Got Career Regret?

The Values Revolution

By Kim Stiglitz

Some idealize what they don’t know, don’t have or haven’t experienced – it’s the “grass is always greener” philosophy.

I would be lying if I said I never fell down this rabbit hole. Even though I immediately regretted it, I learned a lot about what I needed to be truly satisfied in my work and career.

My story of regret began when I returned to work at one of the nation’s top retailers after my maternity leave. They informed me that a coworker had left and I would now be doing both roles, and traveling 2-3 weeks each month. As a new mom of a 4-month-old and after 14 years at this company, I felt betrayed, hurt and, frankly, pissed off. So I set out to find something new and better.

I ended up scoring a job quickly at a hip communications startup that promised the golden land: a $20K increase, a flexible work schedule and much more. I showed up ready to conquer the world. By the end of my first day, I ended up in the bathroom in tears.

I was flooded with regret. Why did I choose this company? As a new mom who needed life/work balance, this place was the antithesis. Things were so different than they positioned it in the interview. The young up-and-comers worked 24/7 and seemed to send email after email at warp speed, each trying to outwork the other. But at what cost? I tried to persevere and give it a shot. But after a few weeks knew I had made the wrong choice.

That was a really hard realization to admit to myself. I didn’t want to be unemployed at this stage of my career. But I left anyway.

At the end of my first month of unemployment, my husband and I decided I would work with him to build his custom jewelry design business. I would not get paid or receive benefits. We would have to make some drastic lifestyle changes. But I would be able to spend more time with my new baby and get to work alongside my husband to build a brand.

While it was hard, at least I realized I didn’t have to feel stuck and defeated.

Here is what I learned to get my career back on track:

Pursue an interest. Do you bake the best cupcakes on the block? Love designing websites for fun? Put on your entrepreneurial cap and consider turning these interests into your own side business or pet project. Not only will this make you feel better mentally, you might fill a sought-after niche or uncover new opportunities. I love the story of Mignon Fogarty, today best known as the “Grammar Girl.” A writer and editor, she loved technology and, on a whim, recorded a few podcasts about common grammar dilemmas. The podcasts became insanely popular and now she’s the full-time founder of the Quick and Dirty Tips Podcast Network.

Freelance or consult. If what you do is in demand and you can take on client projects on your own, maybe it’s better off being your own boss for a time – at least until you decide your next step. Who knows, maybe freelancing will end up being your long-term full-time gig – it worked for Jessica Hische, an award-winning freelance designer, illustrator and letterer whose clever “Should I Work for Free?” flow chart is both funny and pretty darn useful.

Save pennies. As you contemplate your next move, save as much as you can for that rainy day. It might mean making some significant lifestyle changes, like my family had to do. For example, instead of moving to a larger, more comfortable apartment as we had planned, we hunkered down in our one-bedroom unit and made it work. Now, sharing a bedroom with a 6-month-old is not ideal for anyone, but we knew eventually we would move on up. (It took five years, but we did it.) The thicker your financial cushion, the more flexibility you’ll have to quit, change jobs, move to a new city or strike out on your own.

Reach out to old colleagues. This is not the time to let pride get in the way. Be frank and tell them that the new job isn’t what you expected. Ask them to keep their ears to the ground for any openings that might be a good fit for you. Tap into your social networks and you never know what can happen. LinkedIn is especially great for this. A former co-worker of mine recently left her job, announced that she was available on her LinkedIn and Facebook pages, and got two projects that same day.

Find a job. Fast-forward two years. We had built a solid little jewelry business. It was time for our daughter to go to preschool and I felt ready to return to a job that didn’t include calling my husband “boss.” While I was working for him, I was in charge of all the company’s email marketing campaigns and I ended up finding a great job opening at a San Francisco-based email service provider. I interviewed, got the position and have steadily worked my way up from marketing programs manager to the director of lifecycle marketing.

In hindsight, if I’d never taken that “wrong” turn, I might not have ended up at a job I love with amazing work/life balance.

How do you consider how good you have it? Would you be willing to take a leap of faith and the risk all that goes with it?

Kim Stiglitz is the director of lifecycle marketing at VerticalResponse, which provides self-service online marketing tools for small businesses. She also still helps out with her husband’s company, HAND in HAND custom jewelry design.


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