'Committing career suicide was the best decision I ever made.'

Have you ever thought about how much your job defines you? It’s an interesting question and something I’ve had the chance to examine for myself. I’m pondering a pretty huge decision I made a year ago.

I was sitting pretty in an Executive role after a good 25 years work experience at some fabulous companies. Arguably, I was in the perfect position to maximise both my earning and career potential, particularly with such a strong push for more women in Executive roles and boards.

At exactly that time, according to Sheryl Sandberg, I should have been “Leaning in”, I didn’t just lean out – I jumped off. Some might say it was career suicide and yes, in a sense it was.

My partner and I have worked hard to give ourselves choices and we’re fortunate to be able to do this. And it wasn’t that I didn’t want more. I absolutely did and still do – it’s just that I didn’t want more of what I’d been doing for so long – what I wanted was something different.

Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg.

I won’t lie; the decision to leave the corporate world was equally terrifying and exhilarating. You see I’m a person in perpetual motion, a chronic gap filler of time professionally and personally. I thrive on challenges, achieving things and being busy. Time has always been my enemy – just never enough to go around, I just don’t do downtime very well.

So when I announced I was exiting the world that had driven much of my adult life and agenda, pretty much everyone said they couldn’t see me lasting. I’d be back they said. I suspected they were right but I suspended judgment. I mean, who knows? This was new ground for me - how hard could it be not to work? There are plenty of mornings I woke up and would have given a body part to just crawl back under the doona...
So how was it? Smart hubby whisked me off for a 3 month overseas break, as we both knew I would go mad within weeks otherwise. It was the perfect circuit breaker – no routines, no agenda, nothing booked, just a car and a wicked sense of freedom.

By the time we returned I’d notched myself down a few gears and the trip definitely helped me to the next step of detoxing from a corporate life.

Then what?

After the trip and a permanent move to the country it was back to my new reality. The best way I could describe that time is just totally weird.

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I loved the freedom of totally random travel. During my corporate life, I always wanted to say, “hey there’s a great flight deal to wherever” & just go – so now we did. I loved my new pace of life too – going to the gym at 9am not 6am, doing art classes during the day, taking up golf, working on some new projects in my area of passion – the wine industry.

One wet miserable Tuesday morning we headed to the movies at 10.30am popcorn and all – I hadn’t done that since I was a kid. I felt guilty like I was wagging – it was delicious and weird.

Staring in the mirror

The hardest thing, to be completely honest, was spending time with myself. I’d never given myself the opportunity to explore who I was without my work identity, title or suit. This was both the most interesting and difficult part of the whole experience. Who are you, what do you do, where do you fit? This had always been easy to answer, now, not so much.

Frankly, it’s easier to stay on the treadmill than it is to jump off. Whilst there’s an element of masochism to that – it’s a system you know. You know how to do it, how it works, you know how to survive and even thrive in it. I can see now why so many people who retire go back to work or hate retirement. You were “somebody”, you were in demand, relevant, seemingly important and now what? The change in position and status is confronting.

Cathy Gadd. Image: LinkedIn.

Having said that, I’m not overly status oriented so I didn’t find the change an affront to my self-esteem, but it did make for awkward conversations. “Plenty of opportunities”, “too young to retire”, I heard them all. Others insisted I needed to do something. Yes, that was true but I needed to remove the accumulated grime from my soul first and empty out all that I had been so I could see future opportunities and myself more clearly. That takes time – time I’d suggest we never give ourselves as we strive for the next thing in the hurly burly of our working lives.

The new norm

The discomfort, weirdness and guilt began to abate after 6 months. I started to enjoy the freedom and chance to set my own agenda and pace. My sleep and wellbeing returned - no small achievement. I invested time in family and those nearest and dearest. Most of all I invested time in my interests and exploring new things. I have a developing portfolio of professional and personal interests that will no doubt evolve over time. It’s been a fascinating learning curve.

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And to be honest if I did go back into the corporate world after such an extended break, I would definitely do things differently. And by that I mean better. You see, I have perspective now and when you’re in the cut and thrust of it all, it’s so hard to “see the woods for the trees”. Looking back at what I was doing, I know I felt the impacts at the time but you're indoctrinated - it's how the system works and I just accepted the way things were. Only now can I see how I struggled to maintain an authentic sense of myself rather than just getting caught up in the relentless game and "rules" of the system.


So a year later how am I with my decision? Despite the clear corporate career suicide it’s the best decision I have ever made. I miss the people (and my corporate card) oh and the IT help desk. But, I sure don’t miss the inevitable politics, pressure cooker environment, egos and treadmill of corporate life. That said, it served me extremely well. I gave a lot to it and it gave me a lot back.

Perhaps some of my thoughts and experiences here resonate with you. But for me it’s time for a new direction and to do things with more soul and meaning to me.

I’m embracing it, weirdness and all. Next!

This post originally appeared on LinkedIn and was republished here with full permission.