On Being Broken, Episode 2: Hating My Job
This blog post continues my series "on being broken," where I share my reflections on various early life-crises that broke me, yet taught me so much, and allowed me to become more of my authentic, real self. This time, I’ll be sharing my experience around what I call my second "early-life crisis": when I finally realized and was forced to admit to myself I was yet again in a position where I hated my job.
After being fired from consulting, I worked with a career coach to figure out what to do next. I ultimately ended up deciding I wanted to pivot into the tech world, where I felt the company cultures would be less stuffy, and going into HR, since I really enjoyed people-related work.
I ended up taking a position at a Silicon Valley startup. The first year I was there, I again was in a honeymoon period, and I also really liked my manager. After a year, however, the HR team had some huge shifts, and I had an opportunity to make a key decision about what kind of work I wanted to do. I was fortunate enough to be presented with the choice of either focusing on Talent Management or focusing on Learning & Development.
At the time, there was a clear immediate need for someone to focus on Talent Management - specifically, Performance Management* - and with my skills and background in consulting, as well as my strong operational and organizational abilities, it was a role that I knew I could excel in. It would also be high-visibility and impact the whole company. On the other hand, I knew our company would need Learning & Development** work done to help support our employees and leaders eventually, and my heart leaned much more toward doing L&D work.
I had to think pretty hard about this decision because my heart felt such a strong tug toward L&D. What I truly wanted to do was work that would directly affect people and potentially enable positive change, and I'd find much more of that doing L&D. However, my brain and my old habits of leaning into logic completely took over my decision-making process. I had thoughts like:
"I hear it’s important to be a good team player if I want to be successful in the corporate world, so that means my feelings about what I like aren’t as important as what’s needed right now. I’m sure I will be rewarded and eventually get to do what I like if I take one for the team first."
"If I do Talent Management, it will expand my skill set, and it will make me more marketable in the future for any kind of HR role. It makes logical sense to keep as many doors open for myself as possible."
"Doing a high-visibility project like this is a great way to prove myself early on in my career. Doing something like this means I’ll eventually get to do exactly the kinds of projects I want, right? We all have to work our way up the ladder and prove ourselves first."
While all of the above might have seemed reasonable, looking back now, I wish I had instead realized it was ok to focus more on what my heart wanted, instead of forcing myself to take another detour away from what I loved.
By all material accounts, I was quite successful in the Talent Management role. I designed, rolled out, and managed our companywide performance management cycles and system. I was a one-woman show who did everything end to end: I created our strategy; I managed all the stakeholders, including the HR team and the C-level suite; I developed the project plans and timelines; I figured out the nitty-gritty details people needed to go through the process and wrote all of the guides and supporting resources by myself; I wrote (and ghostwrote for our HR team) all email communications for our cycles; I configured the software system we used and managed our software vendor; I was the help desk for anyone with a question related to the process. Everyone was extremely impressed that I was able to keep track of everything and have everything roll out smoothly. I also squeezed out time to support the team in other talent management-related projects, including talent reviews.
The only issue was…in order to do all this successfully, I had to stuff all my feelings in a tiny box, ignore my feelings’ screams and pleas, and work 8AM-8PM for months on end. You can imagine how doing that for a long period of time brings a person to their knees. After over a year working that job, I was burnt out, frustrated, and hated getting up every day. The companywide visibility on this project brought me no joy. Having to be an automaton and brute forcing myself to do the work brought me no joy. And then I realized - here I was again, making the same mistakes as before, thanks to falling into the same old patterns (i.e., leaning into logic instead of my heart). I was finding out that Life has a funny way of teaching you the same lessons over and over again until you grok them.
Even though I knew that my old ways of thinking got me into that mess I was in, I didn’t really know what to do about it. At the time, I was so insecure in myself and such a people-pleaser that I felt obligated to stay on the path I had chosen for the sake of everyone else, even though it was wrong for me. I thought it was more important to honor what would be easiest and most convenient for everyone else, instead of following my heart.
Thankfully, during that time, I met a wonderful coach. She was a force of nature who took time to help me realize that I truly deserved to live a fulfilling life, and that long-term, I actually was doing a disservice to everyone by forcing myself to do something I disliked. If I ended up too unhappy and burnt out, I wouldn’t be able to do any kind of work - and that was a loss to myself and everyone around me. And, even outside of that - just by virtue of existing, she emphasized, I was worthy of finding a path that brought me joy and fulfillment. That was the first time I really started thinking about how it was OK for me to prioritize my own wants and needs as opposed to everyone else’s.
Thanks to a lot of self-reflection and sincere focus on and sustained effort toward real change, I was able to shift in a more positive direction. I built up the courage to ask for a role change into L&D. I also started setting healthier boundaries between my work and my personal life so that I actually could live my life and have fun, rather than only work all the time. I also decided to get my coaching certification, since I knew I was passionate about becoming a coach. I started looking at life very differently from before.
Through this crisis, I learned yet again how important it is to listen deeply to my emotions - they have important messages to share. I also learned that there’s value in putting myself first, rather than focusing first on pleasing others: if I’m unhappy, I cannot do my best work - at least, not for a sustained, long period of time. If I truly wanted to live a more fulfilled, resonant life, I needed to start acknowledging and asking for what I needed so that I could live sustainably and find joy.
I know exactly what it’s like to keep falling into the same old behavioral and thinking patterns that no longer serve you. I know what it’s like to see those patterns yet still feel stuck and even box yourself in. I know how to work through those constructively and shift to new behaviors and thinking patterns that actually serve you. I invite you to contact me to discuss how we could work together to help you make the shifts you need in order to live a more fulfilling and joyful life.
*basically, performance reviews.
**in a nutshell, designing and facilitating learning experiences and programs to support employees in their growth