I was just reading a short post by Deepak Chopra over on LinkedIn (love their new content strategy, btw) on his best mistake where he made the impulsive and rebellious decision to walk away from a crappy job and a superior who had humiliated him in front of his peers – and how that decision to walk away had changed the course of his career, and his life. It made me think about a change I made to my own life…well, a decision to change. I thought I’d share it here (and then get back to my regular work).
Sometimes it can take something pretty dramatic to inspire change. In 2004, my mother whom I had been estranged from for many years, visited my wife and kids and I from out of state, and we had a nice little visit with her and my sister and her twin girls, who had just turned one year. It had started as an uncomfortable visit, but things really opened up and for the first time in quite a while, I started to feel close to my mom again, and was glad my young kids had a chance to visit with their grandmother – two of them for the first time. As we walked my mom, my sister, and her two girls out to their car, I strapped one of my nieces into her car seat and shut the door – and remarked out loud at how light the car door felt, joking to my sister that they were traveling cross-country in a tin can. Even as they pulled out of the driveway and drove away, I turned to my wife and commented again “That car offers no protection at all.”
The next morning I awoke to the phone ringing, with another sister on the line crying, letting me know that my mom and one of the babies had been killed in a rollover outside of Reno. I immediately got dressed, and taking my two oldest children with me (who were 11 and 9 at the time) because I didn’t want to drive alone, we made the 3 hour drive to Reno to see my badly injured sister and her daughter.
I’m sharing this because the event was clearly a shock to my system, and on the way up to Reno and back, I thought a lot about my life, how much time I was spending commuting and away from my family for a job that I didn’t much care for, and how much we needed to make a change. The transition took a few months – fairly quick, since I was already consulting and had some flexibility with my clientele. My wife and I ultimately decided to leave California and move closer to another sister living in the Seattle area, and we sold our house in a matter of days (hello housing bubble!), and I did not renew my contract with my main existing client, so work wrapped up in a matter of days. Although the money was good, I simply did not enjoy the work.
The real impact from this event with my mom was the decision to take back control over who I worked for, and what projects I selected (as a consultant or an FTE). Chopra’s article reminded me of this – what some may view as impulsive rebellion I view more as internal alignment to personal standards or guidelines. I realized about myself that I need to believe in what I am doing, and to have genuine passion for my work, and that I need to like the people I work with and for. Is that so insane? I’m amazed at what I put up with for so long – which is not to say that I haven’t wandered into situations and companies where I knew I should not have wandered, but I am much more quick to course-correct. I’ve gone through some difficult times by standing up for what I thought was the right path forward for me (and I’ve taken a beating for speaking very openly about my perspective, when I probably should have kept my mouth shut), but have always landed on my feet and even improved my situation by sticking with these internal standards.
For those who run into me at an event these days, its pretty evident that I wear my passion on my sleeve, and that I enjoy what I do. Hopefully it does not take a life-changing event to help people realize that they should follow those impulsive tendencies once in a while, and rebel a little. My two cents.