Why I Broke the Conventional Rules

The last year has felt like a train wreck, but yet it also felt like it needed to happen.

In August of 2012 I left my cushy job at a biotech company. Looking back it’s obvious I made a good choice, but at the time it didn’t quite stand out so much. Money wasn’t the problem – I felt I was compensated fairly for the work I did, and the bonuses I received each year never disappointed. Benefits were terrific – the combination of vacation time and insurance were practically second to none. I worked for a department that was significant to the business – we actually did things that made the company money. I could always easily and proudly explain what I did if anyone ever asked. My boss was great. He trusted my gut instinct and let me do my thing. He recently gave me a reference stating that I was like his right hand man. But in the end, I just felt I couldn’t stay any longer. In my previous posts I listed other factors, like upper management, lack of growth, etc. You’ve probably heard these same reasons from others that left their job. These reasons definitely played a major role, but when I look back tonight, it was never the core reason of why I left.

There was a point in time, years into the job, that I simply no longer enjoyed what I did at that company. The problem was I could never admit it to myself. I found excuses to keep myself there. I shouldn’t leave because my parents had it so much worse, so I need to be appreciative of what I have. Anywhere else I go won’t be as good as what I have here. The tough times will pass, just stick it through. There are so many unemployed people out there that would KILL to get into this biotech company, so don’t throw away such a good thing. The list goes on and on. Whenever I wanted to quit, I thought of another reason to replace the old ones that had clearly run its course. With each new excuse I made up, all I did was continue to bury something inside me that wanted to rear it’s head – my own inner voice. I let the expectations and judgment of others toss more dirt to bury the inner voice that always found a way to slightly pierce it’s hands above the ground, no matter how much more dirt was thrown on it.

It got to a point where I felt I started losing control, which was somewhere around May of 2012. I then finally decided to participate in a 10 day Buddhist meditation retreat in Twenty Nine Palms, which took place in July. When I told some friends and colleagues about it, their instant reaction was that something was wrong with me. A small handful thought it was the coolest thing in the world. But unfortunately I let the negative judgments get to me. I became defensive when explaining why I chose to burn vacation time on a silent retreat, instead of going on my usual trips to Asia to be more “cultured.” I would spin the retreat in the same way, saying things like how it was cool, hip, and different. But deep down inside I was hurting and needed a way to let out pain without the judgmental noises. I needed to be in a safe place to let loose.

On the third day into the retreat, my mind had finally calmed down. All of a sudden nothing seemed like a pressing issue, which allowed me to analyze my problems with a bit more clarity. I only realize this now when looking back – my inner voice finally pulled itself out of the ground, the same ground that I had managed to bury it so deep inside before. For the remaining 7 days, my inner voice paced itself around and found it’s way to communicate with me. As crazy as that sounds, this is actually what happened. It didn’t give me all the answers, but it was clear I had to stop what I was doing now so that I could open my eyes to see what was next. It spent the remaining days convincing me that the obstacles were not as big as my ego had made them out to be.

When I returned home, I spent the first week getting my personal chores in order. Then the search began, and within 3 weeks I had a written offer ready to sign and commit. 10 months later, as I had alluded above, this new job came to a screaming stop. I wanted to cry and bang my head on the wall. I thought I had it all figured out. But I recalled again that my inner voice only told me when something was wrong, it never spelled out a straight path to what was right – I still had to figure that out on my own.

This next decision was the unconventional part. I quit without finding another job. I needed to give myself time to sort things out. Worrying about finding another job before quitting was the kind of societal noise that I had to break apart from. I needed a period of time with no judgments or expectations of returning to a job. In the seven years that I worked, I managed to save up quite a bit of money and also invested in enough assets to allow me to afford a short career break. So I simply said, fuck it, lets do it. I owe this to myself.

This time around something was very different. I had no problems explaining what I wanted to do with my new found freedom. I wasn’t planning to travel. I had planned on using the time to stay home, wake up when I felt like it, exercise more consistently, and handle personal chores that had piled up over the months. I guess you could call it a staycation. When asked about whether I found another job (some questions had the assumption already in it), I could proudly say I purposely didn’t look for one. Simply put, I no longer cared what they thought. I no longer cared if they thought I was crazy. What I found out later was these same folks wished they had the courage to do what I did.

I thought maybe I would have a moment of epiphany, where it would just hit me and I’d know exactly what to do next. Unfortunately, none of that happened. All I had was time to look back and reflect, and that’s what has happened in the past seven weeks. I’ve been asked tons of questions about what I did, how I feel, and what I’m thinking now. Honestly, I will give a different answer depending on how I’m feeling on a particular day. Many days I felt liberated, but for an equal amount of days I also felt a lot of fear. There’s always that little side of me in the back of my head that thinks I made a mistake, simply because I haven’t found the next thing yet that I could feel passionate about. But its OK. I am finally honest with myself and allowing my inner voice to be a better guide.

One of the first things my inner voice told me to do was observe the kind of work where I was naturally productive and genuinely enjoyed doing. It doesn’t means that it will be the right answer, I’m simply being told it’s something worth considering as I’m figuring this out. I also had to make adjustments to my personal life. There are some friends and colleagues that I had to cut out because their judgment wasn’t helping me. There are several friends that I haven’t seen in a while because I have to give myself time, and I plan to continue not seeing them until I feel ready. Actually, this is one of the cool things about listening to my inner voice – I can now better feel when things are right or wrong to me, without having to look to others for answers. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still scary. Sometimes I’m told things I don’t want to hear, but as nasty as medicine can be sometimes, the patient needs to take it.

On Monday I start a six month contract at a major financial institution. I’m at a point in my career where I have enough experience to offer this kind of consulting service, so I’m hitting it full force to see where it takes me.

The train is up and running again, and I’m ready to hop back on.

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