I’m the kind of person that wants improvements in my life without having to change anything I do. I want to lose weight without having to give up french fries. I want to get fit by reading a book about it. I want to be less stressed out at work without giving up any interesting projects. I want magic to be real.
But I know it doesn’t work that way. When I went to talk with the chief program officer (CPO) at the non-profit where I work this summer and said, “I don’t want to quit this job, but this isn’t working for me. I need a leave of absence, and I need a more sustainable work life when I come back,” I knew I was taking a risk. I told myself that I was willing to accept the consequences because I could not continue the way I was going.
On Sunday I met with the CPO for the first time since my leave started on October 1, to have our initial conversation about what my job might look like when I return on January 4. She had asked me before to imagine my current work was all taken away, and I had a clean plate: what would I want to be on that plate? So I talked about the type of tasks I like the best and the content areas that awaken the most passion for me. It was clear from the direction of the conversation that she was thinking I should move away from a senior management role to something else we have yet to define. probably something like senior researcher. And while we talked, I started thinking about all the things I liked about being a director. I started playing with the idea that maybe I could keep all those things in there. She said we would both think more and talk when I return from my upcoming trip, but she thought I should start to adjust to the idea of not being a director. This felt really uncomfortable. I identify now with the director role. I like the authority and legitimacy it gives me inside and outside our organization. I like making decisions about budgets and hiring and developing junior staff (I like being the boss). Also, the idea of leaving that leadership role but staying on in the organization was provoking a sense that I had failed.
I left her house and started to drive home, feeling kind of sad and kind of mad at myself for messing up my career. The drive is not that far, maybe 15 minutes. And in that time, I felt a shift in me. I remembered that what was killing me at work was the huge load of management tasks and meetings that often took most of the day, meaning I had to come home in the evening and do project work. Imagine if I only spent my time on project work. I’m good at it. It’s satisfying. I can still mentor junior staff through project teams. I can work more directly with clients.
If I’m not trying to do everything, as I was for most of this year and a good part of last, I’ll be able to do a better job with the research projects. I’ll get my evenings back again, and my weekends. I will have time and space to take care of myself. I will be able to do the healthy things (therapy, yoga, walks with the dogs, reading, resting) that just may keep me out of the deepest depressive pit.
Earlier I told myself I would accept the consequences. Though I still don’t know exactly what those consequences are, it’s clear there will be some big ones. I need to be brave enough to accept the changes so I can move from insanity to sustainability. It’s a bit scary. I’ll have to give some things up, but I can let myself mourn the loss of those things. I want to recognize though that change does not have to mean failure. Acknowledging my limits and arranging my life to honor them can be, on the contrary, an achievement.
Giving up a bit of prestige for happiness. Hmm, sounds pretty good to me!
Right? It’s ultimately the right thing. But there is this piece of me that gets the “I am okay; I am not bad” through my professional identity, so there’s a bit of work involved in completely embracing that position. I also don’t know what that will mean for my salary. But what good is the extra money if all I do is work and feel depressed?
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A friend once told me during a time when I had so much trouble making a decision to make a list; pros & cons. See which one wins out. It did help. Sounds like you are doing that mentally already.
Oh. Ouch. Tough one. In essence, you’re being asked to give up some of the control you had at work (and boy, do I understand; I’ve been through similar things). Doesn’t matter if that control was killing you; giving it up is always difficult. Getting lost in work is one more way to avoid feelings, isn’t it? And it’s safe doing it: I have to work, it’s my job. People tend to accept that.
Brava to you for making a choice. Seems to me you’re focusing on the positives of the change, which is exactly where you need to be. Life is for living, Q. Work should be a little side salad. ❤
“Getting lost in work is one more way to avoid feelings, isn’t it?” Yes, though I denied it for a long time, I now think that is true. I think once I get through the change and adjust, I will be glad to have more on my plate than just work. Thanks for your comment – you really get it.
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🙂 Been there myself, Q. You’ll probably be a bit jittery and not know what to do with yourself at first – too much time on your hands. Try to go slow and not take up too many projects. ❤
[…] I will have to return to the office and take on some new, as yet undefined role. I thought I had come to believe that a different role at work would make me happier, but given that I had multiple sad dreams about it on vacation, I realize that this will be a […]