Back in mid-March, I published the somewhat risky “So Tomorrow Will be Different, Today I’ll be Brave” post. In it, I was revealing truths and speaking my mind…essentially putting to “paper” some opinions and realities that could have put me out on my arse — career wise — in the blink of an eye. I guess at that point in my journey, I was willing to take the risk.
Since publishing the post, I’ve been asked quite a few questions.
“Did you decide to stay at your job?”
“What are your next steps?”
“Are you looking for something new?”
And mostly: “Did you get put out on your arse?”
How dare I.
When we’re in less than optimal situations, making a change can seem daunting. And it’s really easy to get stuck. Advice comes at you from all angles. Sometimes it helps. Sometimes it helps to shut the lock on the cage door.
“Just buck it up. You’ve got a good job with benefits. You’re lucky, really.”
It’s true. The statement is true. Compared to most in this sometimes unforgiving world, I was (am) lucky.
I knew that. It’s why I allowed myself to stay in a crappy situation. Guilt, too. In my life, I’ve had access to higher education and opportunities. Who was I to bitch? How could I be so ungrateful? So I stayed.
And because my talents weren’t being utilized. Because my hours and my movements…even my thoughts and ideas were predominately controlled by others, I gave up. In my mind (and in reality), I was wasting my time and my talents. And stress, as it will, turned into resentment.
Of course I brought that stress and guilt and resentment home — to my husband, my family, even friends. It consumed me. I couldn’t shake it. How could I be so ungrateful?
And then I found this — a quote from the late Steve Jobs:
Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it.
Give yourself permission.
Jobs’ simple, straightforward insight gave me clarity. It also gave me permission to quit feeling guilty and start moving forward. And it hit me that — when I accept not living up to my potential — when I accept an undesirable status quo, I’m actually limiting myself — stunting the potential of what I can be and what I can provide to those I love.
Supporting our families, paying for rent or a mortgage, groceries, clothing, college savings, etc. It’s reality and it matters. The pressure of this responsibility can, understandably, keep us from taking risks or expecting more of the companies we give so much of ourselves to. In my case, that pressure kept me stagnant and stuck in a job and in a company culture that couldn’t have been a worse fit. And when, after countless attempts, the square peg still didn’t fit in the round hole, it took a toll. Negativity crept in.
It turns out, my emotions weren’t just hurting me, they were hurting everyone around me. Because unhappiness is contagious. It infects everyone in our lives. It zaps our energy, our drive and even our compassion. And when you eliminate those very important elements, you stand a real good chance of missing out on the best parts of life. And that wasn’t okay with me.
So I started thinking: “What more would I be capable of if I were in a situation where I could flourish?”
Look, life isn’t black and white. I lingered in a frustrating situation. I’m sure many of you have, too — maybe you’re doing it right now. It doesn’t make us bad people. It makes us human. It’s also how we learn. In fact, the tough stretches can teach us more (and faster) than at any other times in our lives. And there are reasons — a million reasons to stay. I said most of them to myself, daily. But in my gut, I knew. This isn’t my place. I’m not doing the best for me or for my family here. Like most of you, sticking up the middle finger and screaming “I’M OUT SUCKERS” wasn’t an option. But taking the first step was.
It’s one step. Just one step. And then the next.
At some point, I knew if I took a step…even one step, I would be moving in the right direction. And if I found something I loved, even something that was a better fit, my skills could be utilized to contribute something positive to the people in my life, and hopefully many more people who might not have the opportunities I’ve had. In short, I could move toward a life with renewed energy, drive and compassion.
The first step for me was simply accepting that I didn’t have to stay at this job. I had to fight back against the fearful thoughts that had plagued me for years:
“This is a solid job.”
“Maybe this isn’t so bad.”
“What will others’ think?”
“Don’t be so irresponsible.”
It was time to rethink my definition of responsibility — time to realize that it didn’t only mean security.
My parents had been quite poor growing up. In their small hometown in western Oklahoma, they were taught to value family and hard work. They also witnessed and personally experienced struggle and loss, and they knew what is was like to go without. As a result, they stressed to my sister and I the importance of family and hard work. And because they’d both achieved success in their chosen fields, they wanted the same for us. But as parents who have struggled are apt to do, they worked to steer us away from decisions that might result in our own struggles. They wanted us to avoid what they had endured. My father, especially (Pops, as you know him), found comfort in his daughters landing safe corporate gigs.
