Career

I Demoted Myself

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About eight months ago, I was pro­moted to a new job within my orga­ni­za­tion. Yes­ter­day, was my last day on that job. For all intents and pur­poses, I demoted myself.The deci­sion to walk away from the new posi­tion — along with the bump in salary and increased vis­i­bil­ity — was not one that I reach with ease. I knew that leav­ing the posi­tion would be dis­ap­point­ing to the peo­ple who selected me for the role. It would dis­ap­point­ing to the group (or at least some of them) that I was brought in to direct. I also knew that some friends would be sur­prised, if not shocked that I would give up a pro­mo­tion and a salary bump.In spite of all the exter­nal voices that said stay, I had to lis­ten to my inter­nal voice for once. I sim­ply was not will­ing to ignore the stress, anx­i­ety, and dis­com­fort. Far too often, I think that a lot us just accept, out of hand, that con­sid­er­able stress is part of a job. I under­stand that new jobs, par­tic­u­larly ones with increased respon­si­bil­ity and expo­sure, can be stress­ful. How­ever, I reached place where I real­ized that the stress and anx­i­ety I was expe­ri­enc­ing was not healthy nor sus­tain­able. I was on a short trip to a spa resort in Penn­syl­va­nia with Carla. I woke up about three in the morn­ing, my heart rac­ing and fully drenched in sweat. I sat and thought about what was the cause of this anx­i­ety. It was pretty obvious.Even though I had an epiphany in my hotel room at that spa in Penn­syl­va­nia, it really took me a cou­ple of months to acknowl­edge that some­thing wasn’t right. I usu­ally, I did a lot of soul-searching and intro­spec­tion. I had to exam­ine why I was will­ing to forgo my hap­pi­ness to please oth­ers. I didn’t want to make waves or upturn the apple cart. At some point, I real­ized that what I was expe­ri­enc­ing was very anal­o­gous to what a lot of us go through with our par­ents. A num­ber of grew up try­ing to please our par­ents. We wanted them to notice us. We wanted them to approve and be proud of what we did, the grades we received, and the deci­sions we made. Unfor­tu­nately, a lot of us carry that need for approval well into adult life. The hard part is that the need for approval no longer rests solely with our par­ents. It now extends to friends, sig­nif­i­cant oth­ers, col­leagues, and bosses.Hand­ing over the assess­ment of your value and hap­pi­ness to another per­son is not a good thing. I have been flat­tered at var­i­ous times in my career that peo­ple saw a lot in me, and tapped me to take on big­ger jobs with greater respon­si­bil­ity. I’ve had a pat­tern of fol­low­ing those expec­ta­tions, even when I wasn’t cer­tain whether those new oppor­tu­ni­ties were in my best inter­est. It was only work­ing through where I was with this new posi­tion that I real­ized I was let­ting what peo­ple thought I should be doing over­shadow what really mat­tered to me. When I went into to talk to my boss about my con­cerns, I felt like a lit­tle kid walk­ing try­ing to tell his dad that he got a bad grade. I was anx­ious and had a lump in my throat. What the hell? Inter­est­ingly, I found that bal­ance between want­ing my par­ents to be proud of me, but mak­ing moves that I felt were in my best inter­est, a num­ber of years ago. My rela­tion­ship with my par­ents has never been stronger since I accepted them as they are, and asked them to do the same with me. If I had reached this point with the peo­ple who made indeli­ble implants on my per­son­al­ity, why was I so wor­ried about my boss and colleagues?I arrived early one day and asked to speak with my boss. One of the senior staff gave him a bit of a heads up about my con­cerns regard­ing the job, but I don’t think he was expect­ing what came next. For the first few min­utes, I was hav­ing an out-of-body expe­ri­ence as I sat talk­ing to my boss about my desire to leave the job. I was talk­ing around the real issue. I was rat­tling off some rather cliché, canned answers. As I was talk­ing, I could hear a voice in my head say­ing “What are you doing? Get in there Lyons! Say it! Tell him why you really want to leave!” I finally came clear.

“This job is just more than I want to do.”

Boom! There it was. Finally some hon­esty. For­get clichés like “I bit off more than I can chew.” I was pretty straight for­ward. The job required much more energy and men­tal space than I was will­ing exert or give up. Last sum­mer, I was con­vinced that I needed at least one more sig­nif­i­cant chal­lenge in my career. I was cer­tain that I wanted to be busier and have more of (what I thought was) an impact. This came up in my con­ver­sa­tion with my boss. I acknowl­edged that this desire for change and a chal­lenge were men­tioned in my inter­view. I am not one for mak­ing a bunch of excuses, so I bluntly stated that I changed my mind. I real­ized that the pace and vol­ume of work in my pre­vi­ous job were just right for where I am in my life. I have a lot of things going on out­side of the office that I want to have time for, as well as emo­tional and men­tal head space. There was some dis­cus­sion about work-life bal­ance. My boss sug­gested that the idea of work-life bal­ance is a bit over­played because work is part of life. That may be the case for some peo­ple, but bal­ance — or even a lit­tle imbal­ance toward life over work — is really impor­tant to me. I thought of the Dave Barry quote, “You should not con­fuse your career with your life.”

It's OK to take a step back and ...

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 I have a very good work ethic, but I’ve reached a point in my life where my ‘life’ is far more impor­tant than climb­ing a career lad­der. I don’t fault any­one for pur­su­ing more respon­si­bil­ity, com­pen­sa­tion, expo­sure, and acco­lades. I have some very high-performing friends. I admire their drive and am proud of them. I had to be hon­est with myself (first) and oth­ers that am just not will­ing to com­mit the amount of time, energy, and men­tal space to work at that level. Not when the con­se­quence is lost peace of mind, and time to pur­sue things that mat­ter to me with­out feel­ing guilty. I had to learn and accept that it’s ok to take a step back and breathe.So there it is. I demoted myself and I am proud that I made the deci­sion. I have no regrets. I feel lib­er­ated emo­tion­ally, and proud that I was able to be true to what I believed was best. I am very appre­cia­tive to have the love and sup­port of my fam­ily and friends. Even when they don’t always under­stand where I am com­ing from, they take the time to lis­ten and know that I tend to think things through pretty well before mak­ing a deci­sion. In this case, I didn’t con­sult with as many before mak­ing a deci­sion; admit­tedly because I didn’t want any­one to talk me out of what I wanted. I did talk with my wife and son, because the deci­sion impacts them most directly. The finan­cial aspect of giv­ing up a pro­mo­tion was some­thing that Carla and I had to talk through. The focus of my con­ver­sa­tion with Noah was much more about telling him the “why” and my effort to pro­vide an exam­ple as his father to fol­low and be true to your heart.I look for­ward to return­ing to my ‘old’ job on Mon­day, and reunit­ing with the staff I’ve worked with for the past six years. It feels like com­ing home — in a good way. Though I’m say­ing I demoted myself, I know the oppo­site is true. I actu­ally found the courage to give myself an emo­tional and men­tal promotion.What about you? Have you ever reached a place where you could go up the career lad­der and you chose to stay in place or take a step back? I would love to hear how you faced the deci­sion, what were the personal/professional con­sid­er­a­tions, and how did you feel afterward?