimmer in my eyes when I talked about work, rather than “live for the weekend”. I wanted that so badly.
I wanted this in my life, but a flurry of feelings eclipsed and left me paralyzed:
- Guilt, over studying a subject in university (and spending tens of thousands of dollars in tuition) that set me up for my first career and landing relevant jobs, only to think about “throwing it all away”.
- Doubt, over whether I could make the leap to another career successfully or if I’d fall into a gap that I couldn’t get out of.
- Fear, that making a passion or fun activity as a job would be a bad idea or something I’d resent.
- Reluctance, that I’d be messing up my ‘linear’ career and no one would take a chance on a career-shifter.
Then I watched Ruth Chang’s TED talk, How to make hard choices.
It wasn’t going to sit well with me to make no decision. I might fear change, but I fear more of what happens when I don’t change. I feared waking up at 35 and wondering “what if?”.
The day I returned to work, I walked into my boss’ office. With my resignation letter in hand, soaked from my nervous, sweaty palms, I slid it across the table and I spoke from the heart.
“Over the week I asked myself what I really wanted out of my life and work.
I took a course in web development, not realizing that I was starting something I couldn’t stop.
But I did realize that I have to do this. I want to do this.
I want to leave this post and chase after the ‘what if’.”
Her face was the look of happiness for me. We hugged and cried, and knew that this was the best thing for me; for everyone. I gave two months notice, trained my replacement, and commenced 6 months of discovery and exploration.
And like that, I said Hello to ‘what if’.