Two weeks on

As you know, nearly two weeks ago, I quit my job. It’s now Sunday afternoon, and this marks the end of two pretty hard weeks.

But they weren’t hard for the reasons that I expected.

I was prepared for work to be difficult.  I anticipated questions from everyone.  Neverending questions that I couldn’t really answer.

And of course, I did get questions.  But they weren’t the questions I expected.  I had pre-planned my responses to all sorts of reactions:

  • “You’re CRAZY, what are you DOING?” (I’m making the right choice for me)
  • “Oh, really, Career Development, what kind of job is THAT?” (a job that I’m passionate about, and that I think is important for individuals, organisations and society)
  • “How can you give up a steady job for unemployment in this economic environment?” (We can make do, and I’m giving it to someone who really wants it)
  • “Finding yourself? Pah. What does that even mean?” (I don’t know what it means exactly, but it means getting closer to the person I want to be)

I definitely got a few of those.  But hardly any.  Mostly the conversations were more like this:

Me: Well, I’ll be finishing up just before Christmas…

Colleague/Friend/Someone: What are you going to do?

Me: I’m not sure yet.  I’m going to spend a bit of time working out what I want to do next…  Probably study next year.

C/F/S: Oooh, how exciting for you.  What great news!

I even got offered a collaboration with a friend who runs a recruitment business, and a potential offer of contract work in career development with my current employer.  So work’s actually pretty positive right now.  I’m delighted with the decision, other people are happy for me, and I am fairly confident I won’t need to be unemployed for long.

If that had been all I had to deal with, life would be swimming along nicely.  But of course, the career move wasn’t all that was going on for me in the last couple of weeks – that would just be too easy.

There was the fact that the other person from my 2-person + manager team also announced their plans to leave.  Meaning our team is falling apart.  And nobody quite knows what to do.  But that’s not really my thing to deal with…

My things to deal with were some Stressful Personal Things.  Stressful Personal Things involving my body not doing what it needs to reproduction-wise, and medication to correct it.  Stressful Personal Things involving drug side effects that mimic pregnancy symptoms.  Stressful Personal Things that meant I struggled to focus on my work.

And these things really reminded me how challenging it can be to balance work with the rest of your life, and how important it is to have some strategies to work through these distractions.  During the week, I came up with a few ways to make it a bit easier and to deal better with those things that try to take over your mind when you need to be working:

  • Deal with the distraction.
    This only works if you can do it quickly.  Sometimes it’s as simple as a quick Google search, and that can put your mind at rest, and allow you to re-focus on work.  If you can’t resolve it quickly, move onto another strategy.
  • Defer the distraction.
    Plan in some time to deal with the distraction later.  Make a list of actions to complete when you get home in the evening, or on the weekend, and set aside some time to work it out then.
  • Delegate the distraction.
    If there is someone else who can help you with your distraction, get them involved. Send a quick email, or make a call to your partner or a friend.  Someone else’s perspective, and sharing out any actions can help the distraction feel a lot less distracting.
  • Distract from the distraction.
    If you can’t deal with it, and can’t plan it in later, sometimes the best option is a double distraction.  Listen to some favourite music or a great pod-cast as you work to take your mind off the distraction.  This will only work if you’re a good multi-tasker.  Most people aren’t, so try not to use this one all the time.
  • Down time away from it all.
    Sometimes it all just gets too much.  If you really can’t focus on work, you’re not helping anyone.  Take a quick break to re-focus.  Have a cup of tea, walk around the block, work on a crossword puzzle, write in a journal, just sit.  Whatever will help you get your back on the task at hand, and away from the job.

Throughout the last couple of weeks, I’ve used all of these strategies.  Liberally.  

I’ve also found it useful to have as little time as I can spent on work alone at my desk.  Collaborating with others, running workshops, having meetings (useful ones of course), and visiting people rather than emailing them have all been great ways to keep my mind off my Personal Things and on my job.  And at the end of the week, I’ve managed to achieve some good stuff, despite big distractions trying to strong-arm their way into my mind.  

The Stressful Personal Things aren’t resolved yet.  But they are feeling a lot easier to deal with.  So I’m pretty hopeful that my work will be a bit easier for the next seven weeks.  And even if it’s not, I know the weeks are going to fly by, and before I know it, I’ll be self-employed.  With the task of figuring out how to be the person I want to be.  It’s a big one.

