“Man, what can we do? Think about it…we’re stuck!”
M’s words hit me hard, like a figurative punch to the gut. I shook my head slightly, lowering it into my chest. But this time, something had changed. Instead of the frustration that had become all too familiar, I felt a new emotion rise up.
“No, no…NO! I won’t accept that, I refuse to be stuck. I am going create another path, and it begins now!” The words resounded so fully within me, it felt as though I’d spoken them aloud.
My audible response betrayed this new resolve.
“I don’t know”, I replied, almost under my breath, and gradually moved the conversation. But inside I knew; my mindset had shifted, there was no going back. –
December 2014 was a watershed moment for me, career-wise. I had just received the top leadership award within my business division, recognized for combining strong business results with leadership both inside the organization as well as the outside community.
A healthy promotion followed, and soon afterwards I was overseeing a larger team, as well as a book of business just shy of a billion dollars. Yes, that’s billion – with a ‘b’. Suddenly, so called ‘important’ people seemed interested in what I had to say.
I was invited to join the executive team as they built out the business plan for the upcoming fiscal year, and was appointed to the board of a national charitable organization, which required me to fly to meetings around the country every couple of months.
My direct manager, along with her boss, a high ranking executive, reached out on a fairly regular basis to discuss my career development. They encouraged me to consider becoming mobile, a prerequisite to ‘climb the corporate ladder’, and join them in the executive ranks.
I have to admit, it all sounded pretty good, and for a little while I actually considered taking the plunge. I remember my wife and I having a number of conversations about the possibility of packing up our family, and going wherever the company decided to send us next.
But no matter how much we tossed the idea around, neither of us felt at peace about it. I think deep down we both knew that the desire for change we were feeling had little to do with a new city, or a few thousand extra dollars in our bank account. As such, we decided to push the idea of being promoted aside.
Fast forward one year.
My manager had moved on, and along came her replacement. It didn’t take long to realize that my world, and that of my colleagues, was about to shift, and not in a good way.
In our first meeting, the new boss declared himself a micro-manager. He wore it like a badge of honour. Less than a week into the job, he began sending threatening emails to myself and others, making unrealistic demands to be met within even more unrealistic time frames. The fact that business results had trended downwards in recent months didn’t make it any easier. There was little attempt to build relationship or rapport, let alone understand the business, of which he lacked experience.
He spoke poorly of certain employees to others, stooping to bullying tactics and harassment to achieve his objectives. Several staff, myself included, would receive demanding texts and emails at all hours, often at 3 or 4 in the morning. It got to the point where I removed my work email from my phone. And the lies, they became commonplace. The guy could spout untruths with nary a blink.
LOOKING FOR A LEADER
In less than a year, the once thriving employee-centred culture within our business area (500 employees), had completely eroded. This occurred within an organization renowned for how well it treats its people. Proof that it can happen anywhere. The amount of influence one individual can exercise across a huge employee network, negative or positive, never ceases to amaze me.
The best leaders seem to inspire teams to greatness with ease, while the poor ones suck the life right out.
Throughout the year, as much as I was aware of what was happening, I struggled to prevent this person from affecting my well being. It was so frustrating. I lost confidence, often came home mentally exhausted, which made it more difficult to stay active. I put on weight and battled feelings of anger. I even shared some of my frustrations in this post, at the time.
How could I allow anyone like this to influence me so negatively? It was a question I kept asking myself. Ultimately, I got my fight back, but thankfully the battle didn’t drag on too long.
Earlier this year the manager left, ushered from his role prematurely amidst a barrage of HR complaints and negative employee feedback. I survived. Not everyone did. Under his watch, a number of good employees were let go, and others lost their resolve and jumped ship. One thing I’ve learned is to never leave a job due to a bad boss, so jumping ship was never an option.
Thankfully, things improved dramatically after his departure, and I’m enjoying my job as much as I ever have. But this experience was a game changer for me. Out of it came a lot of self-reflection and soul searching, all of which reinforced my decision to climb DOWN the corporate ladder.
What does ‘climbing down’ look like?
Put simply, my wife and I will replace the income from my corporate career, “the 9-5”, within 3 years, by being aggressive with our personal finances and converting location independent side hustles into a full time career.
We’re a single income family. We have a mortgage and three teen/pre-teen kids. It won’t be an easy feat, but nothing worth doing ever is.
UNDERSTANDING THE WHY
Climbing down the corporate ladder is not my response to a bad experience with an abysmal boss.
That was simply the last straw. My turning point.
The place I found my resolve.
