creative commons image by Evil Erin | https://www.flickr.com/photos/evilerin/3796279865/
“The decision has been made rather than giving you a choice.”
My stomach dropped. Every muscle in my body tensed. I kept thinking, “This can’t be happening!”
I was being put into a new position. A position I’d told various managers I didn’t want for the past decade. A position I’d told this particular manager I didn’t want a mere five weeks earlier when the topic had casually (or so I’d thought) come up.
Despite all this, I didn’t feel like there was any malice behind management’s decision. I believed her when she said management thought it was a great opportunity for me. I appreciated that they recognized my skills. I was grateful they wanted me to grow in my career.
But the second I was back in my cube, I closed off the entrance and started sobbing as quietly as I could.
The problem was that this particular “growth” was going in the exact opposite direction of where my soul wanted to go. I would be putting programs together from previously created work, not creating from the ground up. I would be working on more serious projects, not using my full voice, which tends to include a fair amount of humor. I would have days filled with meetings, not the freedom and flexibility I longed for (and worse, I’d lose the weekly flex day I’d had the past few years). And to pour salt on the wound, my workload and responsibility would increase by a sizeable amount, but my paycheck would remain the same because it was technically a lateral move.
I made a long list of all the reasons this wasn’t the right situation for me. I met with the manager again and respectfully went through them all, reminding her about our previous discussion. She reasoned every single objection away. Again, it wasn’t in a mean or rude way; I truly believe she was trying to help me look past what she saw as apprehension to see the good in the opportunity. She just didn’t seem to realize that was never going to happen.
Instead, I was given noise-cancelling headphones and a laptop to help me deal with the loudness of my new environment. I was also told that if I hated the new job, I could return to my previous position. (I later found out wasn’t an option after all, although it didn’t really matter since by then I had no desire to go back.)
That first week went by in a blur of barely-controlled fury, uncontrolled tears, and trying every coaching tool in the book. Despite several open and respectful conversations, it was clear that my vision for my career didn’t matter.
At the end of the day, management just wanted me on board and excited about the new position. And they wanted me to actually say that I’d take it, even though it had been made clear that this was happening no matter what. I felt completely unheard, disrespected, and betrayed.
The thing was, the original declaration had been wrong: the decision had been made, but I DID have a choice. I could stay, or I could go.
I chose to stay.
I gave in to the litany of fearful thoughts, mostly around not having enough money. The idea of relinquishing my salary and benefits scared the hell out of me.
So instead of resigning, I used the few weeks before starting the new position as best I could: venting to willing listeners, getting coached, and doing massive amounts of self-coaching. Clearly, this job switch was happening, and I wanted to start it with as open a mind and heart as possible.
To be honest, the coaching didn’t work how I’d hoped. I wanted to make everything feel okay, but life coaching isn’t
about making wrong situations feel right, it’s about helping you listen to your intuition. And my intuition loudly and continuously told me this was the Universe’s way of pushing me out of the nest without actually pushing me—it was up to me to take the ultimate leap.
Still, I wasn’t ready to jump just yet. Instead, I updated my resume, started a serious job hunt, and took my life coaching marketing up a few notches.
Meanwhile, as I transitioned into the new position, it quickly became apparent that the job was even worse than I’d thought. There was more minutiae than I’d ever imagined, and I found it both incredibly frustrating and exceedingly boring. On a personal level, things went from bad to worse.
Health issues that had been a moderate inconvenience started getting more severe. New stuff showed up to the party, too, including horrible pain in my wrists that began about five minutes into my first task in the new position.
I cried multiple times a day—in my cube, in bathroom stalls, in my car—sometimes having to rush away from meetings before the tears started flowing. (And I’m normally not a crier.)
I'd be sitting with my team or walking down the hall and my shoulder would suddenly start twitching. Mostly, I could stop it, but there were times when the best I could do was minimize the intensity and hope that no one noticed.
The one positive was getting to meet and work with some really great people, but I also felt guilty about bringing down the group’s energy since I couldn’t fake happiness to save my life.
And pretty much every second of every day, I resisted the urge to scream “I QUIT!!” and run from the building.
After about three months of pushing through with no new job opportunities in sight, I was mentally, emotionally, and physically wrecked. I took advantage of every opportunity to use my long list of self-coaching tools. They worked great in the moment, but the positive effects vanished the second I had to get back to work. I went to so many medical appointments, I don’t think I worked a 40-hour week once in three months.
