I always dreamed of making a six-figure salary. I thought that was the measure of “making it” in this world. For all of you that know me, you know I’m pretty hard-headed when I have a dream. This goal kept me aiming straight for the top of my career ladder for 15 intensely focused years. When that glorious offer letter arrived 11 years into my career, I can’t even describe the satisfaction I felt having finally cashed-in on my hard work. Then came the boats, the condo, the racecar, the vacations. My husband and I felt we were finally at a place in life to settle down and have kids, and three kids later we were complete. You could put a frame around our family portrait and be-dazzle it, “The American Dream”.
I don’t even remember when the dream started fading. Things changed so slowly that I didn’t even realize the cost of my six-figure salary. The vacations were the first to go…I know that much. Somehow I started missing parent/teacher conferences, dentist appointments, choir performances, and cheer practices. The condo and racecar sat unused, because there was simply no time left in the day. A perfectionist by nature, I began to experience anxiety when I couldn’t accomplish the growing mound of tasks at work. I made it high enough up the food-chain to witness the bottleneck of corporations. Working around the clock, fighting for every decision I made, with minimal progress – I was angry every day.
My church was hosting a business leadership development conference, and I saw it as the perfect opportunity to inspire changes at work. It really couldn’t have come at a better time. I approached my boss and proposed the conference as a team building opportunity for my team. He denied the request, since he didn’t see a reasonable business case for leadership development. My team begged for more career-growth opportunities, so I paid out of pocket for the members of my team that really wanted to go.
Jan Fox is a 4-time Emmy winner, author, and speaker. She happened to be the guest speaker at the business leadership development conference. Jan shared stories of adversity in her life and how she overcame obstacles by making small changes until she got the results that she wanted. I walked away from that conference empowered to change the problems in my career with small course-corrections. The next day at work was beautiful. My staff noticed a change in me, and it lifted their spirits during this uncertain time of government furloughs, layoffs, minimum staffing, and contract changes. I inspired my team to work longer, harder, and even through the weekends. Then, I got an email from my boss that changed everything. To sum it up: the long hours contributed by my team were appreciated, but it was not enough.
I shut the door to my office and sat at my desk for a really long time. My head was reeling with thoughts. How do I respond to my boss? Can I honestly ask my team to work more? Do I have any more to give? Will I be able to change things for the better at work? Is my salary worth more to my family than my presence? Were my small changes moving me in the right direction and giving me the results that I wanted?
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw some scribbles on my dry-erase board. The scribbles made me happy and sad, all at once. You see, my husband brought my kids to have dinner with me at work one night and they left little love scribbles all over my office. They were trying to spend a little bit of time with me, since I was rarely home for dinner anymore. I spent most of dinner hacking away at my laptop, mindlessly shoveling food down my throat, and I barely remember them drawing for me that night. Even when I was home, I was tethered to that dang laptop. The notes my family left for me that night were so sweet. A sticky note from my daughter proudly boasted, “You are the greatest mom in the whole universe!” Really? I wonder why she thinks that. I wonder what else she thinks about and what she’s up to these days.
I thought happiness came with a six-figure salary, but I wasn’t happy at all. The experiences I really wanted in life were passing me by, and no amount of money could get them back for me. I have nothing against a good paycheck, but the quest for the top-rung on the career ladder was blinding me from what’s really important. I wrote and submitted my resignation letter that day. August 14, 2013 is my last day at work, and I’m not looking back. If it weren’t for the inspiring life lesson from Jan Fox, I’m not sure I would’ve ever had the courage to make the small changes I needed to live my life to the fullest.
Are you waiting for some inspiration to make a career decision that has been tugging at your heart? If so, here’s some more inspiration:
Author Richard Horne lists “leave a job you hate” as #59 on the “101 Things To Do Before You Die” list. He even provides step-by-step instructions for those who are uncertain about making the leap.
Step 1: LEAVE! I can certainly check that off the list, now. People used to joke that I would own the company someday, so it was quite a fun surprise to shock everyone with my news. I can’t help but smile when I think about it.
Step 2: Realization. I’m definitely going to take some time off to recover from all the sleepless nights, catch up with my precious family, and absorb my new reality.
Step 3: Revenge. I was humbled to receive a job offer for a position that would’ve allowed me to return the pressure that my previous employer placed on me. Instead, I think I will start my own company and make my own family-friendly schedule. Happiness, after all, is the best revenge and can’t be bought with six-figures.