As I mentioned earlier, I love my job, but I’m driven to create the ability to leave it. Here a few reasons why, in no particular order:
1. The industry I work in is being disrupted. Digital technologies, such as mobile and AI, are causing rapid change in my business. Will my current job be there in five years? Yes. Ten? Maybe. Fifteen or twenty? Doubtful. I can stand still and become a lame duck, or I can forge a different path.
2. Large corporations are becoming increasingly disloyal to their employees. Mine is no different. I witnessed this in real time over the past two years. I provide enormous value to my employer. But I’ve watched as equally valuable people are let go with little more than a handshake, the mandatory severance package, and a few drinks at the nearest watering hole. If you work for a large organization, and you think for a second that the number one priority is anything other than pleasing shareholders, you’re living in a dreamworld.
3. Increasingly, I feel like a creative trapped in a 9-5. I’m far from the only one. There are plenty of creative people who work regular jobs, and I possess several attributes that align with how I make a living. I’m a people person in a people business. I tend to be a very good decision maker, and can operate in high pressure situations.
But my greatest passion is to create. I’m a songwriter, and a music producer. I’m an idea person. When I’m not at work, I live within the creative process. Since I began blogging and side hustling in the past year, that inspiration has gone to the next level. Not only am I brainstorming my own side hustle ideas, I find myself contemplating ideas for other bloggers/side hustlers. The bottom line: My 9-5 is very uncreative, and the two forces are beginning to clash with one another.
4. Most importantly, our ideal life is shifting. In the future, my wife and I want to spend more time travelling. My side of the family live in another part of the country, and I want to see them more often. Not being tied to an office will be key to making that a reality. Moreover, our kids are growing up. For years, our family’s daily routine varied little, so the 9-5 worked very well, but that’s gradually changing. In short, work-wise, schedule flexibility is quickly becoming my top priority.
How will I climb down?
There is no roadmap for climbing down the corporate ladder, but if you ask me, I’m better off taking action and starting something, rather than waiting until I’ve “connected all of the dots” looking forward. If I take that approach, it’ll never happen. That said, here are a few things I’ll need to prioritize, in order to be successful:
1. Remain engaged in my current job. While I’ve shifted my career focus away from advancement beyond my current role, it’s important that I still put my full energy into the work I do. After all, my career continues to be an important asset, something I don’t take for granted.
2. Live frugally. By aggressively reducing our expenses and growing our savings levels, my wife and I have and will continue to decrease the income we require to live. Our frugal lifestyle will allow me to make the leap to self employment that much sooner.
3. Relentlessly challenge my fears. Fear is a powerful emotion that prevents so many people from moving forward in life. Often, we don’t even realize that it’s fear holding us back, because we build such a web of excuses to convince ourselves NOT to chase our dreams. Be honest with yourself. Figure out what makes you afraid, and what needs to be done to push past it.
4. Prioritizing family. No pursuit of a dream or career can come at the expense of my family. They are my number one priority, as well as my primary motivation.
5. Create additional income streams through side hustles. I’ve already begun to lay a foundation by building scalable and location independent businesses/side hustles. My regular reader’s will know that at present those include this blog, a logo-design start up, a freelance music production venture as well as a developing digital marketing business.
6. Collaborate often. We can accomplish so much more when we draw on the strengths of others. This is something I’ve experienced first hand. I know that in my own ability, I am very limited. When I need to tackle something beyond of my area of gifting, I can’t be afraid to reach out, and leverage other people’s talent.
In order to make it through almost two years of authoritarian hell in our workplace, my colleagues and I relied on each other for support. One of those people is also a close friend. Throughout the tyranny, we would meet for coffee on a regular basis. We talked about life, our families, and our favourite sports teams, and we allowed each other the chance to vent about our challenges at work.
M shared the same need for change that I did, and he felt just as ‘stuck’. But, like me, he also found his resolve, his own turning point.
The interesting thing is, he decided to take the opposite path. As the skies cleared, rather than climb down the corporate ladder, he decided to go up. A few months later, he took a promotion and moved his family 2000 miles away, and began his ascent. Perhaps he feels he can reach high enough to escape the madness. I know that he doesn’t share the same creative urge as I, and so the corporate structure is more palatable. He’ll do well. He’s gifted, and possesses unshakable integrity. A bright light.
As for me, I couldn’t be happier. I’m ready to fly, with feet planted firmly in the ground.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on this post, as well as your personal career experiences. Please don’t hesitate to reach out by commenting below, or by sending me an email anytime!