We’re in tumultuous times. Such unprecedented times. Times of uncertainly. We’ve all heard the ads and the reporters and gotten the emails and seen it on the telly. Frankly, I wish people would find more creative ways to talk about what’s happening in society and the world and also look at the possibilities that come from how we can each build upon ourselves – to take the tumultuousness and see about creating intentional happiness – in the times we’re in.
Last week The New York Times Magazine featured a series of essays on “What We’ve Learned in Quarantine.” One of the essays talked about the process of caterpillars turning into butterflies, highlighting that we typically talk about the “before” of being a caterpillar and the “after” of emerging as a butterfly, but spend little time looking at the messy and crowded process of being cocooned inside the chrysalis itself. Sam Anderson writes:
“It turns out that the inside of a cocoon is – at least by outside-of-a-cocoon standards – pretty bleak. Terrible things happen in there: a campaign of grisly desolation that would put most horror movies to shame. What a caterpillar is doing, in its self-imposed quarantine, is basically digesting itself. It is using enzymes to reduce its body to goo, turning itself into a soup of ex-caterpillar – a nearly formless sludge oozing around a couple of leftover essential organs (tracheal tubes, gut).
Only after this near-total self-annihilation can the new growth begin…. These parts gorge themselves on the protein of the deconstructed caterpillar, growing exponentially, taking form, becoming real. That’s how you get a butterfly: out of the horrid meltdown of a modest caterpillar.”
Now, I don’t know about you, but over the last 10-12 weeks, I’ve found myself in various stages of this caterpillar-to-butterfly transformation. I’ve put opportunities in my path to force thinking, conversation, and growth. One of these is a course on well-being.
Through this course, I was introduced to an awesome tool to determine my Signature Strengths, which are basically the top characteristics of my emotional quotient (or EQ). (If you have the cash to spare, I highly recommend getting the expanded results at the end to learn more about your strengths at all levels.) If you know me even a little, you won’t be surprised to know that Kindness was my number one strength and that Leadership and Love of Learning also made the top five.
I could have easily read the report and put it to the side, but as part of the course I was taking, I was encouraged to stretch my strengths. For the last four weeks, I have been flexing my Signature Strengths, focusing on one each day and finding ways to deepen my understanding of each trait and to use that day’s strength in creative ways.
As I stretch myself in the daily actions of exhibiting kindness, learning more, recommitting to the principles of servant leadership, finding beauty around me, and deepening my social intelligence, I find myself making sense of the growth goo into which I have been submerged and intentionally solidifying into the person I am becoming. The person I want to be.
This is, by no means, and easy process. Growth sucks sometimes. We are brought face-to-face with ingrained aspects of ourselves and the lives we live and have to make decisions on if we are going to continue down the path we are on or if we are going to pivot. In creating intentional happiness for us and the world around us, it is ultimately up to each of us to ask ourselves the questions:
Am I happy?
Am I making others happy?
Are my actions hurting or helping?
Am I a force for good in the world?
What can I change today to make myself a better person and the world a better place?
I left my job a few months ago. I had been sitting on this decision for a while. I liked my work. I was invested in our mission. I enjoyed interfacing with many of my coworkers. What I didn’t love was a continued expectation for excessive overtime, that work was to take precedence over personal and family commitments, that almost complete projects were upended (more than once), and the repetition of “we’re family” was part of the workplace culture. (It’s not healthy, I promise, and having leadership that uses that language puts workers – you and I included – at a disadvantage with our time and financial value because “family” workplaces expect employees to give more (or all) for less.)
I’ve burnt out before.
Burnout is no joke. Dragging out of bed and through the day bleary-eyed. Difficulty concentrating. Taking hours longer to complete a task because I. Just. Can’t. Move. Any. Faster. Having to bribe myself to go to work. All the signs were starting to show. What was most frustrating for me was that I had tried to address my concerns about unmanageable workload early on (starting more than a year before giving my notice). During one exchange when I asked how my boss would like me to prioritize certain types of tasks, I was (unhelpfully) told, “It all just needs to get done.”
All of these individual things aside, I knew months before I finally left that the time was approaching. It took me a while to get all the pieces in place. Was I in a financial place where I could leave? How long could I manage to be unemployed without incredible strain? Was it the right time? Would things get better? Should I give it another chance? How much longer could I go before burnout really got me? I’m sure there’s a point in my life where I would have up and walked off a job. (Actually, I have up and walked off a job.) But this was not that place or time.
I have value outside my job.
We’ve been conditioned (very much so in the United States and also in other parts of the world) that our job – the type of job we hold and rank within it – determines our value as a person. I’ve been to countless networking events and social parties where the first question I get asked is, “What do you do?” I’ve tried to flip this on its head by replying with my hobbies, but the follow-up question is always, “No, what do you do for work?” I realized probably close to a decade ago that this question is very much a matter of people determining each other’s status and worth in society and have made a concerted effort to flip the script on this question by opening my ask with something else. Really, anything. “Do you have any pets?” “What’s your favorite dessert?” “What are your hobbies?” The possibilities are endless.
Know Your Priorities.
In reality, our work is only a part of us and what we do. For me, work ranks third in what I view as important in my life.
1. Family: Myself, my immediate family, my chosen family, those for whom I would literally drop everything no matter what.
2. Community: The people and places with whom/where I collaborate and in which I invest my time, talent, and treasure in order to leave the world a better place than I found it.
3. Career: A job (hopefully one I like a lot) that allows me opportunities to share my abilities and positively impact our mission as a whole. The vehicle that keeps a roof over my head and food on the table and allows me to fully invest in #1 and #2.
