It was almost three years ago to the day that I realized my then current employer was changing course. I analysed this course and determined that my role in the organization would be drastically reduced or eliminated in three to five years.
I wasn't happy with my career. I had oppressive management that thrived on choking the life out of creativity and ambition. One year ago the director of that organization in an all staff meeting came out and said, "Stop asking for promotions or lateral movement. We are all lucky to have a job."
Today I write this article, on a ride in my new company's unlabeled, leather seated, wifi enabled shuttle that carts me from Oakland to Santa Clara County, CA. I no longer have to do grunt IT work and I have input, respect and admiration I never dreamed possible three years ago. This is the story of my decision, my journey, and my new found happiness.
It all started when one of my best friends sent me a simple, yet powerful, venn diagram by Bud Caddell titled "How To Be Happy In Business". This simple act was the greatest gift I have received that isn't physically blood related to me. I printed this out an hung it next to my monitor, where it resided for three long years. The instant I understood the diagram I realised that the last decade of my life I spent most of my waking hours working on a career that was making me miserable.
I saw where I was and what I needed to do to get to where I wanted to be. I needed a plan, but this was my guide. Simple, elegant, powerful, motivating, quietly nagging me out of the corner of my eye. Pulling me, pushing me, kicking me to do the things I needed to do so I could put myself in a position to take advantage of opportunity and luck when it found me. I was ready when it did!
I laid out a course of immediate action. I needed to study myself, know myself so I can answer these three questions for my guide, the diagram.
- What do I do well?
- What do I want to do?
- What can I get paid to do?
After months of introspection I came to some solid answers to these questions. Now I had to analyse my then current job in light of these answers to find where on the guide I was living. The answer was obvious. I had lived the last decade of my life in, "Learn To Say No". I was currently living in, "Learn To Say No".
I had never said, "No".
The first time I laid eyes on this diagram I knew deep down this was the case. Now I had data to prove it to myself. The difference after this introspection and analysis is that for the first time in years I saw that I also had options.
There are four areas where the circles in my guide, the diagram, overlap. The goal is "Hooray". I had already come to realize I lived in "Learn to say NO". Only two more areas were left for me to bring in to focus. "Learn to monetize" and "Learn to do better". Since I now had an exhaustive list of what I wanted to do and what I what I could get paid to do I chose to focus on "Learn to do this better".
I researched certificates that would prove my knowledge to employers. I learned to use my old employer's broken, bureaucratic training budget system to get as much paid for as I could. When that system, too, failed I trusted in myself. I had found my path, I stayed the course and put $2,500 I didn't have on a credit card near max to get a proven industry certificate. I targeted certificates that headhunters I called, HR specialists I knew, people who held jobs I could envision happiness in all told me paid very well. I didn't even realize I was doing the fourth step. I was "Learning to monetize."
I chose the option to go after these certifications. With each one I passed my bruised and battered self esteem healed a bit more. This is a three year journey, remember?
Learn To Say No
This one was really hard. We have to say "No" because we all have limited energy. I was in a job that was sapping my energy to the point I couldn't have enough in my banks to act on these new options I had identified. I had to "Learn to say NO".
I put a copy of my job description on my desk. If it wasn't in my job description, then I didn't do it. My old employer made it clear, "We have no reason to hire from within when the pool for candidates outside of here is so large." This is another quote from yet another awe-depleting, soul sucking, demotivating all staff meeting.
Management made it clear there was going to be no reward financially (they eliminated our yearly bonus and re-classed people downward making them do the same job tasks), no promotion, no new projects to learn and expand my skill set. It was time to stop waisting energy.
I took this energy and put it in to the new options that my guide had lead me to. I found the energy to take classes, pass tests for certifications, rework my resume, apply for jobs, and go on interviews by "saying no" to more work that I wasn't compensated for, I wasn't rewarded for, and that I wasn't recognized for.
I also had to say no to jobs I could do, that I could get paid well to do, but were not in the list of "things I wanted to do". Had I accepted a job offer for basically the same job in a different skin I would be no better off. I at least knew the spots of this cat. Passing on new jobs was very difficult. As we will see, it was the correct course of action.
Learn To Monetize
Over the first year and a half of my journey I performed over thirty informational interviews with people that were getting paid to do things I learned that I wanted to do. Some were pretty official and some were a long conversation over a beer at a local pub. They all helped me bring in to focus how to monetize what I wanted to do.
Learn To Do This Better
I didn't just rely on classes and certifications to get better at "what I wanted to do" and "what I could get paid" to do. I needed soft skills that I didn't have. I started learning from people that had these skills. I sought out several mentors. I put these skills to use in my oppressive job, even though it didn't make a difference at that job, I was still learning for my new undiscovered job.
This was summarized by the same friend that sent me the venn diagram that I use as my guide. "This is the job you used to have. Put it in the rear view and move on mentally before you move on physically." I could control my mental state, even if I couldn't make a new job appear and hire me. This shit in perspective freed up countless energy for me to move forward. Today that job is so far in the rear view that it may now just be bird droppings on my side window.
I had to learn to write a better resume. I was lucky enough to have a close friend of the family who does this professionally for HR and Job Placement skills that she keeps honed. Without that I would have hired a professional resume writer. Just do it, a good resume may not get you the job but a bad one will lose it for you. A great one will make you and what you can bring to a company completely transparent.
This state didn't come overnight. But I just kept putting one foot in front of the other, doing my tasks to improve, apply for jobs, update resume, repeat. I'm an introvert, I made myself go out and network. I kept at it until something broke my way. When it did my three years of preparation paid off. I took control where I could using my guide, good old "How To Find Happiness In Business" diagram and kept at it.
Persistence = Perseverance
If you are happy where you work. Great! Thanks for reading this far! If you are not then look inside yourself, ask the questions simple questions:
- What do I do well?
- What do I want to do?
- What can I get paid to do?
Know the answers to these three questions and then bring them in to focus using the "How To Find Happiness In Business" venn diagram. The start of YOUR path will then be clear. Remember life is a journey and your job is just part of life. Don't focus on the end. I tell you, it ends poorly for us all. We die.
Focus on the path, the movement on the path, the scenery along the path, the sights, the smells, and you will find happiness in business and in life along the way!