June 30th was my last day of a 15-year tenure at a very small boutique retained search firm which sometimes was as small as two – the owner of the business and me; at our largest we were four plus part time contract employees. I decided to take a holiday and have some time to think about this transition and gear myself up for what is ahead – my new career as a freelance recruiter, trainer and executive coach.
I was fortunate to have been asked by Jude Treder-Wolff of Lifestage, Inc. if she could interview me about reinventing myself for her newsletter and blog. I met Jude at the NYC chapter of the Applied Improvisation Network. Jude sent me a wonderfully creative list of questions which was an opportunity for me to reflect on the activity of leaving a job after 15 years.
In her response to my answers it became clear that she and I have a mutual understanding of as Jude put it, “…how to have a good ending of one thing and how important good endings are to new beginnings … your process of leave-taking is very valuable and you should feel proud of that whole process, it is very tough to handle things with emotional courage like that”. I was very touched by Jude’s response and I thought it might be helpful to readers of this blog who are thinking of leaving or in the midst of leaving a job, or for that matter, any meaningful relationship. So here is my story:
I let my employer know I wanted to leave the firm in January; it took her six months to replace me. I interviewed, weighed in heavily on my boss’ decision on who to hire, and trained my replacement. This was an unusual and at times emotionally demanding assignment after such a long tenure. I wanted to give back, as in many ways my boss mentored me, taught me the business and helped me develop as a businesswoman. I am very grateful that the woman who has replaced me is a talented recruiting professional, that was important to me. Perhaps most importantly, she is a gem of a person who had the emotional intelligence to know just how hard a transition it was for me and for the owner of the firm. She was a pleasure to train and to get to know. How fortunate for both of us!
I am happy to say that I have close relationships with a number of friends who are also talented businesspeople – I named them my “Board of Directors”. I developed a great deal of intimacy with my friends in the process of making this change. I worked to constantly ask for help and guidance in making decisions. I allowed people to impact me. I went with their suggestions even when I felt the pull to do otherwise. The trust that was developed in this process and the giving back to my “Board” by saying yes (in an improvisational sense) all contributed to building more intimacy with my friends. Again, I’m very fortunate; I’m very grateful.
I’d say the biggest hurtle in reinventing oneself and making this kind of career change is fear. Some days the fear would develop into a panic that was paralyzing. In those moments asking for help is so critical. I have a friend who told me that he wakes up with massive anxiety every morning and he has learned to embrace that as part of his life, to ask for help, and to keep going. That was incredibly helpful advice because I was waking up in state of anxiety on many mornings. I carry a clown nose around with me and often had it sitting on my desk. Just looking at it could cheer me up – and when the going got rough the clown nose sure did come in handy. Being a clown is a wonderful way to immediately change the environment and change me/you (thank you Patch Adams).
Once I relaxed into being who I am, all of who I am, all that I have accomplished in my life there was fun and joy in the reinventing. As an improviser I recognize that play is an amazing tool that we all at our disposal. Once I was able to play with my fear, play with ageism in the workplace (I’m 55), play with the concept of having a bigger life, a more joyous life, I started to have some fun. It’s so easy to stay in a job that you know, even when you are unhappy (which I was) because you don’t have to grapple with all of these issues.
Choosing the harder, more demanding road of reinvention was/is growthful and developmental. I’m a developmentalist, so of course that was ultimately the only choice to make.
The main thing I learned is that I can’t/couldn’t do this alone. It was/is a very social activity.