Ultimately, my doctor and I agreed that I needed medical leave. I spent two weeks going to various medical appointments and resting as much as I could. It helped a bit, but I could still feel the massive stress of the situation as if it were an angry grizzly bear sitting on my chest.
At the end of my leave, my doctor gave me the letter saying I could return to work. I thanked her, but as soon as she left, I froze. Eventually I managed to head for the door, but a kind word from a nurse sent me sobbing and making a beeline back into the cold comfort of the exam room until I calmed down.
And yet again, I let thoughts like “But I have to go back to work” override the message my soul was so clearly shouting at me.
At work the next day, I stumbled through meetings and training and writing goals, all while dealing with a horrible pain in my stomach. The anger and frustration had me tearing up more times than I could count, and during the drive home, I had to pull over on the freeway because I was bawling so hard I’d started to hyperventilate.
Eventually, I made it home. As I was standing in the kitchen, my mom said something that, because of my current state, infuriated me. I yelled at her (unlike me), threw the water bottle I had in my hand (very unlike me), and collapsed into an inconsolable puddle of sobs and gasps. It was the explosion that had been waiting and wanting to happen ever since I’d first found out about the job change.
The next morning, I emailed my boss that I’d tried to come back too soon. I called my doctor and got a week extension on my medical leave. I spent most of that time resting, journaling, and talking with some of the wonderful, supportive people I’m so lucky to have in my life.
And I finally accepted that the time had come for me to quit.
I went back to work a week after my meltdown. I showed up calm, clear, and ready to give my resignation, effective that day. I knew there was no way my body could handle the traditional two weeks’ notice; sure enough, within a few minutes of being in the building, a new, searing pain started shooting from my lower abdomen, up my side, and down my arm. This was not anxiety about my decision; it was my body yelling at me to get the fuck out. The only way to lessen the pain was to repeatedly promise that within a few hours, I’d be gone for good.
I gave my notice, cleaned out my cube, and left the building for the last time. Surprisingly, quitter’s remorse kicked in during the drive home. Variations on the thought “You'll run out of money!” started reverberating in my head. I knew it wasn't the truth, just my terrified lizard brain desperately wanting to keep me safe. I gave my lizard free rein to voice its fears, and after five minutes, it calmed down. The regret was gone—forever.
* * *
In both my career and in my personal life, I live by the following principle: I can't possibly know what's right for someone else, and no one else can possibly know what’s right for me.
Despite coming from a good place, management’s insistence that this was the right move for me and their continued disregard for my repeated objections just intensified the anger, resentment, and frustration I felt.
However, the suffering I endured was all on me. I chose to stay. I chose to ignore my inner wisdom. I chose to allow people to treat me in a way went against the core of who I am.
It didn’t have to be that way. I knew better. I knew exactly why my health was declining and what I needed to do to change that. And yet I let the fear win over and over again.
But you know what? I wouldn’t change a thing. I learned so much, and I truly believe that everything happened exactly how it was supposed to. This was the experience I needed to understand once and for all that it’s not just important to follow my heart—it’s imperative.
And now, after many months, I’m at the point where I can fully appreciate all the good things that came from being employed by that company: working and becoming friends with incredibly talented and generous people, growing both personally and professionally in ways that will serve me well for the rest of my life, and participating in so many wonderful opportunities I otherwise would never have had. And in the end, I'm also incredibly grateful to the managers: their actions gave me that push I needed to finally fully get myself out into the world.
It hasn’t been an easy path since I left, but even during the hardest parts, I’ve never doubted that I made the right decision. My health is vastly improved. I feel freer, clearer, and happier than I’ve ever been. And regardless of where this road takes me, I know I’m living in my truth and will continue to do so for the rest of my life.
And that, my friends, was worth it all.
Clearly, listening to your heart can be a difficult thing to do, but I promise you, it's the best gift you could ever give yourself.
If you'd like some help learning this life-changing skill, go ahead and schedule a session with me here.
All potential new clients get a free 30-minute consultation session, and all sessions are over the phone, so location isn't an issue.
Katie Baron: life coach, freelance writer, animal and nature lover, musician, relentless optimist