Dear Plucky #4: When to Quit

I am starting to seriously doubt my future with the company I currently work for. How do you know it’s time to leave? If it’s not time to leave, how do you make staying seem like a better option?

Boy, this is a popular question.

I want to start by saying that work and life live in the same bucket. You do not magically turn into a different person at 6pm when you head home… whatever was going on at work affects you at home and vice versa. Sometimes we need a change in our lives, a drastic one even, and we conflate issues with our spouse or our roommates or the novel we always thought we’d write with our place of employment. We blame all of our problems on our jobs instead of attributing them to their true place of origin. And we probably do that because we’re avoiding conflict.

So the first question I would ask you is – what is going on at home? Are you feeling overwhelmed? Underappreciated? Uninspired? Unhappy? How can you address those truths without upheaving everything going on between 9 and 5?

But let’s say you look at those things and you see that no, while there are imperfections that exist, much of your discontent comes from your work, be it your role, your coworkers or your ethics. Then I’d ask you: what’s going on at work?

Try to answer it in the simplest and most neutral way possible:
“I don’t get along with my manager.”
“I’m burned out.”
“I don’t know what role I want.”

These answers at least point you toward possible solutions and I encourage you to try working through these before you jump ship entirely. Problems often follow us around in life… and if your issue is one of these, then you are punting the growing you need to do down the road. Whatever you’re living through right now will likely show up at your next job in one form or another!

Does it sound like I want you to stay in your job no matter what? That’s definitely not true. I just want you to make very sure that you’re not reacting to the friction of working with other humans, since that’s not your job – that’s life.

But there may come a moment when you look inside and just see that you have squeezed everything out of the experience that you could have. Or that the people who hold the keys to your path are so blinded (by money? by dysfunction? by tradition?) that you want to look elsewhere for mentorship and growth.

I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of employees I know who have quit in on-the-spot rages of passion. Most cases are slow boils, which is what makes it so confusing to know when to leave. There will be a swinging pattern of positive and negative days for months or years that leave you paralyzed. And then one day it will just be obvious that you are no longer in the right place. When that happens, I urge you to take immediate steps before your fear beats you back. Email a few networking possibilities, send your resume around, get rolling. Make the intentional decision to remove yourself from the possibility of staying. Because once you know you have to leave, the timer has started on you doing increasingly poor work at your current company. Your drive, passion, dedication and authentic work ethic are compromised. You need to get out as efficiently as possible, for the good of everyone involved.

No matter what, I want to reassure you that you’re going to be okay. Live your life as a science experiment and embrace change, as it will surely teach you something.

Be brave and good luck figuring out whatever change you need,

Jen

My next 30 years: empowering our workplaces as centers for Adult Development

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAt an industry conference two weeks ago I told a few colleagues that I never would have started my business if I hadn’t gone through postpartum depression. It’s true. The work I did to get myself out of depression fundamentally changed how I viewed myself, my purpose and my potential on the planet.

Have you ever noticed that the challenging times in our lives — periods of illness, depression, a layoff — can end up being what we attribute to our successes? We use phrases like “blessings in disguise” or “turning point” to try to explain how something devastating allowed us to find ourselves in a new way. Years later we may look back and say “something changed for me back then. It wasn’t all bad.”

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. I spend hours every week talking to people about their work, what’s tough, how they’re making sense of stressful situations. And as they navigate some of their toughest challenges, I also sense another obstacle throwing itself in their way. It is a force of combined professionalism and perfectionism, the belief that they should somehow be doing it better, that the mere fact they feel stuck at work is somehow a dig on their personal identity and potential.

At the same time I’m raising a two-year-old. He gets stuck all the time. We course-correct daily, showing him how to use everyday objects, teaching him to wait his turn, comforting him when he doesn’t get his way. The world is friendlier towards my son’s mistakes than it is towards my clients’. No one is crushing my toddler for his stumbles. He’s still learning.

But you know what? So are my clients.

From the time we’re born until we turn 18 years old, we grow in the foreground of a concept called “Childhood Development.” Childhood Development tracks biological, emotional and psychological progress as children grow, alerting caregivers and educators to periods when the child may need more support. This concept is well-established in our society; we track it in schools, during pediatrician visits, in our television programming.

But then, suddenly, the child turns 18 and it’s all over. Once you’ve successfully completed Childhood Development in school you enter the workplace as an adult — expected to get results and get to work. No more messing around; it’s go-time.

