My Worst Job Was My Best Decision Ever

The following is my contribution to the Carnival of HR taking place today over at Dovetail Software by way of former Nine Questions contributor Dwane Lay.

My first professional job out of college was with one of the largest telecommunications companies in North America - the pace was fast, change was the only constant and a Senior VP of HR told me in my first few weeks there that a year with the company was like seven years anywhere else, which makes sense given the dog-eat-dog nature of the industry. I was based in a 24/7 call center with additional HR responsibilities for marketing, sales, IT, and some other stuff - my Nextel was never more than an arm's length away so when I'd get the inevitable 2 am ping or a call five minutes after open enrollment had closed or a voice mail about employees starting a food fight with their Thanksgiving leftovers a few hours removed from dinner with their families, I was at the ready. It was both awful and wonderful and somewhere that allowed me to learn so much in a very short period of time - it's somewhere I still reference when I think about best practices more than a decade after I left the organization.

When I left it was with mixed emotions, our department had dwindled from more than 25 down to three in a period of two years and the number of employees we supported overall had gone up - but every day was a new adventure, something I didn't recognize for what it was at the time so early into my career. And while the job was a source of constant change and new experiences, I was ready for something different - or at least I thought I was.

Enter Big Pharma - I jumped from the only professional HR point of reference I had into a new industry, a new job, and a new HR specialty. My new company was massive in scale, with operations spread out over countless business units and countries. My new job called on me to travel and schmooze and on occasion attend dinners that cost more than my mortgage at the time. It was shiny and slick and not unlike something you might see in a movie - and while the job certainly had its perks, it wasn't the right fit for me either culturally or in terms of what I wanted to be doing professionally. I'd gone from being a generalist in the truest sense to a hyper-specialized worker with no real career path (though, there was a lot more money) and no sense of purpose.

I wasn't happy, my then fiancee/now wife and I were in the homestretch of planning our wedding, I was bored and stressed and not politically savvy enough to navigate the sea of corporate kraken outside my office door - my frustration led me to wonder what I wanted out of a career (the topic of a coming post) and started to understand the value of culture and what motivates me personally. It wasn't long before I left what I can say in all honesty was the worst professional experience of my life - a job that before I accepted it, I'd been warned by past managers and mentors to steer clear of for a variety of reasons - and made my way into nonprofit HR. I worked for two amazing years at an international organization doing just about everything one might encounter over the course of a career in HR and I loved it - the work was ample and interesting and there was always some new program or initiative that seemed to take priority - it was an experience that I don't think I could have fully appreciated had it not been for my job immediately preceding it (or the one before that), it was position that helped me to embrace human resources not just as a job but as my career. I was working harder than ever and all I wanted was the opportunity to do more and more and more to help the organization build on its successes. It was also during this time that I realized the importance of organizational mission as it relates to my professional wants and needs - what did/do I value in a position or an organization or in that fine balance between work/life.

Here's something you should know about me in case we ever cross paths professionally, I'll work myself into the ground if I feel like the organization is doing good work for reasons beyond the amount of a shareholder's dividends. The result of discovering that professional/personal epiphany for myself during my tenure with that awesome nonprofit (somewhere that I still provide the occasional pro-bono consultation work and sit on an affiliate board of) was that when I left, I made my next move to another mission drive organization - this time entering the world of higher education, an industry where I've been for the last six-and-a-half years and even on its worst days is a place that I love working for more reasons that I can account for.

 It took me years to understand that while I want to be fairly and equitably compensated for the work I'm doing, being happy and professionally satisfied is an employee benefit more valuable than a stock option or year-end bonus. That's not to say that I may never leave my current industry, but if I ever do I'll be taking so much more than a salary offer into consideration before signing on the dotted line - something I'd encourage everyone to do, be they working in Fortune 100s, a start-up, a small business, a nonprofit, or even for themselves.

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Interested in someone else's take on finding fulfillment beyond your paycheck, then check out HR/social media ninja Allison Jacobson's post "Live each day to the fullest" over at her personal/professional blog Love Transmissions. That said, I'll leave you with a sample of what she has to say in case you need a little encouragement to aim that mouse and click.
"We are always forming perceptions of what’s bad or good by our fears or attitudes within our own realities. But again the truth is, everything that is before you has been sanctioned by you and created by you. It often lies there, begging you to work with it."
Header Photo Credit: thepretenda via Compfight cc

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