In March 2010, I went on a 3 month sabbatical to South America. I was getting away from it all to Chile and Bolivia, I confess I did take my Blackberry in case of an emergency but I had a more than capable team who I knew would step-up. I had taken annual holidays since 94 when I started working in the city but I had never taken more than 3 weeks. As I departed the UK I felt such relief in leaving work and 24 hour on call escalation and the associated stress behind. I had become disenchanted with my life, short tempered and abrupt, I’d lost touch with friends that mattered, my family said I was always too busy, my love-life was a mess and I didn’t really like or even recognise myself anymore. I needed a complete drop out, switch-off and recharge.
Whilst away, mid-earthquake, I realised that life is short and that I wanted more life in my years and that the only person standing in my way was me. I needed a strategy, I didn’t want to do anything too rash but I knew that I wanted to take control of my life and my future I set a goal there and then that I would be out of the city by my 45th birthday.
The environment I worked in had changed significantly over the years. From a small setup where team delivery was lauded and was key, it became a place where individual performance was ranked against peers (often on the same team) and worse often force ranked top down. I loved managing people and I am a strong leader, “firm but fair”. I always gave credit where due and included staff in higher-level discussions, to give them the big picture view. However leading a team became the most stressful part of my life. Trying to motivate and remunerate a team of fabulous, talented individuals became too difficult in that environment.
I dreaded appraisal time (which went on for months and months) and the associated communication and discussions. I often had sleepless nights or woke up with a knot in my stomach. Trying to make someone understand why they were marked as “just meets” when they had gone above and beyond all year, especially when I didn’t agree with the process or the impact, was soul-destroying. If one factor changed my life and my direction because of the stress it caused me, it was the way in which performance was measured and managed. The process took so much time and effort and stressed everyone out. It seemed like the impact was reaching across the industry as these methods fast became the accepted standard. Work colleagues behaviour became more about confrontation as opposed to collaboration.
I have always been a completer, a finisher, a perfectionist but suddenly I wasn’t able to get things done anymore. It was as though everyone was stuck, de-motivated and lacking direction. The level of bureaucracy spiralled, there were so many committees for committees and agendas for agendas and sometimes meetings without agendas that my head was continually spinning…I was angry, frustrated and in despair….. I had to GO, it was time. I am not a cling-on (term often used for those who hold out) I would not become even more bitter and twisted.
Don’t get me wrong I enjoyed many of my years in the city and it afforded me many positives (a healthy bank balance, nice house, car, holidays, pension, some great friends) but the time had come to call it quits. I did linger for at least 2 years past my sell-by date, in hindsight, and that very nearly pushed me over the edge. I was institutionalised in a place of my own choosing; money and prestige were my motivators.
I proceeded to walk away on October 2012 at the age of 44 from a well-paid job in the city at the top of my game. One of my key memories and my happiest moment was handing over my Amex, my Blackberry and my pass, it was like a weight was removed from around my neck. It hasn’t been easy; I have been a little lost and lacking purpose at times since. But, I have completely changed my mind-set and I have proven that if you want to make a change then you can.
Fast forward to 2017 I now advise others in many areas including managing your career path : how to avoid the pitfalls, how to see the big picture and to be in control of your path, how to see the early warning signs and how to navigate the choices you may need to make. When work becomes your life and when you are stressed and frustrated because of it then you have to make a change. Ideally that change will come while you still have plenty more years to carve out a new path and a whole new outlook on life.