About eight months ago, I was promoted to a new job within my organization. Yesterday, was my last day on that job. For all intents and purposes, I demoted myself.
The decision to walk away from the new position — along with the bump in salary and increased visibility — was not one that I reach with ease. I knew that leaving the position would be disappointing to the people who selected me for the role. It would disappointing to the group (or at least some of them) that I was brought in to direct. I also knew that some friends would be surprised, if not shocked that I would give up a promotion and a salary bump.
In spite of all the external voices that said stay, I had to listen to my internal voice for once. I simply was not willing to ignore the stress, anxiety, and discomfort. Far too often, I think that a lot us just accept, out of hand, that considerable stress is part of a job. I understand that new jobs, particularly ones with increased responsibility and exposure, can be stressful. However, I reached place where I realized that the stress and anxiety I was experiencing was not healthy nor sustainable. I was on a short trip to a spa resort in Pennsylvania with Carla. I woke up about three in the morning, my heart racing and fully drenched in sweat. I sat and thought about what was the cause of this anxiety. It was pretty obvious.
Even though I had an epiphany in my hotel room at that spa in Pennsylvania, it really took me a couple of months to acknowledge that something wasn’t right. I usually, I did a lot of soul-searching and introspection. I had to examine why I was willing to forgo my happiness to please others. I didn’t want to make waves or upturn the apple cart. At some point, I realized that what I was experiencing was very analogous to what a lot of us go through with our parents. A number of grew up trying to please our parents. We wanted them to notice us. We wanted them to approve and be proud of what we did, the grades we received, and the decisions we made. Unfortunately, a lot of us carry that need for approval well into adult life. The hard part is that the need for approval no longer rests solely with our parents. It now extends to friends, significant others, colleagues, and bosses.
Handing over the assessment of your value and happiness to another person is not a good thing. I have been flattered at various times in my career that people saw a lot in me, and tapped me to take on bigger jobs with greater responsibility. I’ve had a pattern of following those expectations, even when I wasn’t certain whether those new opportunities were in my best interest. It was only working through where I was with this new position that I realized I was letting what people thought I should be doing overshadow what really mattered to me. When I went into to talk to my boss about my concerns, I felt like a little kid walking trying to tell his dad that he got a bad grade. I was anxious and had a lump in my throat. What the hell? Interestingly, I found that balance between wanting my parents to be proud of me, but making moves that I felt were in my best interest, a number of years ago. My relationship with my parents has never been stronger since I accepted them as they are, and asked them to do the same with me. If I had reached this point with the people who made indelible implants on my personality, why was I so worried about my boss and colleagues?
I arrived early one day and asked to speak with my boss. One of the senior staff gave him a bit of a heads up about my concerns regarding the job, but I don’t think he was expecting what came next. For the first few minutes, I was having an out-of-body experience as I sat talking to my boss about my desire to leave the job. I was talking around the real issue. I was rattling off some rather cliché, canned answers. As I was talking, I could hear a voice in my head saying “What are you doing? Get in there Lyons! Say it! Tell him why you really want to leave!” I finally came clear.
“This job is just more than I want to do.”
Boom! There it was. Finally some honesty. Forget clichés like “I bit off more than I can chew.” I was pretty straight forward. The job required much more energy and mental space than I was willing exert or give up. Last summer, I was convinced that I needed at least one more significant challenge in my career. I was certain that I wanted to be busier and have more of (what I thought was) an impact. This came up in my conversation with my boss. I acknowledged that this desire for change and a challenge were mentioned in my interview. I am not one for making a bunch of excuses, so I bluntly stated that I changed my mind. I realized that the pace and volume of work in my previous job were just right for where I am in my life. I have a lot of things going on outside of the office that I want to have time for, as well as emotional and mental head space. There was some discussion about work-life balance. My boss suggested that the idea of work-life balance is a bit overplayed because work is part of life. That may be the case for some people, but balance — or even a little imbalance toward life over work — is really important to me. I thought of the Dave Barry quote, “You should not confuse your career with your life.”
I have a very good work ethic, but I’ve reached a point in my life where my ‘life’ is far more important than climbing a career ladder. I don’t fault anyone for pursuing more responsibility, compensation, exposure, and accolades. I have some very high-performing friends. I admire their drive and am proud of them. I had to be honest with myself (first) and others that am just not willing to commit the amount of time, energy, and mental space to work at that level. Not when the consequence is lost peace of mind, and time to pursue things that matter to me without feeling guilty. I had to learn and accept that it’s ok to take a step back and breathe.
So there it is. I demoted myself and I am proud that I made the decision. I have no regrets. I feel liberated emotionally, and proud that I was able to be true to what I believed was best. I am very appreciative to have the love and support of my family and friends. Even when they don’t always understand where I am coming from, they take the time to listen and know that I tend to think things through pretty well before making a decision. In this case, I didn’t consult with as many before making a decision; admittedly because I didn’t want anyone to talk me out of what I wanted. I did talk with my wife and son, because the decision impacts them most directly. The financial aspect of giving up a promotion was something that Carla and I had to talk through. The focus of my conversation with Noah was much more about telling him the “why” and my effort to provide an example as his father to follow and be true to your heart.
I look forward to returning to my ‘old’ job on Monday, and reuniting with the staff I’ve worked with for the past six years. It feels like coming home — in a good way. Though I’m saying I demoted myself, I know the opposite is true. I actually found the courage to give myself an emotional and mental promotion.
What about you? Have you ever reached a place where you could go up the career ladder and you chose to stay in place or take a step back? I would love to hear how you faced the decision, what were the personal/professional considerations, and how did you feel afterward?