If you’re the entrepreneur of your life and you’ve decided that you’re going to stay in this job, like what if that became a more transitive and muscular decision and you said goddamn right I’m staying at this job. I’m going to stay at this job for this long, but I’m not going to close my eyes to either what I could be doing differently here or what I could potentially be doing somewhere else. I think if there is one simple, tiny takeaway to get from all of this is that you have very little to lose by deciding that you’re in charge of all of this stuff.
At the end of 2010, I seriously considered leaving my job. I had been working in our family business for over a decade and, frankly, things weren’t working. I got really good at finding reasons for this. I was a “digital guy” working in a “traditional company.” People wouldn’t “give me the autonomy” to do what I felt we needed to do. My “contributions weren’t being properly valued.” If it is cliche, I thought it. I was frustrated, I was fed up and things needed to change.
I thought long and hard about how I’d gotten here. Was it the corporate structure? Was it my co-workers? Was I in the wrong role? I mean, I love our business, but things weren’t working. I thought about the people, the product, the pay, the control (or lack thereof). I looked at every possible reason why things had gotten to the point where I was seriously considering leaving a company that my grandfather created out of thin air over 65 years ago. Well, every reason except one…
The only thing I never really considered was if the problem was with me. I mean, how could that be? If I had more control, everything would be better. If I made more money, I wouldn’t feel quite so stressed. If we would just make some obvious changes, things would feel right… Wouldn’t they?
Coincidentally, right around this time a very real opportunity presented itself. Something tempting, something that there will always be this small imaginary part of me that is off somewhere doing it. It centered around a lot of the skills I’ve been developing over the past few years, and it was with a partner that I would have felt fortunate to get to work with every single day.
Now, I’m not going to lie to you and tell you that I realized that I was the problem and decided not to go. I’m not 20 years old anymore. I have a wife and at the time she was pregnant with our second child. This weighed heavily on my decision to stay, but I also didn’t want to blindly go back to something that wasn’t working. So over a long weekend and a big bottle of scotch, I decided to have a highly unpleasant conversation with myself. It centered around the totally insane notion that the business, my co-workers, my bosses, the pay, the pressure were not the problem. That there was only one problem. Me.
While unpleasant, it was illuminating. I took every bit of criticism I could remember and considered each. I looked at the recurring challenges and started to trace them back to the root. As I did, I started to see logical ways I could improve and began to feel a desire not to go, but to stay.
If you find yourself in the same situation, there are a lot of people who are going to tell you to go. There are a lot of people who are going to tell you to believe in your own abilities. And there is a good chance that they are going to be right. Before you do, get a good bottle of booze and have a long hard conversation with yourself. If you’re leaving because this is the next logical step in your career or it’s in line with what you’ve always wanted, great. If you’re not where you wanted to be and find yourself thinking that changing your job is going to fix the problem, you’re probably going to want to take a minute.
See what happens when you talk to your coworkers and get some hard, constructive feedback. See what happens when start performing at a higher level. Check all the way in before you decide to check out and see just how much you’ve been holding yourself back. Things won’t get better overnight. You’ve probably dug yourself a hole that you’re going to need to get out of, but try and climb out of it and see how you feel before you leave.
I still have a ways to go getting out of mine, but I’m happier than I’ve been in a long time. I’ve stopped looking at all the perceived roadblocks. I’ve stopped obsessing about all of the things that “keep me from getting where I want to go” and am doing the work to fix my problems. I’m finding with every passing day that I made the right choice by fixing me instead of fixing my circumstances. Don’t get me wrong, there will always be that fantasy me out there somewhere who made a different choice, but knowing what I know about myself now, he wouldn’t have gotten very far (or would likely be divorced).
Start by fixing yourself, then worry about what you want to do and where you want to go. Regardless if you stay where you are or move on to something different, you’re giving yourself a far better chance of success if you start with the likely problem. You.