I’m not arguing that this is the wrong way to develop children. But what I am arguing is that it’s the wrong way to develop adults.

Our workplaces are sad states of affairs these days. From client services to surgery, our offices may claim to be environments where we’re allowed to learn but they rarely allow for us to be viewed as whole humans, living combinations of what happens at work as well as after hours. “Learning” at work means developing skills and expertise — we are sent to conferences, perhaps given professional development stipends. But much of our learning as adults happens outside of work — and we are rarely supported or given consideration for these lessons in the workplace.

In my first job out of college, the IT Director found out his wife was pregnant with triplets. I remember realizing one day, as he fixed our office’s printer, that he was going to be expected to show up and function the same from one day to the next, despite the fact that his home life (and sleep!) would be so disrupted.

Surely no one would be obtuse enough to believe that this kind of life change would pass unnoticed in his work. Outside paternity leave, what might we grant him? Small companies often struggle to find the resources to even support paternity leave in the first place. What is our responsibility as employers here?

I believe the key word is support. Whether you’re allowing a new parent a staggered return to the office (combining remote and in-office days), providing coaching, or gathering and sharing resources can mean a world of difference. Imagine providing an employee who just lost a parent some documentation outlining local resources for bereavement support groups. What would that say about your company?

It would say that your company cares about its employees as whole people. It would support the notion that employees are adults — and that adults are humans who are learning at their desks and beyond.

I’m dedicating my career to this. In fact, my BHAG is to empower a concept of Adult Development in our society by defining and championing the concept of Employee Development in our workplaces. Employee Development, to me, is the future of Human Resources. Instead of the cover-your-ass reputation that HR carries, Employee Development represents employee advocacy on every level. From the intern to the CEO, Employee Development suggests that every person employed at a company is fallible and may require periods of additional support. It is to our society’s benefit to account for this in the workplace.

Because an employee who finds out his child has autism or one who suddenly becomes primary caregiver for a relative… you are insane to think this new challenge won’t affect their presence in the office. The energy of our lives flows without restraint between “work” and “life”; to ignore this, as an employer, is at your company’s peril.

They’re learning. Through the highs and lows, they’re learning. And if we, as companies, support this growth rather than suppress it, we stand to benefit from their loyalty and development, their inspiration and their humanity.

At least that’s what I’m setting out to prove.

On finding shade: the importance of vacations, coaching and taking breaks.

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A few weeks ago I took a 3 mile hike alone on a trail in the middle of Tilden Park in Berkeley. You can see by the photo above that we’re in a pretty severe drought in California these days; instead of lots of greenery, much of the surrounding scenery was a dull yellow.

I was in heaven for the first ten minutes. I started out under the leafy trees near the parking lot and there was an easy feeling to the morning. But then I got to a part of the path that was uphill. And then I started to sweat… and pretty soon, those parking lot trees were far behind me. I was wearing a hat and I’d put on sunscreen, but the sun beat down on me and I really started to hate my hike. I wished it was over.

I often meet people when they are at a professional low-point. They willingly accepted their role and responsibilities, but somewhere along the way they burned out. While I was walking under the hot sun, I thought of them. I thought about how my hike had been my choice, how I’d chosen the time of day to come out, but also how it was no longer a good time. And then I thought more about some of my clients.

I was 30 minutes in and pretty cranky. Up ahead I saw that the path led into a patch of woods. The reprieve from the sun was so sweet that I stopped to savor it for a few minutes. I checked out the trees and the funny bark that grows on them; I noticed birds. I started to like my hike again.

This same pattern continued for the entire 3 miles. I’d get worn down by the uncovered parts of the path and then I’d get rejuvenated by a chunk of shade.

One of the hardest things in life is identifying when you need some shade. You think everything is conspiring against you until you realize that you’re just missing cover. You need a break from the hot sun, or whatever is causing you to feel parched. It might not be your job or your coworkers or your desk chair.

You might just need some shade.

How do you find shade, in a professional sense? Sometimes shade comes in the form of an unplugged vacation. Other times you might hire a coach; a 30 minute conversation each week can feel like a much-needed cool glass of water. Some of us are runners and some of us meditate and some of us need 9 hours of sleep per night. It’s worth asking yourself what shade looks like in your life.

Because there are certainly times in our lives when we do need to upend it all: quit our jobs, change cities, flee what feels too stressful. But sometimes I think we mix up what invites fleeing and what could be solved by a restful break.

Here’s wishing you a summer of cool, leafy moments.

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