Five years ago I walked out of my corner office and my role as CEO in an information services company to start a new work life. The reasons were many, some push, some pull, but they’re not important now.
What is important is to acknowledge that the transition came with as many lessons about my own personal foibles as it did about starting and running a small business. I found admitting the business mistakes was far easier than admitting the hard truths about my own strengths and weaknesses; after all, I used to have people to take care of “my” accounting and “my” IT and “my” marketing. It was natural and easy to admit that I needed to learn how to do these things for myself.
It wasn’t natural or easy to look at places or situations when I felt angry, resentful or insecure about this transition or how those feelings impeded me. But the transition allowed me to really look at myself in a way that I just didn’t take the time to do while caught up in the press of every day. It is never easy to look at our uncomfortable feelings. We prefer to blame others. However, being brave enough to really look at what made me feel frightened or uncomfortable– to poke the tender places – I believe makes me better able to help others face their own foibles in the workplace.
In the months after I quit, my list of enemies rivaled Arya Stark’s. If you are not a Game of Thrones fan, Arya is a little girl who puts herself to sleep each night by reciting the list of people she’s going to kill … and all of them deserve it. My list started with the people who dared to question my judgement about “my” business to those executives who didn’t realize how valuable I was and “let me” walk out and then went on to include every major international research company that didn’t rush to snap me up when I became available to hire – and that means all of them! The list continued ad nauseam.
My breakthrough moment came standing in line at the supermarket and looking at the women’s magazines. One of the cover lines shouted at me, “How to Let Go, Move on and Be Happy!” I laughed out loud. I was treating the fact that I quit like a bad break-up, still clinging to all the ways “he had done me wrong” and still telling myself (and anyone who would listen) that it wasn’t my fault. I had tried!
I am not alone in having had difficulty in letting go after leaving. Many of my coaching clients spend a good chunk of their early time with me working through their feelings about leaving their organization, even though they don’t start out coaching with that intent.
I recently coached a man who had been a senior executive in an organization for two years. The values of the company were different than he thought they were when he signed on. He was miserable and frustrated and it was time to go. He negotiated an excellent exit package and engaged me to help him figure out what was next.
The only time he really came alive during our coaching sessions was when he was describing how terrible the former company was. He repeated stories about awful meetings with the CEO and worried about the staff he left behind. He told me in great detail how hard he had tried to make it work but just could not. When I brought up the fact that he still had much work to do around getting closure on the old position before he could focus on his future path, he bristled. “I’ve completely dealt with that,” he said. “ I need you to help me figure out the future.” He dropped me as a coach shortly thereafter.
No one “did me wrong” in my decision to leave, though I thought differently for a long time. Organizations change, executives come and go and management strategies evolve. Sometimes we miss what was. Sometimes we need to move on.
But first figure out if you need to go or if you can stay and make it work. Don’t just sit in your misery. It is toxic for you and for the organization to stay and complain. Do not develop your own enemy list. Offer advice and your perspective when you can. Can you be an internal agent of positive change? Decide if you can thrive in the current environment. Does your workplace still offer you learning and growth opportunities? Maybe the paycheck is big enough to suck it up and endure.
What helped me put aside my enemies list was to make a new list, one that focused on the skills I learned at that job. I created another list of the opportunities that position had afforded me – I got to see at least 50 countries in my role as CEO. I also recognized that I was afraid of the future making easier to stay stuck in the past. Once I acknowledged that fear, it eased. The very hardest step I took was to cut ties. When people from my former company called me and started to complain about what was happening there, I firmly said that I couldn’t listen. I needed to move forward and it was too hard to keep listening about all that was going wrong.
It took time, but I moved on. I have a thriving coaching practice that keeps me nearly as busy as a full time job. I love what I’m doing. I started this blog, putting my foibles out there for readers to see. And I never, ever complain about my boss.
“The truth is, unless you let go, unless you forgive yourself, unless you forgive the situation, unless you realize that the situation is over, you cannot move forward.”– Steve Maraboli