2 years ago today, I walked into my boss's office at NASA and told him I was quitting. I still remember that gloomy October day - I was absolutely terrified and absolutely excited at the exact same time. I loved the people I worked with, and when I spoke to my boss, I had to hold back the tears. After all, I was leaving a family, of sorts, and also leaving the opportunities and career path I would have had with them. But I knew I was doing the right thing. Day in and day out, my skills and talents collected cobwebs. I went through the motions to get that paycheck every week. I tried hard to convince myself that I was doing the right thing for so long. "They have great benefits", I would say, or "it's a really low-stress job and the people are great". Or even, "the job security is awesome". But I couldn't change how I felt - job security did not equal job satisfaction. At the time, I had plenty of excuses for why I was leaving. I used my startup as an excuse, and as true as that was, it wasn't the real reason. I wanted to make a difference - I knew I wasn't cutout to be isolated in a lab somewhere running tests. As much as I respect the people that thrive on that type of work, I knew it wasn't me. I realized that even though I always had high marks on performance reviews, I got lazy...professionally. I wasn't involved in any groups outside of work because I didn't care. I was disengaged. I stopped trying to learn and challenge myself. This was a dangerous place to be, and I see now that I had to leave to discover my true potential So I quit. And I never looked back.
I was fortunate to have a strong network. It's no mystery, my network is the reason I've been able to survive on my own. I made a relatively easy transition into a another job with a small consulting firm. Even though I'm no longer with them, I'll be forever thankful, because that job is where I got to discover my strengths and where I fit in the workplace. I discovered I had the skills, talents, and passions to fit in the role of a relationship builder and advocate (the dirty word for that is sales). But I found that I could make sales my own. It's not a dirty word for me - I loved building relationships and trust with customers and the employees that I worked with. I had found my place in the world, and now that I knew that, I could move-on to another job where I could use those skills to support a field I was passionate about - startups.
So I quit again. I realized that you can only discover your true potential when you let go of the safety nets in your life.
I think our generation has trouble with patience. We feel uneasy in a place of uncertainty so we tend to jump from one job directly to another without thinking about it. I did the opposite, and I am so glad I did. I took months doing nothing but networking, exploring, and learning about the field I love (entrepreneruship). I scheduled hundreds of meetings, and met hundreds of new people. I was a sponge. I wanted to know everything I possibly could about the field I wanted to work in, and it paid off. I eventually found a way to use my skills and talents and also work in the field I am passionate about (supporting entrepreneurs).
But I never planned for it.
I am a big fan of knowing what you want in life and what you're good at, but I'm not a big fan of plans. I find plans restrictive. Had I attempted to plan my career, I would have missed out on just about everything I've done since I left my job.
I let go of my financial planning. I know that sounds like a horrible idea, but to clarify, I let go of my obsession for investing I had acquired while working a regular job. I learned that like most things, you have to invest in the present to get a payoff in the future. So I invested in my career and myself. I drained my savings and my Roth IRA to take the time off I needed to find my next role. Since I let go of the safety net and discovered my own potential, I am confident I can manage my finances. But I don't have to make a career of it. I was investing in myself today so I can live 70+ fulfilling years rather than investing in myself in 70+years and not living the way I want until then. I don't regret it.
I let go of my obsession with my pay rate temporarily, understanding that the payment I'm getting from the job I do now is worth more than millions. Being truly satisfied with your work and getting the non-financial payouts from the people you help is priceless. I let go of the high-paying salary I had after I left NASA and took a massive pay cut. I could barely survive, but I learned from that. I learned what is really important to me. And I'm happier. I don't feel like I'm working for money, I'm working for a greater purpose. And I know it will pay off. I know if I needed to I could go get a job. And I know one day I'll climb back up that salary ladder. But for now, I don't regret it.
So, if I could summarize these past 2 years and give advice to those reading this, here is it:
1. Decide what you're good at. What are those talents and passions where when you're using them, you feel absolutely fantastic.
2. Decide what you're passionate about and what you want to work for. Is it a particular industry? A special cause? A unique people-group? Find a way to work in that field and use the skills from #1
3. If you're not in the job from #2 using skills from #1, leave your current job, take some time off, and invest in yourself. It will be worth it
You won't regret it. :)