In fact, I think I’m going to need to keep those distraction strategies close at hand…

Labour Day

Today was Labour Day in New Zealand. This means a day off, which is lovely (and a great time for catching up with family).  But it’s also a day where we celebrate the start of work-life balance (or, as I prefer to call it, life balance) – the time when Samuel Parnell, a carpenter in Wellington, told his boss that he would not accept a job unless he could work just 8 hours each day:

“There are twenty-four hours per day given us; eight of these should be for work, eight for sleep, and the remaining eight for recreation and in which for men to do what little things they want for themselves. I am ready to start to-morrow morning at eight o’clock, but it must be on these terms or none at all.”

I spent my day off walking in the wind, brunching with my sister, shopping with my husband, and travelling home from a weekend away.  I read a bit of Robert Fulghum, napped in the car, and chatted away as he drove (the husband, not Robert Fulghum).  That is actually pretty much everything.  It was relaxed, lovely, and just what I needed.

With all the things going on in my work life at the moment, I also got to thinking about the meaning behind the day, and what that meant for me.  For me personally, it’s not about 8 hour working days.  It’s about work fitting in with my life, and finding a way to do everything I need to do.  It’s about work being important, but not the only important thing, and not even the most important thing.  It’s about

But as I thought about it, I also realised that in the last couple of years I’ve been kinda ignoring the meaning.  I’ve been focused on getting ahead, and on having “opportunities”.  I’ve been wanting promotions and pay rises, and moving in that direction (until now that is). And it’s much wider than just me too.   After previous generations fought so hard for it, we seem to be giving up the 8-hour working day.  In my current workplace, 9-10 hour days are more standard.  And at the higher levels, even 50 hours would be a very light working week (I’ve known people to start at 5am, finish after 5pm, and then come in on weekends as well – on a regular basis).

Companies seem to be constantly restructuring.  Moving people and roles around so that they can get the same amount done with fewer people, or get more done with the same number.  So often in these situations, people end up with expanded roles (read: more to do each week), and with a fear of losing their job that makes them unwilling to negotiate.  So they just do a couple of extra hours here and there to get the work done.  Which means they appear to have more capacity, so they get more work, and the cycle continues.

Technology was supposed to be the big saver.  When computers came along, they were supposed to be able to take some of our work away.  Everyone could be more productive, so they could work less.  But instead it’s the opposite.  People are constantly connected, they’re able to work from anywhere, and they do.  Blackberries, Smart Phones, Broadband, Telecommuting, Twitter.  They’re all great tools.  And, don’t get me wrong, the technology is absolutely amazing.  But they are also so easy to misuse.  With these tools it’s so easy to allow your work to sneak into other areas of your life.  Often without even really being conscious of the fact that it’s happening.

Sometimes these things are by choice.  Sometimes they’re not.  And in either case, I think it’s unfortunate that we’ve ended up here…

I don’t know the answers for everyone.  Heck, I don’t even know the answers for myself.  But I hope that we can use this opportunity to be conscious and mindful of how our work and the other parts of our lives interact; to ask some of the hard questions and create routines that allow us to focus on everything we want to, not just work; to appreciate that generations before worked hard to gain the advantages that we have today, and that we shouldn’t just throw away those advantages without giving it a bit of thought.

 

 

So, I quit my job today…

I quit my job today.  And in 2 months, I will be officially unemployed.

It feels more than a little bit weird to say.

“I will soon be unemployed.  I will have no job”

Since I finished high school and started university eight and a half years ago, I have been permanently employed.  Every semester, and every summer, I worked.  I started my first “grown-up” job two weeks after my last exam.  For my next two job transitions, I had a new job lined up before I resigned.  And in both cases, I only had three days between finishing one job and starting the next.  Being unemployed has never really occurred to me.  Until now.

After my waste of psych yesterday, today was the day to talk to my boss.  The morning was nerve-wracking.  My mind ran through all sorts of potential reactions and my responses.  I rehearsed what I planned to say.

And I waited…

Then I had a meeting with my new sort-of-boss and a colleague.  It was a great conversation.  I realised some of the things I like about my role.  And the nostalgia effect kicked in. Hard.  I doubted myself.  I doubted my resolve.  I wondered if I could do it.

And I waited…

Then the time came, and I headed into the office for the big discussion.  As soon as I sat down, my prepared speech ideas disappeared from my mind.  And I realised what I really needed to say:

“The reason I asked to catch up with you today was to let you know that I’ve realised that this is not the right thing for me right now.  So I’ll be finishing up just before Christmas.”

