3 Lessons I Learnt from a Painful Time in My Career

3 Lessons I Learnt from a Painful Time in My Career

This week, I wanted to share insights with you about a painful time in my career and the lessons I learnt.

Success vs Happiness

I was outwardly successful with an impressive title and compensation package to go with it?

My family were proud of what I had achieved and enjoyed the lifestyle that I had worked hard to provide for us.

Deep down, though, I was feeling unhappy, unfulfilled and unsatisfied.

I kept thinking to myself, what the hell is the matter with me? I should be happy. I am doing well in my career and have a great life.

But, from when I got up in the morning until I went to bed, I kept thinking about what else I could do in my career to give me back the happiness and fulfilment I had lost.

If I came up with an idea that I felt excited about, I instantly dismissed it because I would find a blocker –

  • It won’t pay enough money.
  • I don’t have the skills anymore to do that.
  • It took me years to get where I am today, why give it up?
  • I am safe and comfortable where I am, why risk it?
  • What if I make a move and I screw up?
  • I don’t have the time or energy to look deeper into the idea.

Even when I was on holiday, I was writing down ideas that I would execute when I got back home. But when I got back, I would fall straight back into the typical day to day routine.

I became tired and frustrated by this constant cycle of analysis paralysis.

I also started to worry about the implications of my boss and clients spotting that I was becoming disengaged at work.

As time went on, I become anxious, frustrated and stressed that I could not figure out an answer.

I started to take my emotions home with me, which in turn impacted my relationships with my family.

One evening my daughter finally broke the cycle when she came into the kitchen where I was standing and said in an annoyed tone, “Why are you always such a grumpy dad?”

That was the trigger I needed to break me out of this cycle of torture.

But what could I do?

Looking back, the timing couldn’t have been more perfect. A colleague of mine had been on a career coaching course at the weekend and wanted someone to practice on. I agreed, thinking I was helping him out, but boy was I wrong.

We worked for weeks together and finally realised that it was ok not to know what to do. I had to try a new approach to find out what my next career move was.

I decided to take a year out to try these new things and spend more time with my family. I got my family’s support, which was critical, developed a plan and started execution.

It felt like a significant weight had been lifted off my shoulders. I was excited, focussed and driven to find out what my future direction would be.

I created and sold a web application, qualified as a coach and started building my new business.

Bolted Back to Safety

I loved it, but, unfortunately, I got scared. Could I really do this? Was I prepared to continue to back myself? Would I run out of cash?

And, I don’t mind admitting, at that stage, I lost my bottle and bolted back to safety into another corporate leadership role.

I convinced myself that this was just a holding pattern, but after a year, I got stuck again and became disgruntled, disheartened and very unhappy. Grumpy old dad was back.

I hired a qualified career coach who spent a year with me helping me discover my “why”, working on my fears, my limiting beliefs and my business plan. I have never worked so hard on my internal self before. When I was 100% ready, I hit the eject button again.

3 Top Lessons I Learnt

1. Take Responsibility

Even though I didn’t like myself at the time and put my long-term relationship with my loved ones at risk, I failed to take responsibility because I kept myself in denial –

  • Denial that I was impacting the relationship with my family.
  • Denial that I needed help.
  • Denial that I was accountable.
  • Denial that I could overcome the blockers I put in place.

My daughter finally broke me out of this state of denial.

2. Talk to Your Loved Ones

This was the first and most difficult actions I took after finally taking responsibility.

My wife will tell you that I always bottle up problems when I should speak to someone about them. I am sure many others are like me. Are you?

Also, nothing feels real unless I tell my wife.

Well, I braved up and had this tough conversation with my family, and to my surprise, it helped me overcome one of the biggest blockers I had to move forward.

This blocker was that I didn’t want to change my family’s lifestyle by putting it at risk by doing something different in my career.

When I told them this, they said that they would rather have a happy dad than the house and holidays we have today.

This filled me with same glassy-eyed emotion then, as it did today when I wrote this.

Of course, they would rather have a happy dad. It’s incredible the stupid stories you tell yourself when you are under stress.

Don’t get me wrong. I want us to keep the same lifestyle. I worked hard to achieve it but knowing my family was behind me if things don’t go well lifted an enormous weight off my shoulders.

This was a mindset game changer.

3. Find Someone to Help

The Lamppost Story

When I trained to be a professional coach, the instructor told us a story to illustrate the impact active listening can make on a client. The story has always stuck in my head because it’s strangely about talking to a lamppost –

If you leave your office each evening and stop by a lamp post on your way home and talk to the lamp post. Let’s say you start to do that every evening, unburdening the day’s problems and vocalising the possibilities and options for tomorrow. The lamp post will not talk back; it will just be there for you.

And by acquiring the habit of talking to a lamppost, you find your life is improving. It is gathering light. You feel a little less burdened each evening, and by expressing options and possibilities, you even have new ideas you would not have had if you didn’t talk to the lamp post.

So, if a lamp post can do all this, imagine what you can do if you talk with someone who listens, but can also ask powerful questions?

Who Can Help?

I couldn’t solve my work issue myself; I had tried for years. The more I tried to figure out the answer, the more stressed and frustrated I become.

I needed to find someone I could talk to and help me move forward.

I chose an external professional coach because I wanted someone who –

  • Was independent of the company I worked. I had a lot to lose, and I wanted to a contractual guarantee of confidentiality.
  • Wasn’t going to tell me what to do. I had read, listened and watched many experts tell me what to do, and it made no difference. I wanted someone who would help me figure out my own answers and get past the blockers I had put in the way that felt impossible to overcome.
  • Was going to challenge me and firmly hold me to account.
  • I felt comfortable to be open and honest with.
  • Could work with me during lunch hours over a video call as I was time-poor.

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