The two scariest moments in my life so far involved leaving. One was leaving a relationship and the other was leaving a job that defined me. Now I find myself coaching executives who need to find their courage to leave and sometimes, to their surprise, they don’t need to.
The decision to leave must begin with defining success. People who get stuck in their careers or dead-end jobs that bore them often don’t know what they want so they do what others want for them. Or, they stay where they’re comfortable because they don’t know what they would do instead. When you are getting the itch to leave but are feeling the terror, write this down and put it where you can see it all the time.
Know what you want before somebody knows it for you.
If you want success but you don’t know what “success” means – exactly – you won’t be successful. Take control of your success and defining what it means to you. This is critically important when everything around you is changing, like your job or your job security. Success can come in a million different packages. Be honest. And be clear. I know that kind of clarity can be scary.
During coaching George laid it out. “I’m only staying out of duty to my family. I really don’t want to do this anymore.” The truth was a relief. As we explored further, George discovered that what he wanted to be doing was available in the company but he’d take a cut in title and pay. He had been a C-Suite executive for 5 years and he knew it didn’t suit him even though he was well-liked and effective in the role. We crafted his definition of success in four areas – Professional Success. Success at Home. Heath Success. Community Success.
Talking it over with his family (who thanked me profusely by the way), George left the company for a position elsewhere more suited to what he wanted to be doing. He could have stayed and taken a lesser title and pay but he felt awkward about doing that. He knew who was taking his place in the C-Suite and didn’t want to take a chance people would still seek him out while the new person learned the role. Ultimately his family knew he was unhappy and supported his decision. It still took great courage. But George reported that without the clarity about what success meant to HIM, he would still be stuck! I can think of at least 100 people I’ve worked with who would say the same, myself included.
So, start listening to you. Ask yourself: If money was not an issue, what would I do? What is your human potential pushing from the inside to get out?
Because you might define success differently when you’re in your twenties and single than when you’re in your forties and have a family or fifties and the children are off to their own lives, that new definition may put you face-to-face with needing the courage to leave where you are. I understand. So turn and face it. Define success now. It’s the thrill of the leap and that always take courage.
Linda Galindo is author of The 85% Solution How Personal Accountability Guarantees Success. No Nonsense. No Excuses. (Wiley, 2009). You can find the “Developing Your Professional Definition of Success Exercise” on page 97.