He was amazing.  Calmly responded with “I’m glad you’re doing what’s right for you.”  Conveyed his appreciation of my work here, and started to discuss how we could manage moving it to someone else.  Thanked me for giving him the extra notice.  I didn’t need any of my responses to negative reactions. I could be honest and open.

I didn’t need to worry.  I should have done it earlier.

So, the big question: How did I feel after the fact?

It’s cheesy, but I really did feel a weight lift from my shoulders.  I felt a huge sense of relief.  I had a smile on my face that I couldn’t wipe off.  I felt a little ill (but I don’t think that was related to the work thing…)  I told a few close friends and family, which gave me the confidence to tell some other key people at work.

Of course, I also felt some apprehension.  It’s pretty scary to move out into the world with no concrete plan of what to do next.  It’s strange to know that my next job is to figure me out, and figure out how to become the person I want to be.

But overall, it felt right.  I felt energetic and excited and engaged. And that’s what tells me that this was a good decision.  (I could be proved wrong in the future, but for now, I think it was good).

I still have two months of notice to work out.  So it’s an unusual time for me.  But also an exciting time.  And I can’t wait to start on the next chapter and find my bliss, wherever the heck it is hiding.

Today’s a time to celebrate.  So I propose a (virtual) toast:  Here’s to new starts.  Here’s to taking the plunge.  Here’s to happy Sundays (and Mondays and everydays)!

A waste of psych

When I arrived at work today, I was all psyched up. I had been thinking about it on and off all weekend. I had my story (somewhat) planned.  I had it ready in my mind:

“I am going to talk to my boss today, and let him know that I am leaving.”

So when I arrived, I ran through the usual routine (switch computer on, make a cup of spiced tea, quickly check emails), and then gave him a call. I got through to voicemail, which was unsurprising (he’s a busy man), and left an attempt at a breezy message:

“Hi, Jenn here.  I was hoping to catch up with you at some stage today.  I’m pretty free, so if  you can let me know what time suits you, that would be great.  Thanks!”

I’d noticed he had a bit of free time around 9am, so I casually walked past his office just after that.  I didn’t spot him, but as I left, I heard his PA mention to someone else that he wasn’t in today.

Nuts.

When I got back to my desk, I was frustrated and deflated.  I emailed my sister and my husband (both of whom knew the plans).  I tried to think of alternatives, but came up blank.  I even had a wee frustration-cry (I’m a crier, so this is not that unusual for me).

What a waste of psych…

After a few emails back and forth with my support crew, the frustration subsided somewhat.  I reminded myself that this is not a change in plans, just a slight delay.  I called and booked some time with his PA for tomorrow.  I started plans for what I’ll need to tie up before I leave, and chose some easy tasks to work on for the day.  And once I get through today, I’ll hit the gym to get the frustration out, and then start the psyching process all over again for tomorrow.

Wish me luck!

 

Sunday nights

Growing up, Sunday night was one of my favourite times of the week.  We would have a nice family dinner, and relax after the weekend.  My Mum (who’s a Presbyterian minister) would be finished with church; no one would have extra curricular activities; there was often something good on TV.

When I was at University, Sunday night was for catching up.  My part time job meant I worked all day Saturday and Sunday, so on Sunday night I had to work on notes and assignments, and prepare for the week ahead.  But it was always quite calm, and was a bit of a change from the hectic weeks.

But as I’ve grown into the world of work, my Sunday nights have become less and less positive.  There have been jobs I liked, where Sunday nights were fine – a time for winding down.  And then there have been jobs I don’t like, where Sunday nights are less than ideal.  They start off okay, but at some point, usually about 7pm, my mind switches over.  I switch out of laidback-leisure mode into worried-work mode.  Before I even get back to work for the week, I start to stress about it.  Not usually about anything in particular – I could understand fretting about a big presentation or important report – just generally feeling tense about the week ahead.

And for me, this is a pretty big sign that I’m in the wrong job.

And when I arrive at work on Monday, there are even more signs in the conversations with my colleagues.  I start off with a “How are you?”  – pretty standard.  Not too creative, I’ll admit, but plenty of potential answers.  But the responses I get tend to follow a pattern:  I get “Not bad – only 4 days til Friday!” or “Well, I was better yesterday, of course”.  Or if I kick off with “How was your weekend?” it’s “Nowhere near long enough…” or “It was great – 2 days of freedom! Now back to the grindstone.”

