Build your own dreams, or someone else will hire you to build theirs.” – Farrah Gray
We need to remember what’s important in life: friends, waffles, work. Or waffles, friends, work, it doesn’t matter. But work is third. – Amy Poehler
For three months after taking my ‘early retirement’, I deliberately stayed away from all things corporate. The thought of putting on a suit, heading uptown and interviewing for jobs literally turned my stomach. In fact, on February 23rd, for Jake’s birthday, the boys wanted to go to Rooster’s for dinner. Rooster’s is in 1 BAC, the massive ‘green’ high rise building where I last had my office. I said No. Actually it was more like HELL NO. Like an old stubborn mule, I simply refused to step in that building. We went somewhere else instead.
I read lots of novels and travel books instead of anything that smacked of business.
I stubbornly turned my back on the excellent executive placement services that were provided as part of my package.
I took lots of walks – with and without grand puppy Bear – and lots of naps.
I learned to cook healthy food, and actually enjoyed it.
I cleaned (most of) my closets, as well as a whole bunch of the closets in my parents’ house in Virginia.
I went on a writing retreat.
I took up meditation (somewhat sporadically), and engaged a sustainable nutrition coach and a renowned executive intuition coach. The sustainable nutrition coach cured my insomnia and the intuition coach introduced me to my powerful spirit ‘guides’.
I took an Italian conversation class with the charming Sylvia, a native of ‘Milano’. I mastered the frustrating pronunciation of the ‘ch’ and ‘c’ sounds in Italian, which is exactly the opposite of English. I even learned how to pronounce the ‘gli’ sound with a real Italian accent.
As winter turned to spring, I sat on my peaceful screened porch, listened to the birds, and wondered what was next for me. Wondered when I would feel the call to get deeply engaged – in something – anything – again.
A few weeks ago, I decided to dip my toe, rather reluctantly, into the job market. To just test the waters, so to speak. A friend referred me to a management consulting firm. And lo and behold, the job description sent by the recruiter sparked a little flame of interest in me.
I read it, and felt a kernel of excitement in my gut. That old feeling of competence, passion and action – there it was! I had thought it was dead. I knew I could knock that job out of the park.
I let that feeling percolate for a few days. And then one day, driving down the road, I realized it was time to go back to work. I was not done yet. I still had some serious skills to offer to the workplace, and there were jobs out there to be had. Good jobs, interesting jobs, jobs I would actually enjoy.
But this time, I was going back on my own terms.
So, I thought about my rules for jumping on the roller coaster that is the corporate world again. As Liz Ryan in a recent Forbes article says, you should not get hung up on HOW to find the ‘perfect’ job until you first get really clear on what you WANT. Her advice: “Take ‘how would I do it?” out of the equation and ask, “What do I want?” instead. Once you know what you want, the “how will I do it?” answer begins to snap into place.”
So here are my personal rules for re-enlisting in the work force. I’m calling them my Back-to-Work Manifesto. My work version of the Ten Commandments.
- Thou shalt not use thy job as the yardstick of measuring personal worth. I am not solely my work. I am so much more than it. Way more. Thou shalt never forget it.
- Thou shalt not continually prioritize work over health, family and friends. For many years my priorities were 1) work, 2) children, 3) marriage and friends 4) health. Totally backwards, and I have the body to prove it. I may not put waffles first on the list like Amy Poehler, but you get the idea.
- Thou shalt not partake of all three meals of the day in front of a computer. One does not need to spend eight hours double-booked on conference calls and three hours at night doing PowerPoints and responding to emails to be successful. At least not as a daily occurrence. It’s called boundaries, and I’m going to have some.
- Thou shalt see the sun, move the body, and feel the wind on thy face each day. Even if I go ‘corporate’ again, I will take time to walk outside in daylight each day. I’m kind of addicted to those daily walks now, and living like a mushroom under florescent lighting and greeting the cleaning crew at night is no way to spend the rest of my time here on earth.
- Thou shalt not stay in a toxic environment just because thee needs the money. I will maintain my financial independence. My toxicity radar will be up and actively scanning for bullshit directives, excessive, unnecessary politics and bad leadership. If I start to feel it in my gut, it’s time to leave.
- Thou shalt not take a backseat to incompetence, or put up with abusive managers, partners or clients. Direct, brusque, intense – I’m ok with those business traits. In fact, I’m pretty sure that more than a few people have used those words to describe me at one time or another. But there is no place in my life anymore for abusive people. Period.
- Thou shalt have flexibility in thy work – flexibility to choose thy projects and the team thee works with. Another great quote from Liz Ryan’s piece: “Look ahead and imagine the next steps you will take on your path. Choose them. You are not a leaf blown about by the wind. You get to choose how your life and career proceed.”
- Thou shalt not commit blindly to one company for the long haul. Commitment to the work is good. But absolute loyalty to one company is way over-rated and doesn’t have a great payback these days.
- Thou shalt not think small, or undersell thyself and thy capabilities. Ever. Why do women, much more than men, have such a tendency to do this?
- Thou shalt get paid what thee is worth. In a recent conversation with the intuition coach, I mentioned that I did not expect to get paid as much as I made before, but that was ‘OK’. I just wanted to work on interesting stuff with good people. She pointed out that my old ‘story’, the one I was STILL telling myself, was this: A LOT OF MONEY = MISERY. Old stories die hard, but I’m working on opening up to the possibility that money and misery do not have to be highly correlated.
The short version of these commandments might be summed up like this:
Value yourself and your capabilities.
Put health and happiness first.
Manage your finances so that you can leave when you know the party’s over.
Trust your gut. In all things, trust your gut.
I don’t know yet what my next job will be. Some days I just can’t wait to sink my teeth into a really big corporate transformation project again, and other days I think it would be kind of nice to just be a simple dog walker.
Yea, I know there’s a world of difference between the two – and the money is not so good on the dog walker front. But whether it’s consultant or dog walker, I still think these are some good rules to live by.
So here we go. Stepping up to buy a ticket on the roller coaster. The “how will I do it” comes next.