It’s taken time to find my own value (yay, life experiences!), but as my own understanding of my value as a person has matured, my patience for people who don’t respect the autonomy of others (be it in learning or communication style, preferred hobbies, style of dress or physical expression, etc.) has gone down. I am a baker. A pianist. An activist. A bookworm. A yogi. A gardener. A cat mom. And so much more.
Even with all the uncertainty that comes with not having another job lined up, I knew it was time when the time came. I was on the precipice of burnout. I wasn’t feeling valued. When I did set my end date, I gave a statistically long amount of notice. I was honest in my reasons to leave in the hopes that systemic change could happen for others. I hope I set my team up for success. I wish no ill on my colleagues and hope that their work towards the mission continues successfully.
Quitting can be scary and that’s no lie. There’s the aspect of not knowing how others will react when you give your notice, what they will say about you (to your face or behind your back), or if you’ll simply become a pariah for the last few weeks you’re there. And it was scary. But it was also an incredible, empowering step in staying true to myself and doing what I needed to do – for me.
The closer I got to my last day, the prouder I was of myself for making this choice. The closer I got to the uncertainty of what was next, the stronger I felt in my decision.
I’ve carefully selected a handful of fields I feel I will really enjoy. I’ve curated a list of important interview questions to make sure I’m valued from the beginning (including questions about work/life synergy, workplace culture, the cohesiveness of mission/vision/values, and more). I have some incredible friends helping me on this journey and while I really don’t know what’s next, I know I can do it.
So many people are fed up with their corporate jobs and seek to start their own business. You want to get out on your own for your passion project or the thing you know will bring in more money than working in the corporate world. Entrepreneurship is calling. I get it! Been there and done that. What most people don?t realize is that you can learn a lot about starting a business from your corporate job. Embrace what you have while you wait because there are so many lessons to be learned and used from your current position on your entrepreneurial journey.?
When I started my own business I didn?t necessarily see myself leaving the corporate world. I always thought that I would be a professional and a professional side hustler at the same time. Well, the funny thing is that I?ve changed my mind. Throughout my corporate life, I have been receiving all of these opportunities to learn about business without always knowing they’re setting me up for my future goals.
Let me explain!
Many of the concepts I’ve learned in the corporate world are transferable to running my own business when it comes to the overall idea of entrepreneurship. For example, if you are in customer service, you should be soaking up all of the training you?re receiving from your current job in order to best serve your customers at your own company in the future. If you?re responsible for training at your corporate job, learn to be the best at it because you will eventually be training your own staff.
Here are some of the greatest lessons I?ve learned in my corporate career that have played a hand in starting my own business.
During my time in business development, I was fortunate enough to take a Dale Carnegie sales class. If you know anything about Dale Carnegie, then you know the classes are informative, powerful and?expensive. This 8 week, $1,800 series was not something my little pockets could pay for at the time. Let?s be honest, I would struggle to pay that now!
The workshops in this series taught me public speaking skills, how to close a sale, how to network, and even the proper guidelines for following up with a lead. Of course, all these skills were necessary for the role I held with my previous employer. But it as paid off – A LOT. These skills translated very well into my current role. In my own business, I have the know-how and the confidence to pitch clients and land successful deals. Everything I learned was worth its weight in gold.
Even if it?s not a Dale Carnegie class, I encourage everyone to take a sales course in order to learn how to present yourself and close any deal!
What?s that Jay-Z lyric? Oh yeah. ?Numbers don?t lie.? As a business owner, it is imperative to know how to analyze data. You have to know your past, current, and future standings. Whether you?re looking at your business revenue or the results of your services, you have to know!
The proof is in the pudding. When you can show the results in numbers, it helps close the pitch and also demonstrates the success of your efforts. For example, if I can show my clients that I?ve been able to successfully grow their social media accounts by a certain percentage within a specific time frame and that I?m meeting the goals we?ve set, that gives the client an idea of my importance and value to their business. This is why they NEED me and need to keep PAYING me. Understand what I?m saying?
Networking is like going to the gym. You hate it, you don?t want to do it, but you push through and make it there anyway. Go you! Sometimes you complain through the workout but, when you leave, there is a feeling of accomplishment. If you network and make a good connection?? even just one?? it feels even better.
I had the opportunity to go to as many networking events as I wanted in a previous position. This opportunity taught me the art of climbing social ladders and developing genuine business relationships.If you have the opportunity to network or even take meetings with those you typically wouldn?t have a chance to interact with at your company, do it! That person or group of people may be a huge benefit to the business you will run in the future.
Knowing how to network is also a great idea because it gives you a chance to expand your knowledge from those outside of your lane. As an entrepreneur, your favorite kind of person needs to people who help people. And you need to be one. What connections are you making? What opportunities are you taking? How are you constantly learning?
Now, put these things to task
These three areas of opportunity are just topics I stumbled upon. I wasn?t focused on entrepreneurship at the time. Now, I specifically ask to see what I need to know. For example, I now have a pretty good relationship with someone in the marketing department at work. I plan to ask this person to take the time to go over Facebook ads with me. I need to dive into this particular world and the information is sitting right there for FREE! You know I?m not going to pass up that opportunity.
Don?t be scared to ask. If something you want or are interested in is outside of your current role, volunteer and give a helping hand in the area you wish to discover. Everybody needs help and by helping you?ll learn more. In this case, you?d be doing someone a favor in rturn by helping with their workload (and doing yourself a favor in the learning department, too).
I say all this to say that the business or businesses you currently work for had to start somewhere, just like you. They are most likely using tried and true tactics when it comes to hitting business goals (and if they?re not, it may be time for you to seek a new opportunity!). Your journey is your journey for a reason. Don?t miss the gems in front of you by being an antsy pants and only negative about your corporate job. Think big picture and beyond the desk you?re sitting at. Take it all in and focus on learning the things that will ultimately make you the greatest success at your business.