I started reading Year of Yes by Shonda Rhimes after making my decision to take a break from corporate life, but it’s my go to response when people ask me what I do: ‘Oh, you know, I’m taking a year of yes.’
Unlike Shonda, my biggest personal challenge is not finding the courage to appear on the Jimmy Kimmel show – any time, Jimmy. Nonetheless, I found we have more in common than I’d expected. I don’t mean her incredible talent or Hollywood lifestyle, but her deeply personal experience as a working mom trying to have it all… and failing. Not dramatically or all at once but in small doses, until something needed to give.
I’ve held down a job since I was 12 years old. Although I was privileged to attend a private school, I earned my own spending money, bought my own car, and paid my own way through college and grad school. I babysat, taught English and aerobics, tutored, pumped gas, dispatched taxis, worked a cash register, interned at an advertising agency in Tokyo,… you get the idea. Basically, if it paid money and wouldn’t embarrass me if I ever ran for President, I did it.
Hard work and persistence paid off… and then what?
When I landed my first ‘real’ job at Accenture, I couldn’t have been more excited and proud. I worked hard and did my best for my clients, and that job turned into another dream job as a development manager at PeopleSoft. Which after ten amazing years – including the strange post-acquisition days - opened the door at a tiny start up called Workday. Which after another ten amazing years paved the way to a marketing executive role at a company called Basware.
In each job I worked hard to prove myself and deliver results and as I took on more senior roles, success came from leading others effectively. At the same time, work life balance became more important, as my kids seemed to get older more quickly every day. While I loved leading a team, with each promotion it seemed I had to spend more time on politics and administrative tasks rather than meaningful work. I figured that’s what I got paid for, but it wasn't what got me out of bed in the morning. And as time passed I found it getting harder to get out of bed to do the things I was paid to do. Nothing major, just… meh.
My decision to take a break wasn’t made overnight and I waited until I felt I could leave without dropping any balls, but it resulted from five key realizations:
Epiphany 1: This is as good as it’s gonna get
My first epiphany was that I had it all but that's not how it felt. I had a wonderful family, a badass team that did great work, an executive job, and I managed to run a 6-person household and cooked dinner nearly every night. I had the flexibility to work from home and travel wasn’t too onerous. Thanks to my fantastic team, I rarely worked past 6PM or on weekends. My years of hard work and coaching others to be successful had paid off.
So if everything was so great, why was I always too tired to play with my kids or make new friends, let alone spend time with old friends?
Epiphany 2: Life will pass me by if I let it
That’s when I realized: If I keep doing what I’m doing, my life will pass me by in a blink and no one will thank me for everything I missed out on. Not my kids and certainly not my company.
Epiphany 3: I’m not my job
For many years I thought I was the job, but I finally realized that if you keep defining yourself the same way, you won’t ever discover what else you could be. If you weren’t afraid. If you let go and just… tried new stuff. Talked to people. Said yes to things.
Epiphany 4: It’s time to let go
My fourth realization was that although I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do instead, there was only one way to find out….
Epiphany 5: I've got this
So I handed in my notice, and it’s been an incredible journey so far. I’ve travelled, made new friends and started practicing martial arts. I’ve taken courses in design thinking, investment, statistics and graphic design. I’ve helped start-ups define their mission and coached TEDx speakers. My husband and I are renovating a lovely old farmhouse. I spend more quality time with my kids. I’m busier than ever, but I’m not tired any more. I’m energized. I’m open. I’m having fun.
Embracing the gig economy
These days, I get paid to do what I enjoy most, which is writing, speaking and creating content to help clients be more successful. I can do it on my time and on my terms and I have more time for all the other things in life that matter.
Are there things I miss about corporate life? There are, but not many. So, while I truly appreciate several offers I’ve received for a permanent role, I’d prefer to talk a fixed contract or project based work.
At least for now. : )
As Shonda says, yes yes yes!!!