Retrospective on my job change one year later

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More than a year ago I made a very difficult decision to leave my employer of 13 years. I left behind security, stability — and family — in favor of a more dynamic environment closer to people served by the conservation district system.

Now I’m working three hours away from family, only seeing them on weekends. Even though it still strikes some people as an odd choice to make, this job change was the right decision.ย Here’s why.

Stale

My old job was simply getting stale. I’d been through enough that rarely was I encountering something new, as in really interestingly new.

Of course, that also meant I felt quite capable of handling just about any problem or issue that landed in front of me. But I came to realize that this comforting feeling of confidence was also a bit of a safety blanket I had wrapped around myself. Once I recognized that, the sense of staleness become pervasive.

Challenge

Because of that sense of staleness, I found myself looking for new challenges. I began doing some consulting work to keep my interest piqued and my capabilities sharp. The new job has provided all the challenges I could wish for, and having worked through some difficult situations has increased my confidence even more.

Sure, there are more ways to make significant errors in my new job because, well, it’s new. But it’s work I’ve done for five years before I made this jump, plus much of my 13 years working across Washington State gave me a wide, deep base of knowledge and experience to draw upon.

Stability

It is fascinating to me that I felt less stability at the job I had been doing for 13 years than I do in my new job. My previous employer is under intense pressure to cut costs while also fighting a quiet battle to remain an independent voice for conservation. My new employer has a permanent tax base, so we are assured of a steady stream of funding that helps assure our long-term success.

Historian

At some point my role in my previous position morphed from being the new rabble-rouser questioning what we did and why we did it, to the person who had been there longest who had the historical memory to explain why we did, or had done, things a certain way.

Sometimes the historian becomes part of the inertia that retards the evolution of an organization. I did not want to end up being perceived as the person who was constantly trying to slow things down. I wanted my organization to be overwhelmingly successful. And it sounds odd to say this, but one way to help make that happen was to take my foot off the brakes by leaving.

Managing

I’m pretty opinionated. Those who know me best know the truth of this self assessment. In the old job, I did not get many opportunities to try to guide the overall strategy of the organization. In my new job, this is a key aspect of my role…and I like it.

Supervising

I also had extremely limited opportunities to manage professional staff in my old job. Every day of the new job is chock full of supervisory challenges and successes.

Satisfaction

It’s hard to imagine but I’m having more fun in the new job than I had in the last several years with my previous employer. It is so very satisfying to take my 18 years of experience and parlay that into an organizational strategy and service delivery system that is working well. Sure, there are many improvements I can and will make, but the lessons of the past couple of decades are holding true.

Guilt

I can’t end this without talking about the feeling of guilt that also came with my departure from my previous employer. I remain in contact with my ex-coworkers. I enjoy interacting with them and respect their perseverance in the face of some substantial challenges. I follow the issues they are grappling with. I empathize with the frustrations and difficulties they bravely face every day. And I think about them every day, and quietly wish them well as their situation continues to evolve.

Blessed

I have a great board of directors and some amazing staff. Our partners are eager, active, and committed. We have a stable funding source and enough natural resource issues to keep us busy as far into the future as I can imagine.

I simply feel blessed to have this incredible opportunity to deliver conservation the way I believe it should be done. My way is not the only way, and it certainly is not the right way in every situation. It is working, and despite the challenges of having a family several hours away, I truly feel incredibly lucky every day.

How about you?

How do feel about the last job change you made? Was it easy or difficult? Was it the right thing to do at the time? Do tell!

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8 thoughts on “Retrospective on my job change one year later

  1. John

    Thanks for sharing that perspective Tom...as you can well imagine, there are parts of your post that are verbatim of what my mind has gone through the last 2 months. I appreciate your statement about guilt also, I have experienced that in relationship to the separation from family. I truly believe that I have an opportunity to make a difference in this new position also, so give me a few months and we'll revisit this idea and see where things have gone. Thanks again for your willingness to share, cheers...John

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    1. Tom Post author

      Your addition regarding an opportunity to make a difference? I left that out of my post, but it is spot on. If I had not felt I could help get more conservation on the ground, I would not have made this jump. There is one advantage to working at a distance from family, but it is short-term: you can get a whole lot more work done. The price we pay in our relationships may be cumulative, though, and it takes carving out some dedicated family time to even begin to make up for being away.

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  2. Mark I. Moore (@nwlinux)

    I resonate with many of the headers that you provide us readers ๐Ÿ™‚ Your "stale" description is quite perfect as I am battling with keeping things fresh. Many of the people I work with have been with my employer for 20-30 years. These people also represent the history book for my employer, which is lost when they retire. It almost seems like inertia has set in and we are all along for the ride. They lack the drive to rock the boat, to shake things up, in order to push forward.

    Challenges these days are few and far between; I miss that the most. If there was a job that really challenged me, had great people, and were active in their pursuits, I would certainly travel a few hours for the pleasure of engaging in that environment - hands down. It sounds like you made a great choice.

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    1. Tom Post author

      ...So I returned to sailing to have some adventures, then picked up motorcycling again for more adventures, then started my side business...and when I finally recognized this pattern of seeking new, fresh challenges, I began to ask myself why work wasn't providing those experiences in the way it had for several years. Should work provide such personal fulfillment? That's a whole different question!

      There is huge value in having historians available because we simply can't capture all the nuances of our work in job descriptions, policies, procedures, and flow charts. But the compendium of knowledge these folks contain can also be a stone around the organization's neck. I didn't want to become the next stone dragging us down, and I could envision that possibility.

      I also abhor the "single point of failure" syndrome where an employee becomes so central to key business processes that they become irreplaceable...at least irreplaceable without significantly disrupting the organization. On the IT side that condition was occurring, so to me, it was simply time to leave the nest.

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  3. Janis Salzer

    I am very proud of you, Tom! This was a hard decision to make for all of us! But it was an excellent choice! You have made many new friends to add to the many friends you still have made along your conservation journey! I am amazed by your strengths and challenges you face everyday! We miss you but know you are only a phone call or text away! Your loving family!

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    1. Tom Post author

      Ditto for you ๐Ÿ™‚ With texting and email and cell phones and Skype, we're not nearly as disconnected as we were just a decade ago. Pretty amazing...as is my whole family for being so flexible and caring!

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  4. logyexpress

    I can relate to so much of this. The "Historian" argument is really interesting. I'd like to think I still have creative ideas, but after 15 years at my job I do recognize myself in your Historian description somewhat.

    Also, my commute is an hour each way and I think it's a pretty large part of my job satisfaction, or lack thereof. I have a hunch I'd like my same job a lot more if it were a 10 minute walk away. So I'm really not sure about the distance thing for me.

    I'm glad you found something that works for you.

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    1. Tom Post author

      I suspect the Historian is a more stable, valued position in larger companies. In the small workforces I've been in, it seems like a point in time arrives where the Historian becomes not an anchor in support of continued effectiveness, but instead an anchor that drags and slows the ship. I know that's an oversimplification, but in my limited experience it seems to be true. Your experience is likely to be quite different ๐Ÿ™‚

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