Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Somewhere between the last job and the next job: some time off

In the past, I'd wondered what it would be like to be European or an American who could take a month off, and then post sunny pictures of my adventures on Facebook to make all my friends jealous. I find it interesting that there are so many Millenials living at home because that was not an option in my family. So when I launched my career smack in the middle of a recession, I got to experience the humbling "scraping together the rent" ritual while I was hostessing at the Cheesecake Factory and then managing a small retail store. My point is, since I graduated from college, I have never not worked. So I always found something mysterious about the folks that somehow figured out how to take extended time off. My recession-era pay rate wasn't going to make that a reality and I am only European by ancestry. I have lost vacation days due to not using them.

Leaving Microsoft and starting my own business was the closest I felt like I would come to taking extended time off; I mean, I wasn't waking up M-F and going to someone else's office. And in fact, the first two weeks post-borg, I contemplated my future while I organized stuff around the house and had deep thoughts about whether I was really going to work for myself (and if so, what would it look like?).  This was valuable time for me and it served a purpose: I needed to pause and think about what I wanted out of the next phase of my career. I was able to disconnect from the mindset of "career development", moving up and performance reviews and decide that *I* was the person I needed to please.

This thinking got me to the point where I knew I wanted to do something creative, I never wanted to have an artificial career development conversation again and that at the end of the day (or really, at the beginning of the day), I wanted to be excited to go to work because I was doing something that made me happy. Those are my career qualifications and what led me to consulting. My career plans are pretty fluid at this point, knowing that a number of different work scenarios could meet my need.

I will admit that I have not been happy every single day of my new consulting career - I have had to fire clients and have made mistakes that resulted in my own suffering (and now I practically meditate on every statement of work before I send it off). But there's a huge difference between how I feel now and how I felt earlier in my career, because I took the time to figure out what was important to me. If that next great thing came along, I wanted to know to say yes to it and more importantly, to say no to the thing that was not going to make me happy.

As I write this, it's the first Monday that a number of Microsoft alumni are not hopping into their cars (or whatever) and headed to work. I know Microsoft isn't an environment that encourages you to pause and reflect, to ground yourself. But you don't work there any more. Over the next months, you'll find yourself re-evaluating a number of things you thought to be true about work. You'll be evaluating your own  professional worth. I can't think of a better time to stop and breathe.

Spend some time outside (I like walking Green Lake), play with your dog, build a blanket-fort with your kids. Step away from the computer. I'm not talking about for an afternoon...seriously turn that mofo off. Give yourself a couple of weeks (if you can) to detox.

For inspiration, here's an excerpt from my goodbye email that has some ideas. The post was titled "Heather Hamilton Has Left the Building"

After 12 years at Microsoft, I’m turning my badge in. Which is unfortunate. Because that badge picture is *awesome*. In 1999, I had no idea I was joining a company that would keep me challenged every day. And it’s been over a decade of awesomesauce. I’ve never taken more than two weeks off at a time…and I think I’ve only done that twice. So I am really excited to be able to step away. Full stop.

You are the people that have made my experience full of fun. And so I thought that instead of a dramatic email, I’d tell you what my immediate plans involve:

1) Naps. Lots of them. The kind where you wake up and wonder where your husband is and then you realize that you are totally not married.
2) Cocktails at lunch. The number of cocktails is unclear. I’ll have to let you know.
3) Trapeze. No, I’m not joining the circus. I checked with them and they won’t have me. I’ll be trying to change their minds. Who doesn’t love the smell of sweat and elephants? No, seriously. Who? Or whom?
4) Motorcycle riding. Man, my mid-life crisis just got good. If you see me on the road, I recommend you give me a wide berth.  I’ll be the one on the Yamaha wearing lip gloss.
5) Writing. Oh how I miss it. I may try to pry a book out of my puny brain. It’s been rattling around in there. It’s not fun to rattle. It makes dating very difficult.
6) Oversharing.
7) Labeling EVERYTHING. Did you know that those labels are waterproof?
8) Updating Facebook on what I had for lunch. Posting pictures of kitties. Mocking celebrities. Ticking off my family.
9) Blogging…with swear words.
10) Wordament word-offs. Dance-central dance-offs. Taco trucks.

 Please take some time to recharge and evaluate what comes next - what is going to make you truly happy. And develop your own list of things to do now that you have this opportunity to take a little time off. I'm happy to report that I was ten for ten on my list and am actually doing work that makes me happy.

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