I left my day-job job recently.
Things have been getting busier for me in the Cognitive Hypnotherapy and Coaching in sunny Leighton Buzzard. So it was the sensible decision to take the final leap. But it was one I both wanted and didn't want to make. Why was I so conflicted?
I'd known I needed to leave for a long time. There was a niggling I'd had. "There must be more". "You can be more than this". But I didn't know what that meant. I didn't know what 'more' was. Or how I was supposed to get to it.
There were times I felt I was making a difference. Like I had purpose. When I could see things were changing. And that I was part of making that happen. But that's not how things had been in the last couple of years. And it's that side of things that made it a little easier to leave. So what changed?
What I learned about being fulfilled and motivated at work
I had a boss who was over the other side of the Atlantic. We only had around three hours a day (inside business hours) to communicate. So if you throw in the expected number of meetings and teleconferences a global organisation is used to these days, it doesn't leave a lot of space to connect.
We didn't agree on everything, and people rarely do. But having that physical distance - the inability to have the two-minute conversations, to just 'put your head around the door' - coupled with having to over- and re-explain details and context because of it; it just made things that much tougher.
I came to feel misunderstood a lot of the time, and less and less supported. And, in hindsight, I realise how much more I could've done to change things. I took for granted how easy it was to have those quick conversations with those around me. Which meant I probably wasn't putting in the effort I could have to connect where more effort was required.
It's amazing how the simple act of picking up the phone to someone can be turned into a special, must-be-planned-so-oft-doesn't-happen occasion. And there's definitely a price you pay for that.
I've really learned the value of connecting. And maybe more importantly, taking stock of where I'm not, so I can make more of an effort to do so.
The company did good work. I know they did. (And still do). We'd hear great success stories from senior management, Marketing, and direct from our customers. All very well-intentioned. It's just not something I ever really cared for.
And, for a long time, this was never a problem. I didn't come to work because I was passionate about the company's products and services. I came to work because I was passionate about serving the people I worked with. We were a team. We relied on each other.
I wasn't working for the bottom line the way I was maybe expected to. I was working because I was part of something. Like being a cog. But not 'just a cog'. An important cog. A part of the community. Integral to its success. Yet, at some point, I felt a shift.
Now, maybe it was just my perspective broadening as my years of service increased. Or maybe it was to do with changes brought about by being acquired by a couple of different corporates. Maybe it was both of those and more. Whatever it was, what I began to notice was there was no longer a higher purpose for me. I just didn't feel that camaraderie I used to.
It's hard to motivate people to do the things you don't have all-that-much faith in yourself. And it was getting that way towards the end. There were times when we all pulled together, but not nearly enough. And maybe if I'd have done more to orchestrate instances like that then things would've been different.
Maybe it's obvious to some. And it's a lot clearer to me now: if you're not passionate about what you're doing, how can you expect others to be?
3. Connection and community
Being a Project Manager can make it challenging to connect with people on your team. It's all about the soft-skills: working out how each person works best, how they like to be communicated with. All the stuff I love being involved in. But it's not the same.
When you're a Project Manager, no matter how kind and understanding you are, you're still the one who brings the work. You're the one who asks for the deadlines. However nicely you dress up your reasoning and explanations, you're still seen to be wielding that big, proverbial stick. And what I've come to learn is this:
No-one likes the stick. No-one.
Sure, people will tell you it's helpful. Even necessary. "Some people work better under pressure". But I don't believe it. Yes, you get results. Fear gets results. But it isn't sustainable. And if you're lacking the orange, carrot-esque qualities of higher purpose and camaraderie, sometimes all that's left to get the job done is the stick.
So I spent a lot of the time feeling on the outside of most of my 'team'. It was different with different people in different situations, of course. But in many cases, I never really managed to shed the resistance - the barriers - that come with being the stick-holder.
In hindsight, maybe I could have done more to create the shared purpose that would have had the team seen me as more of the shepherd than the coachman. Anything really to bring us more of that community spirit.
Note to self: spend more time in future on aligning a team's collective carrots.
I suppose this last one is somewhat a result of all the others. Our need to have control and autonomy over our lives is a well-known one. If we don't, it can easily lead us to feeling trapped. Or worse, a lack of hope that can lead to depression.
Back when I worked in Quality (when the business was smaller), the department was my domain. I had a lot of say in the way things were run. And when I moved into IT, I was the only IT person on-site. Sure, I had people I reported to. But I had a lot of input in the way things were set up and rolled out. What I prioritised and what I didn't.
When I transferred to the role of Project Manager, I was right in at the deep end. I had limited experience of how projects were meant to be managed, and that was more than most of the people around me. My then-boss at the time included. This left me somewhere between everything that needed to be done, and a complete lack of understanding on how to do it. Cue breakdown.
I felt a complete lack of control. Trapped, even. This improved with time and experience (sink or swim, right?). And the direction increased once my new boss started, because he had a background in Project Management. We got better at planning and better working as a team. Yet it still wasn't the way it had been. And I think I now know why.
"Why can't I find my motivation?"
And without the sense of purpose I used to have, it was tough at times to find the drive to put myself firmly in the driving seat. There's always more you can do, I know. But there's often less you can too. Things still happen. They still get done. Maybe just slower. Or not as well. Sure, you can fight. Things might improve. But where does the energy come from? And if you don't feel that sense of purpose, sometimes it just doesn't. And, clearly, I didn't try as hard as I could have to create it.
I don't think I fully appreciated how much I got from the connections I made at work until my role cast me as the stick-holder. I was regularly torn between keeping a positive connection and being firm about getting the job done. Tie that in with the lack of purpose and community spirit and you can probably understand why the motivation to take control wasn't all the forthcoming
What I've learned from all of this is that I need to be in a job that motivates me. And although I'm more motivated by the people I work and the connections we have than I am by the shared purpose of what we're trying to achieve, it's not nowhere near as fulfilling as when I have both. And when I have both, I feel much more in control. Which means I'm much more likely to take back control when I feel it slipping.
So here's to bigger things. I'll miss my old job dearly in some ways. Though now it's a lot clearer to me what I need to do to make sure those bigger things are brighter too. And stay bright.