Know Thyself

Coming off of a rare two-week vacation, I’m in the mood to reflect a little. So much has happened in the last year or so – both professionally and personally. My experience underscores the importance of knowing what you want and being willing to risk absolutely everything to get it.

You see, a little over a year ago, I blew up my life. Or, at least that’s what everyone thought. I was 41, newly single after almost 20 years of marriage and living in a sleepy southern town.

And, on one random January day in 2014, I quit my job. I had been contemplating a change, but certainly hadn’t mapped out any details. I had no firm back-up plan, no fleshed out exit strategy. On that cloudy Tuesday, I just knew that I was ready for a change. Immediately. I had never done anything like it. That day was both terrifying and exhilarating.

My job at that time wasn’t just a job. I walked away from what many consider to be the dream job. And, I fully bought into that view when I took the position three years earlier. Heading up marketing for two brands that millions of Americans revere, was definitely a step up in my career path. I can’t tell you how many times women’s (and more than a few men’s) eyes would light up when I told them what I did for a living. It was very gratifying.

And, I wanted something very different – in a much bigger city.

So, I said goodbye to stellar colleagues and friends, moved to Atlanta and embarked on a 10-month journey to discover what I wanted from the next chapter. I was positively defiant about not settling for just any job. For a Type-A overachiever, the uncertainty of the process was challenging. Some days it was positively gut wrenching.

It’s funny how the job search process is a lot like dating: you have to kiss a lot of frogs before you find your prince. Not only does the process tell you what you want, but it glaringly highlights what you don’t want. It’s a rare opportunity to reflect on your entire career, culling out the things you like most and least. I call this “the filter.” I firmly placed the following things on my “no thanks” filter:

  • Companies not located in major cities
  • Cultures founded on negativity
  • Excessive bureaucracy and complacency
  • Organizations that pander excessively to myriad of non-business issues (e.g., feelings, employee carnivals and clam bakes, faux team building exercises, etc.)
  • Companies that too often use the phrase “that’s not how we do things here”
  • Cultures unwilling to do hard things to grow
  • Companies with complex organizational structures/too many specialists

Conversely, I also honed in on my “yes, please” filter:

  • An entrepreneurial culture, unafraid to fail and learn
  • The latitude to be a change agent
  • The power to move quickly
  • The ability to be both creative and analytical
  • The ability to drive meaningful innovation and growth
  • The leeway to run a tight-knit, high performance team
  • A role that takes me a step closer to my ultimate goal: running something

Once my filter was squarely in place, I quickly found the right opportunity: a CMO role with a small yet successful company with bright growth prospects and the right mindset to take things to the next level. And, while I was focused on figuring out my next professional move, I unexpectedly met my soulmate. We have been married for three months, and I consider myself beyond fortunate to have him in my life.

I wrote this blog entry because I know so many friends and professional acquaintances right now who aren’t in the right work situation. These talented people range from complacent to miserable. They waste precious energy on lamenting about what isn’t instead of being proactive and changing their circumstances.

I’m no expert, but I know this much from experience: life is too short to waste your talents and time on something that doesn’t excite you. With a little courage and some patience on developing the right filter, you can be on your way to your next big thing.

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