What he forgot was how he’d felt in the same structure. How he’d bucked the system and gone out on his own — likely resulting in much more success than he would have experienced otherwise. Much to their chagrin, he and my mother (a therapist by trade) had passed on to their children their same creative, inquisitive, and entrepreneurial spirits. To this day, this makes them both proud and scared sh**less.
So, in this first step, I redefined responsibility. Today, it means that I follow my gut. I take chances. Not goofy ones, but those that are most likely to bring happiness, fulfillment and more success than if I’d played it safe. Sounds like a couple of other people I know.
After giving myself permission to flee the nest, I spent a weekend updating my resume and online portfolio and I let the world of LinkedIn know that I was “open to opportunities”.
Like many of you, walking out the door without another option wasn’t possible. But I’d made up my mind about one thing. I was done with the type of corporate culture I was in. Considering something similar was out of the question. Because the truth is, this wasn’t my first iffy job move. It was my third in a row. I’d figured out why I’d made my past decisions. Now I needed to figure out how to avoid making another mistake.
Time to get real.
At this point, I’d had my share of epiphanies. I knew that the person making decisions about which jobs I’d taken, or not taken, was yours truly. Nobody else. I needed to get real. On the surface, I could equate my past moves to obvious needs: pay bills, take care of those that rely on me, eat, fund my obsession with skincare. We all have our reasons, and they’re legitimate. But I had to ask myself: How is it that some people land jobs/careers they love and others muddle through, frustrated, stressed and unfulfilled?
Most people, myself included, do everything we can to make a bad situation livable. We bond with coworkers, explore multiple methods to improve the atmosphere, and find ways outside of work to destress and find our happy place. But at some point, stress and frustration takes over. The long term effects of a difficult work life win. And it’s decision time.
Or more specifically, it’s time to make a list.
What do I want, and just as important, what do I NOT want.
I sat down and wrote it out. Seeing it in front of me, in black and white, made things so clear. It was also astonishing how many of my past jobs fit neatly inside the “don’t” column.
We’re all different. So your list won’t mirror mine, but below are a few of the biggies I laid out. My “musts” and my “dealbreakers”:
Trust in who they hire
Friendly, kind coworkers/culture
Flexibility (so I could spend more time here, with you)
Defenders of creativity
Open to new ideas (and hence, sometimes failure)
A good, easy fit
A safe place when inevitably things get tough
The opposite of everything above.
So, what happened, Nikki?
In the year that followed my first steps, I scanned thousands of job posts. And because my wants were so clear, I passed by 99% of them.
Writers, especially those with experience and knowledge of current technology and trends are needed more than ever. That being said, the skill required to do it creatively and effectively in our ever-changing, information overload world, is not always recognized, and hence, not always properly compensated or valued.
My search, in the midst of still dealing with a very difficult work life, was a priority. And I stuck to it, confident that the right fit would come along.
And one day, I received a message on LinkedIn. A coworker from my past life in the ad agency world. She was at a new boutique agency just a few miles from my home. They needed someone with my skills. Did I know anyone?
Why yes, yes I did.
I spent a few minutes investigating their website and putting Google to work on reviews. My gut? This looks good. This is interesting.
We set up a call. The conversation, on both ends, was honest and easy. And within 48 hours, I’d met with all three partners. And I just knew. Everything I’d put out there to the universe, all the “musts” were ticked off with each conversation. And I fit their bill as well.
I start my new job on Monday. I’ve never felt more excited or at ease about what’s to come. Is this my final step? Maybe. Maybe not. But one thing is certain. I’m headed in the right direction and for the first time in a long time, I feel like potential and reality are colliding.
I’d love to hear where you’re at. And if you have questions you want to throw out to the community, or advice based on challenges you’ve overcome, please comment below. We’d love to hear from you.
I’ll keep you updated on my progress as well. I hope my story will help some of you to take your own first steps. You deserve it.
Nik, I am so proud of you. You have taken a negative and turned it into a positive. Your honesty and soul searching has allowed you to become more in tune with who you are and where you need to be. You also have a great talent of expressing your journey so that people in similar situations can understand and relate. As a parent it is hard to see you in pain but so rewarding to know you will always find a way to mesh who you are to your values as a person. I couldn’t be more proud to be your mom.