On the day of writing this article, I saw a lot of content related to mental health at work on my LinkedIn feed. After writing a few comments, I was inspired to write this article. The first article in 2020, and also the first since October 2019.
I have a story to tell you, which will be interspersed with some reflections.
The full diagnostic
It happened a few years back. I was very disappointed with my work environment. I had decided that I would be a positive change agent in my job, but the company I was working for had become impervious to my influence. As my partner Maurice would put it, I had woken up my organization’s immune system, and my attempts to make a difference were systematically falling apart.
“Fair enough,” I said to myself, “I just have to find a job in a company that wants to do things differently and would be willing to pay me for it!“.
And quite honestly, it was much easier than I thought. In fact, the position presented itself to me, and I didn’t even have to look for it. I was lucky. Or rather, I simply happened to be visible and present at the right place, and at the right time. For reasons out of my control (and also more or less out of the control of the company coveting me), it took a few weeks to receive an actual offer, but they told me it would be the case.
1st symptom: I knew I had to leave
I least, I knew I had to go. A lot of people are asking themselves questions very often, for far too long.
Should I quit? Would I really be better off? What if I’m wrong? What if it doesn’t work? What if it’s the wrong choice? Will I have to start looking for another job again? Will I be able to come back to my old position? Will I really be happier? What if I suck at my new job?
All these questions are quite legitimate. Some people will try to over-rationalize to know if they should really change jobs (and I did it myself).
Using comparative tables, we write down our criteria by order of importance, we give marks to our current job and potential jobs and compare totals, we weight the pros and cons…
I think that doing these activities speaks volumes. If you’ve gotten there, it means you are very doubtful. If you are doubtful, it means something is wrong. My partner once wrote, in an article on antifragility, that we rationalize when we try to convince ourselves of a course of action that we know isn’t good. If you’re trying to convince yourself of keeping your job, there’s a good chance that something, somewhere, is wrong.
What I mean by that is if your current job was fully satisfying for you, you probably wouldn’t ask yourselves these questions. It doesn’t mean you can’t take a look at what’s out there, but to seriously consider changing jobs, that doesn’t lie. You don’t have to jump on the first opportunity you see, but maybe you need to admit that something is missing.
By the way, while your questions are totally legitimate, let’s be honest: nobody has the answers to your questions, not even your potential future employer. I recommend to simply invest this energy in other activities that are not related to trying to predict the future or to control the chaos in your life. The only way you could get those answers would be to take the plunge. Better regret doing it than regret not taking the opportunity.
2nd symptom: The Emotional Earthquake
Once my decision was made, I kinda had to announce it to my employer. Since my first day at the new job wasn’t that close, I had a week or two to make the announcement. Not an easy task. Really hard, actually. You see, I was leaving my job so that I could make a difference in the ways people are treated on a daily basis at work, and to do so, I had to abandon my two teams who were in a really unenviable position. They were really going through some rough patch.
For readers who don’t know me personally, know that I have a very hard time to live in contradiction with my own values. It’s simply intolerable to me. As you’re about to see, it makes me sick, literally. So, you can imagine that the thought of abandoning my colleagues to their fate so that I can go and “change the world of work” created an intense clash of values of unequaled proportions. But my choice was made, and I had to announce it, and the more I waited, the more stressful it became. And the less I wanted to do it.
One night, which I remember as if it was yesterday, I was doing a puzzle with some Star Wars music in the background. And all of a sudden: ouch! I felt a sharp pain in the sternum. Exactly the kind of pain you never want to deal with, ever. I drank a glass of water, and it went away. But I couldn’t really act like it didn’t happen…
At the hospital, I received an ECG test (electrocardiogram) and they took some blood samples. “Everything seems fine”. I’m sent back home, after promising to set an appointment with a cardiologist. The said cardiologist made me pass an ECG test as well and sent me to the Montreal Heart Institute so that I can pass a stress test on a treadmill. Again, everything is fine.
“Did you experienced periods of stress caused by emotional dilemmas, or did you have to make a really difficult decision, recently?”
I bet you can guess what my answer was.
All of this for… not much
I’m not going to say that my anxiety and my unrest wasn’t legitimate, far from it. But at the end of the day, announcing my departure to my employer and my colleagues was much less difficult than I thought it would be. “I’m not surprised!”, “At last!”, “Go and change the world!”, they told me. Except for my boss. He didn’t see it coming at all… Surprisingly.
In the end, in my new job, it was clear as day after 2 weeks: It was definitely worth it to accept this job opportunity. In my new position, I did what I had to do for a year, and then I announced, with much less anxiety and stress, that I was joining my friends in their adventures, and that from now on, I’d be a consultant and an entrepreneur.
On not making the same mistakes
I’m not writing this just for the fun of talking about it. Well, I’m not really hiding this episode of my life, and I like to recount it to whoever wants to hear it. But I’m writing it here in hope that not too many people will follow my tracks on a similar adventure.
I learned many things in this story :
- No job or employer deserves that we make ourselves sick
- If a company can’t survive without you, eh, maybe it doesn’t deserve to survive
- The more you do something, the less difficult and painful it becomes
- Of course, it can be sad and disappointing when an employee quits. But remember that these companies which you hesitate to leave, they wouldn’t end up on a treadmill at the Montreal Heart Institute for a stress test because of chest pain while they wonder if they should let you go or not. They call it a “business decision”. Well, announcing that you accepted a new opportunity is also a business decision, nothing more.
Are you in a similar situation?
One of the LinkedIn statuses that inspired me to write this article gives excellent tips to help you know if you are making the right choice. In the status, Annie-Claude Pineault, a coach in career transition, suggests a list of questions you can try answering if you are considering changing jobs. These questions will bring many more answers than the ones I listed earlier. In my own certainty, maybe I could have avoided so much stress if I had this list of questions handy.
Here are those questions :
- How does this opportunity propel you towards your dream life?
- How is it linked to your priorities?
- Does it respect your values?
- How does it harmonize with your environment and your lifestyle?
- What need does this change serve?
- How could you learn more about the tasks and opportunities offered?
Those are simple questions that might help you avoid over-rationalizing, or to try finding answers to questions to which nobody could ever answer. Or to try, in vain, to have a definitive control over your future (which is, let’s be honest, absolutely counterproductive, there are way too many variables in life to really have control over anything).
I wish you the very best in your new job! Go get them, tiger!
“But remember that these companies which you hesitate to leave, they wouldn’t end up on a treadmill at the Montreal Heart Institute for a stress test because of chest pain while they wonder if they should let you go or not. They call it a “business decision”. Well, announcing that you accepted a new opportunity is also a business decision, nothing more.”
Good insight, Oliver. We are loyal to our relationships and to principles, but not to organizations that prioritize neither.