Why Leaving Without a Plan Was My Smartest Move

How leaping from a job into the unknown can be good for your career and your sanity.

My toddler has taught me a very important lesson: Minutes are a valuable commodity.

Every night is the same. As the clock strikes eight, a sweet three-year-old voice turns determined, “Not yet mommy!” With his budding leadership skills, my son cajoles me into “just a few more minutes.” We watch the time and count together, and each minute feels like an eternity as I feel my opportunity for any “me time” tick away. Minutes are much longer than they appear.

Now consider how many minutes we spend working — a 40-hour work week for a year is a whooping 124,800 minutes. Is that time worth it? Are you where you want to be? Or are you holding on simply because you can’t figure out what’s next?

Last month I officially stepped down from my role as COO of a growing tech company, to the surprise of my team and admittedly even to myself.

I never expected I’d leave a culture I built, a product I have dreams about and a team whose passion and dedication continues to amaze me. I thrive on managing and empowering teams. I was where I wanted to be. At least that’s what I thought. But doubts have a way of persisting despite the greatest efforts to silence them.

Image courtesy of Pixabay

Was I really thriving or was I simply pursuing success with little regard for myself? Am I fulfilled in my role? What am I missing out on? Cliches, yes, and yet the answers were still unsettling for a woman described as unwavering and a force of steady calm.

Despite my position and experience, I always had something to prove, so much so that I took only 8 weeks of maternity leave after the birth of my two boys, now 3 and 2 years old. I put the team, the work, first. I also began to personalize more of not just the wins but also the losses. I lamented things out of my control. I gave every morsel of my emotional equity to being a motivating force, and with time, the soft doubts more firmly planted as reasons to simply stop.

I wasn’t thriving.

My decision, to part ways without a backup, wasn’t easily understood by my community. We are programmed as a society to be planners. We relate to our world and others with tangible events, dates and actions.

When someone gets engaged, “Have you set a date?” Once married, “When are you having kids?” And when you up and leave the C-suite it must be for something super cool, right? “What’s next?” I’ve heard it at least 23 times in the last two weeks — yes, I’ve been counting.

Sorry folks, I don’t know exactly what’s next, and while that might make you uncomfortable, I cherish it.

Here are three reasons why taking an unplanned leap, if you can, works:

  1. Hitting the reset button takes time. Recharging is a process. How much time varies from person to person. I plan to take a couple weeks while some work/life balance experts suggest a year-long sabbatical. Your financial situation and risk tolerance will surely play a role in what is feasible for you, but wherever you fall on the spectrum, a mental break lessens your chances of making the wrong choice, the dreaded rebound job. Give yourself free time to explore, and you’ll also reduce the chances of decision fatigue leading you astray. If you’ve been mentally and emotionally invested in running a project or team for any significant amount of time, you’re likely out of decision-making mojo.
  2. Your dreams take on a new urgency. There are no more excuses because now you have time. Once you clear your mind, you will feel more compelled to build and live the life and career you want. Success doesn’t happen by simply standing still or blindly following some best-laid plan. You must be free to jump when the right factors align, and then build with urgency.
  3. Doing things your way is the right way. There is no better way to build your confidence and spread that energy to potential employers, partners or investors than by controlling your path. Ditch doubts and firmly embrace your career gap. The rules of work have changed; a break won’t break you unless you let it.

Leaping without a plan isn’t necessarily reckless. It’s a path of its own. A plan to prioritize your gut over fear of the gap. Many successful business leaders and entrepreneurs have had failures or been in positions that were poor fits, but you’ll hear a similar theme, “I knew when to quit and move on.” With the clock ticking, they used their minutes wisely and moved on in search of the next great idea.

Moving on and moving forward carry no stigma, but complacency does.

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