What do you do when the job you have taken has taken the life out of you? When the end of the road comes at a job before you have something new lined up, what’s the next step? Do you stick it out or do you leave on your own terms? I had reached that crossroads. I had a decision to make. I knew that being in a job that compromised my integrity and held me back from achieving my true potential was not the place I wanted to be.
Knowing what you have to do and actually doing it though, are two very different things. It has taken me a long time to write this blog post. I left my job in April with many mixed emotions and regrets. I hadn’t wanted to think about that place I was in for a long time after I left. I fear that I idealized what working for a non profit was going to be like. I went through all the emotions–anger, sadness, wistfulness. In the end, I had to be true to myself. When you find yourself in a new career, you have to evaluate if the career skill set works for you and you have to evaluate the work environment where you exhibit your skills. I had found that I loved what I did, I was just doing it for an organization that was a bad fit for my personality and skills. I was working in a 10-year-old non profit that took 3 steps backward for every 1 step forward. There was a lot of change in personnel before and during my time there (never a good sign) and also a lack of real vision and innovation to be bigger, bolder, and better than what the other charities in our field were doing. I don’t mind an underdog, but after a while, you realize that when the only thing holding an organization back is the structure of the organization itself, it is a model for everyone with talent to fail.
I had considered myself lucky in that the first round of my career had found me thriving, excited about my work and my company, and energized to get up and do the job even 15, 16 years into it. I was surrounded by very talented people and it always made me want to reach higher and achieve more. It was disheartening to make a new career in non profit only to find that I didn’t really do my research and that I was so eager to be of service to others, that I didn’t see the warning signs of the place I would be working. Knowing what I know now, I would be very wary of working anywhere that had such enormous turnover in staff in a short period of time. I would now also look to see what the background of my co-workers was and if they were suited to their position. Unease and negativity of staff members usually comes when people are in over their heads or lacking in appropriate background to do their jobs. This makes it hard to communicate and also to have good team morale. Sudden turnovers also mean that a small team can go from being cohesive to being antagonistic based on a few shifts in personnel. I think I missed all of these red flags because I had worked for so long in a place that didn’t have much turnover and where people stayed for a good part of their career. In reading further about non profits and talking to a lot of people working in the field, I came to realize that it was pretty typical that charitable organizations hired people they liked and then tried to fit the job around that person.
Another thing to look into before accepting a job is the real financial situation of an organization, especially in non profit. No one can work at their highest level of potential when financial crises and constraints restrict the things you can do and the tools you have to use. Most non profits strive hard to be very transparent in their financials and better due diligence on my part would’ve exposed a lot of clues into the state of affairs that I was walking into. Being in an organization that is growing, makes you grow. Being in an organization that is struggling, makes you spend your days fighting to get by with what you have. It is very hard to be innovative and successful in a stifled environment.
The last red flag I would now watch for is that a workplace should not lack real structure and goals. At first it was very exhilarating to work somewhere that gave you the answer, “do whatever you want” when you asked if or how to do something. It seemed like I could just do whatever I wanted, that I had free creative license. But no one else was invested in the things I had to do like social media or events. After a while, it becomes discouraging and it feels like you are working in a vacuum when no one gives you any feedback or has any interest in how you support the mission each day with your work. Ultimately, I felt like everyone around me had their own agenda and was working for their own reasons. There was no tangible teamwork displayed to support the mission. There is no way for an employee or company to thrive in that type of environment. You can only survive.
Leaving was a hard thing to do. I felt like I left a lot untapped potential on the table. But the saying, “when one door closes, another one opens” really holds true. I find myself today doing the work I dreamed of in non profit. I get to be an evangelist who focuses on the good things charities are doing. I am part of a movement to make the world a better place and it feels good, really good. I found my niche by being open to the universe and by giving freely of my talent and seeing who accepted it. Luckily for me, my reinvention has been life-affirming and brings great joy to me every single day.
When you find yourself stuck at work, you are never really stuck. It is just a process to go through that leads you to another place. If you can’t find a job, create a new one. If you can’t get paid for what you do, give it freely and see who is willing to accept it and who is willing to support you. You will be amazed at the doors the universe will open. Let go of a negative workplace and it is quite a journey on the road to what comes next. Don’t let fear overwhelm you, fear more being stuck somewhere that doesn’t accept your potential and your gifts.