When you start to feel that it might be time to move on

Despite all the comforts and safety, something starts to feel off. This is the next chapter in my little series about my personal experience of “Making It in and out of Corporate.” It deals with that strange sensation of knowing that it is time to move on, how to recognize this feeling, how I coped with it, and how I made ready for my next adventure. My hope for this chapter is that it resonates with those of you feeling stuck in uncomfortable places and helps you realize your own freedom to reflect and make choices in line with your values. Here we go:

It isn’t necessarily that one grand moment or shocking awakening that jars us out of our comforts and makes us realize that the time for change has come. In my case, it was rather the culmination of subtle currents of dissatisfaction and dissonance between the strategy and mood that the company put forth, and those I held on my own. In any job, there is a balance between opposing forces: thrill and fatigue, intrigue and routine, joy and cynicism, the list goes on.

Slowly but surely, I could feel that the balance was shifting and that I was spending more and more time in the company of emotions such as cynicism. I wasn’t really recognising myself, I felt angry, irritated and was in a bad mood.

Image by Roger Bradshaw

Like I said, this was not an “aha moment” from one day to the next, it was a 5-year process to slowly understand my own location and unmet standards of conduct. I felt my capacity to deal with some of the, forgive my English, nonsensical tensions all of us who have worked in corporate will know and often laugh about, diminish. The swinging pendulum of power and strategic direction at the top of the hierarchical pyramid. The political scheming. Accepted behavior patterns that were offensive in light of my own moral compass.

One of my personal core values, and it really pays off discovering them at any career stage, is integrity. Here is where the alarm bells started ringing loudest, when I began to feel uncomfortable while transmitting and translating senior management marching orders to my team. Ideas that I myself could not stand behind, much less try to make my team believe in.

Among the clearest signs were also the ones my body was sending me. It isn’t always easy to grasp the source of a physical manifestation of emotional stress, but with time we can all develop a finely tuned sense for it. It took a while, but eventually I made the connection and realized that my deteriorating health (one of the earliest signs are often constant fatigue and, interestingly, back pain) was the result of me being in a place (physically and emotionally) where I didn’t belong anymore. Quite frankly, I ended up saying to myself:

“I am way too young to be feeling like this, joyless and in pain. Time to get my joie de vie back, I am not this unhappy person!”

Leaving a job and its familiarity is not easy. Our financial or familial circumstances don’t often allow for an abrupt departure, and at times we must remain in a place we know we should move on from. Even more challenging though is recognizing that we are unhappy where we are. Yet, it is critical that we cultivate that capability. The sooner we see the signs, the sooner we can start to make a plan and avoid being stuck in a situation in which prolonged exposure to an environment not nurturing to us starts to eat away at our core.

I wanted to distill the many lessons I learnt during this time in the hopes that they can help you navigate this challenging terrain should you ever find yourself near it. Firstly, listening to that inner voice telling you “something is off” takes courage. Courage to confront rather than push away that initial inkling. Courage to remain calm and discern which aspects of the terrain trigger it. Courage to decide if it is time to change or if there are things yet for you to enjoy in your current location. And courage to exercise self-acceptance and self-love, listening to your body, and giving yourself permission to not be happy where you are, particularly in a success and “strength in the face of adversity”-obsessed world. Secondly, we need to hone and proudly own our own sense of integrity. It is our compass and guiding light in turbulent times, and something easily twisted out of shape in employment situations filled with the wants, needs and moral code of others, as well as company culture.

Remember: If you sit in emotional discomfort for too long, you stop noticing it and it tends to become your new normal. So introspect, be present, and act on your instincts.

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