“Stay patient, or take the next best offer?”, he kept asking himself. After all, these were crucial decisions, at a critical juncture in his career, and he needed to make the next several years count, he kept telling himself. He was a successful start-up executive with two impressive stints at well-known, venture-backed companies over the last decade plus. Yet, he found himself in unfamiliar territory. An uncertain space. What to do. Where to go next. Frustrated and anxious about the lack of clear next steps, since his last position more than a year ago. But still trying to get excited about the next opportunity. At this point, only a demanding list of high-achieving needs — great leader, doing big things, surrounded by the right team, executing in an authentic way, in a non-toxic workplace.
An old friend from boarding school reached out a year ago because he was struggling to manage the weightiness of his professional transition. Looking for help developing a concrete plan. We hadn’t spoken in years. But he wasn’t the guy I remembered growing up with — passionate, confident, and assertive. Instead, it was clear he was feeling trapped, hostage to two competing, internal voices. One saying, “hurry up, make a decision and get back to work, you don’t want to blow your potential, the privileges you’ve received, the sacrifices others have made on your behalf.” And the other, “the pace of the last decade, the execution level required at your last job, left you feeling depleted.”
What got you here, won’t get you there
Life is really nothing more than a never-ending string of transitions. In the uncertainty, and amidst the change, lies genuine opportunities for meaningful transformation, if we’re open to it.
We explored and discussed many different perspectives and possibilities around potential next steps:
What if this pause wasn’t a curse, but a blessing? Time to rest his body and mind. Reconnect with his heart and intuition. Space to recognize that his prior pace and execution level wasn’t sustainable. That he wanted more than to just get to the next rung on the corporate ladder. To that end, he mentioned he was learning to be more present on walks with his dog and while playing with his two young children.
What if being more present is the new normal? This pause offering time and space to practice mindfulness. To redefine the go faster, do more work style and associated patterns and rhythms that had become second nature. To identify and pursue opportunities where his personal and professional values were in alignment.
What if this transition was a chance to reframe his definition of success? Find a way to execute that allowed him to maintain the same drive, while not driving him to burnout. Redefine his inner sense of expectation and potential in a way that’s authentic to who he is today, rather than some aspirational version of himself.
What if instead of waiting to find that great leader doing big things, and lobbying to be his dependable #2, he became that leader? What if that was success. The next opportunity.
What if the lucrative payday that he’d been chasing and sacrificing for doesn’t end his internal struggles and emotional suffering?
Work that fulfills and sustains
Fast forward to present day and several months of self-discovery later, my client has started his own business, rather than wait for someone else to show up as the leader he wanted and needed. He’s working with senior corporate executives and founders to build psychologically safe teams and collaborative, supportive work environments, where employees feel comfortable bringing their whole selves to work. He’s helping scale humane workplaces that inspire employees to not only work harder, but with more heart, dedication and loyalty. Importantly, where they are encouraged to learn from their mistakes and supported to grow into the best versions of themselves. Where team members do their work well and then go home, spend quality time with their partner, are present with their kids, or take the dog for a walk, and feel comfortable putting their phone on silent, or even leaving it behind.
So the next time you’re experiencing a professional transition, give yourself time to process the change and uncertainty, reflect on your definition of success, and be open to meaningful transformation, rather than be in a race to find an identical position. While that may feel more comfortable initially, five years from now, you want to be celebrating personal growth and professional milestones achieved, not asking yourself how you got to where you are, and still aren’t where you want to be.