The Important Life Lesson I Learned from a Poorly Managed Company Restructure: Knowing When to Quit can be a Victory in Itself.

The Story of the Tipping Point of my Corporate Career

Is it me, or as time goes by we become driven to avoid what we don’t want in life, rather than go after what we do want?

At 21 years old, I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do, but I knew enough about myself and what I wanted to move across the country alone from Seattle to Miami to find my first real job. All I knew about Miami was that it was a hub for subsidiaries dedicated to Latin America, and that being fluent in Spanish, French, and Portuguese would somehow facilitate finding my path.

I quickly found my path at Cartier as a commercial assistant for the LATAM region, and for the next 17 years developed myself and a successful career based on a passion for discovery and strategic change. Yet at 38 years old, I settled into a masochistic work environment and never once considered leaving despite the havoc it was wreaking on my health, and the unreasonable sacrifices to my personal life.

The only explanation I can find is that perhaps the effect of stress and no time for a well-being practice had pushed me into a downward spiral where I lost the connection with myself. My thought process became so linear and rational based, that I no longer explored creative outlets and become deaf to the inner voice meant to guide us to seek out changes towards personal evolution and happiness. 
And by default, it became easier to recognize my fears of what I did NOT want.
In my case, my motivation to act involved attempting to reverse and delay a situation of unsolicited change in the scope of my role at work. I channeled all my energy into avoiding the change because:

a) I did not want to be perceived as unaspiring
b) I did not want to be perceived as less competent than another
c) I did not want to be perceived as having constraints due to parenthood
d) I did not want the team of young women I had led over the years to feel discouraged to aspire for positions of leadership in their careers. 
e) I did not want to accept the feeling of defeat and regret. To have essentially missed the early childhood of both of my children to advance my career- to have it end up going backwards, was the ultimate contradiction for me.
Those were a lot of “not wants” and became the source of unhealthy anxiety over the course of a full year.

About the restructure..

The company I was working for had gone through two very large back to back acquisitions, and as often happens, structures are reviewed and reorganized to find redundancies (in addition to the naturally occurring 1+1=2) and deliver the expected financial synergies from integration.

In sum, my role in senior management in my department somehow became redundant, and I was offered a role of equal hierarchy and pay in a different division, or to take a demotion in title and function.

Did it sound fair or like coercion? It might sound quasi fair without knowledge of a minor detail of the context: My role was given to the person I had recruited and recommended for a new position to share my role- not take over my role. It was not someone from the newly acquired company, and it was decided without my knowledge just two months after he had started. Needless to say, I was infuriated and demanded that this new structure be reconsidered. Not only was I unsuccessful, but in consequence received the worst performance review ever in 5 years, for a year of overachievement and overextended responsibilities. I did however succeed in attaining a proposal of equal hierarchy in a struggling division. Great!

I felt like a product who had approached the “sell by” date and needed to be moved to a more convenient place, and not at all like the talented and dedicated employee that I was- deserving of thoughtful and strategic career development.
This contradiction began to haunt me, as it became a “problem” that I had to solve, because of course- all problems must have solutions, right? It took me some time to realize that this “problem” was in fact a gift. I had become so intensely rooted in my seat on the hamster wheel and fixated on controlling the situation, that I did not realize I was on a train traveling in the wrong direction.

Yet still, I hesitated to make a final decision, until an unlikely combination of unusual circumstances aggravated my situation to a tipping point. By this, I mean the point where we finally allow ourselves the introspection to incite positive and major change. For some, this point could be triggered by one single incident that pushes us to our limit of distress. For those more in tune to with themselves, the experience could be a serendipitous combination of circumstances that open the eyes to new opportunities for growth.

Unbelievably, what seems like the obvious tipping point was still not enough and I would require yet another set of circumstances to send it all crashing down. It was as if I held the gun in my hand, with my finger on the trigger, but couldn’t manage to pull it until one more final surprise left me with no more choice to make.

I’ll make a convoluted story short and sweet. 
I gave my resignation.

To my surprise, on my very last day of employment I was offered a very interesting position in another department, by someone completely outside and independent of my former department. I was courted and convinced within a context of talent retention for the company and accepted immediately. Since I was due to start only a few days later with my future employer, I couldn’t wait for the pending formalities. So I took a calculated risk and cancelled with the future employer before finalizing the formalities for my new position.

The joke was on me, because 3 days later- the proposal was formally RETRACTED with no explanation.

I’m now convinced that the intensity of the whack to get messages through, is directly proportionate to the intensity of our stubbornness and illusion of control. I didn’t process the message the first time, so I had to receive it a second time with a whack so hard it almost knocked me down.

The lesson, is that sometimes just knowing when to quit, is a victory in itself. Nevertheless, I did finally receive the message, and this time understood it very clearly as a gift to allow me to find what is worth having.
This is my current mindset as I open myself to new career possibilities and personal development. A wise woman once said: “To gain that which is worth having, it may be necessary to lose everything else”-Bernadette Devlin.

My second point, is that it can be difficult to make a decision to close a door without the security of an awaiting open door. Security is nice, but not always the right path towards development, and the reality is that the open door was likely to lead me back to the same room.

Don’t be afraid to take time for yourself; to stop, to gain perspective through re-examination of our choices to be driven by what we want, and not by what we want to avoid.


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