This is pretty typical, I think, of many modern work places.  And mostly people think nothing of it. But for me, it’s a concern.  Why are so many of us toiling away at jobs we dislike?  How is it affecting us to be constantly clock-watching and dreaming of the weekend? How can we positively impact our communities when we’re spending 80% of our time at such negative workplaces?  What can we do to shift towards a more positive work paradigm?

I don’t have answers to those questions.  Not for me, and definitely not for anyone else.  But I plan to find out a bit more during my time off, and use the answers to guide me in my future choices.  And whatever choices I make, I’m hoping I’ll be back to Sunday nights that are for relaxation and family, and are a time where I look forward to the week ahead with excitement, rather than dread.

I’m claiming my Sunday nights back.  Starting now.  Who’s with me?

The lead up to leaving

In two days, I’m planning to quit my job.

I’m quitting because I want to get out of the corporate race and do something good for the world.  I’m quitting to take some time out and “find myself” (for lack of a better term).  It’s the right decision for me.  It’s a good thing (a great thing, even).  I can’t wait to make this change.

But this stage still sucks. Totally sucks.

I think that some of the hardest times you’ll go through in your work-life are the days/weeks  lead up to announcing that you’re leaving a job. No matter what your reasons for leaving are, it’s stressful. Whether it’s waiting to find a new job, waiting for a job offer to come through/be finalised, waiting for the elusive 12 week mark of pregnancy, or just waiting until the time is right, you almost always have to endure some time when you are aware you are planning to leave, but are unable to announce it.

What makes it hard is that during this waiting time, you still have to do your job. You have to attend meetings where you’re planning for the future. You have to talk about next year, all the while thinking “except that I won’t be here”. You have to hide the truth  You have to bite your tongue.  And it’s tough…

All of these things lead to The Guilt.  The Guilt starts for many leavers as soon as the thought of leaving pops into their minds.  In fact, for many people it jumps in so soon that it stops them from leaving at all.  The Guilt is the little voice in your head that says “But you’ll be leaving them in the lurch.  How can you just walk out on your boss, your clients, your colleagues? What if they can’t find someone else? You’re just weak – suck it up and stick it out!”.  The voice is often wrong, but it’s still hard to make it shut up.

But that’s not the worst of it. Not for me anyway. The worst thing for me is The Nostalgia Effect. The Nostalgia Effect sneaks up when you least expect it.  You’re working away, thinking in the back of your mind that you can’t wait to be out of there.  And suddenly, something good happens – a conversation with a coworker, a fun coaching session, a successful meeting, a great report.  And that gets you thinking again.  “What if this isn’t so bad after all? What if I’ve over reacted?  Can I really give this up? How can I leave this solid job for unemployment? What if the next thing sucks too? Maybe the old saying’s true – Better the devil you know?”  You start to miss things before you even leave.

The Guilt and The Nostalgia Effect come in waves, one after another, taking you on an emotional roller coaster.  When I’m on this roller coaster, it’s definitely tough, but I also know some tricks for getting off  (I’ve had quite a bit of experience in the last couple of years, I’m embarrassed to say).   So, here are my tips for surviving the hoping-and-planning-but-not-yet-publicising stage:

  • Throw yourself into your work.  It’s often not easy to do, but working hard and getting in the zone really helps get through this time.  (Or at least makes time pass a bit quicker).
  • Start to think about what you’re going to need to wrap up before you leave.  If you have a place to write a list that no one else will see, write it down.  Writing the list is especially good for The Guilt.
  • Talk to a trusted friend about your plans, and your feelings.  It’s usually best if this is not a colleague, even though that often feels easier.
  • Remind yourself of your reasons for leaving.  Write a list or create a mantra to remind you (mine is “For me, it’s more important to do good than to do well”)
  • And finally: Whatever you do, do it as soon as possible.  It’s easiest to get past it when the feelings have only just started.  The longer they last, the more they work themselves into your mind, and the harder it is to kick them out.
If all that fails, just remember that it’s only for a limited time.  Soon enough, you’ll have let people know, and you can actually talk about it.  (Of course, that starts a whole new difficult stage, but that’s a topic for another day…)
Have you ever been in this awkward position?  What did you do to help you through?