A year ago yesterday, I walked out of a place whose employees often nicknamed it "cash for life" for the easy, cruise-control approach with which most folks there managed their careers. I had consciously decided to leave that place, to walk away from almost seven years of "service", and to pursue a career that I felt more closely matched who I was and who I wanted to become.
Part of me felt guilty for doing what many thought was unthinkable. The mothership, as I've comically called it over the years, represented all that employees of yesteryear sought in a career. It offered long-term stability, predictable career growth, health benefits, and a number of on-site amenities that only a multi-thousand-employee firm could provide. It's why I got into the big-company game almost a decade earlier, and it remained as true on October 15, 2003 as it did long before I even appeared on the scene.
What changed was me. I wanted more.
I wanted more than what the leaders in whom I had entrusted my future were willing to let me have. Sequential raises and the occasional assignments to work that I felt more closely matched my skill set just weren't enough for me any more. They might have been when I was younger and more willing to sacrifice for some future benefit. But after years of making sacrifices, only to be told by these same leaders that the payoff still lay somewhere in a murky future, I started to question why I was there in the first place, and why I was placing my trust in the hands of those who clearly weren't working in my best interests.
What I came up with surprised me: I hated the work. Maybe that's too harsh. I didn't hate the work itself. Day-to-day, working with really smart people to solve really tough technical problems for a large financial services organization was pretty cool, actually.
But at the end of the day, what I hated was the meaningless of it all. Hugely successful projects from the past were easily forgotten, your contributions to them dissolved by the mists of time and by a leadership structure that saw no need to return the loyalty of those who helped build said structure in the first place.
Interestingly, I wasn't alone. I was surrounded by people who hated coming in to work every day. When challenged to go and follow their dreams, they all lamented that they were too deeply invested in this grinding place, and they would just as soon ride it out until their inevitable retirement day.
I could have been them, but in the midst of my crisis of conscience, I rediscovered my love of writing. I started writing for the paper, and thrived on the responses I received from a whole new audience, a bunch of strangers known as readers. When I posted my work on the outside of my cubicle, people stopped by and read my work. Many wondered why I was still working there when I clearly should be writing. I wondered, too, but still didn't think upsetting the boat at the mothership was in the cards.
Still, over time, the urge to work toward a life of writing grew stronger. When a six-month project to deliver a major piece of documentation was rewarded by a team lunch and the subsequent removal of my author's credit from the end result, it dawned on me that no matter what I brought to the table, it would never be enough. When people around me started disappearing on stress leave, I knew I wasn't alone.
Eventually, I found the right role and snagged it. The rest is history. I'm in a role that challenges me and allows me to regularly produce tangible work that directly impacts a wide audience. I feel connected to those whom I serve, and am no longer a mere cog in the middle of a massive corporate bureaucracy that has no idea who ultimately pays its bills.
When I meet former colleagues, they universally tell me how much happier I seem. They say I don't even have to say anything: it's written all over my face.
I wish similar happiness on those who matter to me. I hate thinking of truly great people beaten down by a leadership structure that cares not a whit about their lives. I wish more people had the guts to throw off the shackles and pursue a dream. Life doesn't last forever, after all. What if you get to the end of it and wonder whether you could have spent your days in a better place?
I asked myself that same question time and again leading up to last October. I answered it when I dropped my letter of resignation on my leader's desk. When the HR rep asked me if I'd consider working for the company at some point in future, my response was simple: I'm leaving for a reason. Why would I want to come back and do the same thing? The whole idea in life is to grow, is it not?"
With that, I thanked her for her guidance, and walked out the door. Although I've been back for the occasional visit with former colleagues, it's freeing to know I can never really go home again. Nor would I want to.