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I gave up my Big Corporate Career, but Marie Kondo didn’t make me do it.

Updated: May 23, 2019

This is not a heart-felt story about letting things go that don’t bring me joy. I’m too cynical to believe that achieving happiness should be a singular professional goal. I actually enjoy the bit of struggle life brings and it just so happens work usually comes with a fair amount of struggle.

This also isn’t a story about work cultures and why people leave companies. I’m not going to start a debate over whether people leave people or whether people leave places. Nope, I left my corporate job because I just could not connect to it anymore. 

A few weeks ago, I was having breakfast with an old friend. I was tossing around the idea of consulting on a few projects. Only recently did I start to feel seasoned and professionally equipped enough to make the idea of consulting a possibility. But I felt I was missing a really key component. I didn’t know my own "why" for considering this change. My friend has had a very fruitful career of consulting. As expected, he had great insight and wisdom. Near the end of our breakfast, he mentioned his reason for going into the consulting field. His own "why" was beautifully simple, he does it to help people.

For years my career had centered around storytelling a companies why. But when faced with starting my own company I was at a loss. Who makes life changing decisions without a why!? 

For a moment I felt like Selina Meyer in Season 7 of Veep and experienced the desperation she had when she realized she didn’t know why she wanted to be President. Like Selina, I even considered borrowing my friends reason for consulting. Besides helping people sounded really good.

So, while I was racking my brain over the "why", I also started considering the "why not?" 

My professional development had taken a back seat for a few years as all my energies went into building teams and practices. My method of keeping sharp consisted of great coffee conversations with respected peers and experts and the midnight read of HR/Talent white papers. I developed through hands on experiences and stretch assignments. 

Over the last six years I had been promoted four times so I never allowed myself to get too comfortable and always pushed myself into uncharted territories. But, I had been wearing a really comfortable pair of iconic jeans in my very familiar software and high tech environment. Maybe it was time to kick off the converse, put on a pair of heals and grow out the faux hawk. In that moment, I decided to keep the faux hawk. 

Over the last number of years I had really enjoyed optimizing talent technology. Optimizing our ATS was fun! My team was smart and liked to push the limits of automation and simplicity. Together we questioned everything, tried to break things and when it didn’t work we tried something else. We were not afraid to fail. The environment was ripe with innovation and trial and error. Everyone has a few moments of nirvana and that was one of mine.

In recent months my role had become very tactical. Although a necessary evil of operations, it wasn’t my bailiwick at this stage in my career.  My role continued to demand long hours. I'm no stranger to long hours. I had been putting in 55-60 hours each week or years, but it wasn’t as fulfilling anymore. It seemed that whatever I used to be chasing wasn’t in the race anymore. 

But what was it that I was chasing? What made me enjoy all those years before? I thought about the teams, leaders and managers I had worked with. We were all equally invested in building something special and that is what stands out to me now. We may have been working on a business practice, a customer interface, or a go-to-market strategy, but we all had skin in the game somewhere. It heightened our senses and made us understand that without the right talent or a means to attract talent we all failed.

As my role grew the teams and leaders I worked with shifted. I encountered teams that had not been exposed to talent partners that were consultants and able to assert themselves as subject-matter-experts. I also assumed direct reports who needed to be empowered and supported differently. My role was now centered around bridging gaps around team capabilities and working hard to do my part in setting our Center of Excellence up for success. It was a different kind of influencing. It was challenging, at times frustrating, but rewarding in its own way.

I dug deep with my directs, got to know the teams and tried to wrap my process mind around operations. Immersing myself in the day-to-day was the only way to support many of the teams. I had to rip a page out of Mike Webster’s book and learn how to block and tackle just like a super-bowl champ.

In the moment it was great. But it started to feel like the needle wasn’t moving. This new role was enticing because it was a different kind of challenge and I was learning how to influence people in different ways. However, I was going into a very established organization and they had their own way of doing things. I underestimated the feeling that my efforts were like casting a stone into an ocean and seeing no more than a ripple. I was starting to question if I could make an impact.

Self-doubt is an interesting emotion. As a mom of three I’ve grown comfortable having a variety of pant sizes in my closet. Keeping those pants represents the fact that I have never doubted my ability to get where I want to be. So when faced with what seemed like doubt I took the time to dissect it.

What I found wasn’t all that surprising. I was ready for a change. After a sixteen year career in Recruiting and Talent Acquisition, I know what drives me is bringing new life to an organization. It still amazes me how every new hire has the ability to change a company for the better. The day that stops feeling like the truth is the day I retire!

Finally I had my answer! The ability to bring new life to an organization is my ultimate why!

Bringing new life to a company is not a singular method. I believe it happens in many ways. Hiring great people is only one. A second way is change. Change is a space where I am the most comfortable. It is hard to have an objective view of issues when you are too close to the problem. However, it is easy to take emotion out of the equation when the data tells the story. I know when brands don’t resonate with an audience you can’t just re-brand the logo and hope for the best. I know you must get the facts and make smart changes. I know I could bring about real change for my clients because I would not be too close or too emotional about their issues.

I used to jest with my co-workers who were really comfortable debating theories and living in the “what if’s”. I often teased them for being lost in the clouds. We balanced each other really well because I live in another part of the theoretical minded spectrum. The third way to bring new life into a company is to help their current teams be both theoretical and practical. Theory needs to be practical enough to translate into the real world. The right solutions are the ones that can actually be implemented. A great solution you can’t implement will fail. Great theories are simply not enough to bring new life to a company.

As I said earlier, working long hours was never a problem for me. It’s not that sleep is over-rated but deadlines are finish lines to me. When I’m working on a great project I can rival the will power of a college senior cramming for their final exam. All-nighters are completely worth it when you can show impact!

In the end my big corporate gig may have brought me joy but it didn’t allow me to bring new life to my organization in a way I felt the impact. But don’t worry Marie Kondo, you may not have taught me how to rid myself of things but now I can fold my pants in a way that makes room for many more styles!

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Love this. Perfectly said.....brings to mind a memory of ‘selfcheck’. Very proud.

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