Sailing against the tide

I’m a list guy. On the left-hand side of the page, I had listed out the reasons why I should stay at my job, on the right, I had listed out the reasons why I should leave.

I had started the list as a theoretical “let’s get a few laughs” exercise. I had been thinking about leaving for more than a year, but I never expected the list-making process to take me where it went. I had listed items like “my expertise is not valued” and “walking on eggshells, I can’t be my true self.” 

I figured it would be a chance to clear my head and get some thoughts down on paper. Where it landed: My wife and I talking for several hours and deciding that the time was right for me to take a leap of faith and submit my resignation from the company where I had worked for more than two decades. 

I folded the piece of paper. I then did something I never expected, I hugged my wife and cried. 

Tears of joy

The decision was an emotional one and was not made lightly. I had made tons of friends in the job. I grew up there and matured as an adult. I had built a career there.

When I first took the job, I thought I was becoming a turncoat. I started out as a newspaper writer and then moved onto Higher Education. Academia was one thing, Corporate America was another thing altogether. I rationalized that it was the right thing to do. I had children to worry about, I had a young daughter and a baby on the way. I had bills to pay. I had goals I wanted to achieve. 

What I wasn’t counting on was loving the company. The firm had a strong mission to serve its clients in a field where there are a lot of cheats and imposters and people out for themselves. I found too that the company believed in a lot of the same things as me: offering great service and treating people right. 

And I thrived at the company for a long time. I moved from exciting position to exciting position effortlessly, but somewhere along the way, things started to change. 

Oh, performance became more important, but I understood that, I cared about my work, I cared about doing a good job. I could get behind that change. In fact, the achiever in me cheered it on. It made sense to me: put the money in the hands of those most deserving. 

Ch-ch-changes

However, the real change happened when I passed the age of 45, and then later 50. I could see the marriage starting to go sour and felt powerless to change it. The company that I loved, that had a mission for helping people, seemed to not want my help anymore. I could see its back being turned to me. My performance started to be judged against impossible expectations.

I felt like the husband in one of those Lifetime TV movies who comes home to find his spouse unusually close to the neighbor across the street. There’s nothing inappropriate, there’s no funny business, but a familiarity that just doesn’t feel right. You see her flirting with him, clinging a moment too long to his arm or the two of them whispering to each other. This was about the same time that I started noticing that I was the oldest person in most of my meetings. I laughed it off. I figured I was working my way up the ladder. I wasn’t the new kid in town anymore. 

But most drastic, the opportunities started to dry up. Most of those exciting new opportunities weren’t going to coworkers my age who worked hard, but instead to the showy, me-first, career go-getters who knew just the right way to play the game. I blamed myself, instead of the company. I pledged that I would get better at playing the game. I doubled down. I networked more and put myself out there. However, the opportunities still didn’t come my way. Most of my friends who had been at the company about the same length of time as me felt the same way.

What was I doing wrong? 

In the back of my head, I felt like the game was rigged. Oh, I never experienced blatant ageism, at least as far as I know. However, when I finally pulled the trigger and “retired” from the firm, to go work somewhere else, I was struck the very first day by the ages of everyone else sitting around the table. There was a mix of young and old. I wasn’t the oldest person in the room anymore. My old company, the one that claimed to care the most about diversity, was in reality, less diverse. 

Coming to grips

Oh, I still have a strong affinity for the firm. I still have a ton of friends there. I still consider it the highlight of my career, but I’m definitely in a better spot.

This week marks two years since I last stepped foot on the campus and handed in my security badge. My wife noticed the numerous openings the firm has and some of its recent advertising on TV and asked if I regretted my decision. 

I thought about the question for a moment. I think the answer speaks for itself, but you be the judge. I’m calmer, more even-keeled. My stomach doesn’t churn anymore over saying the wrong thing or making the wrong decision. I’m doing great work. I’m making better money and am more appreciated. Finally, I have more opportunities. 

Yea, I’m doing fine, quite fine.

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