This is a thing about ambition: It takes a lot of personal strength to be surrounded by people who are all reaching for the same brass ring and not think that you should be reaching for it too — regardless of whether you really like brass, or rings.
Jean Hannah Edelstein
Jean, one of the key pieces of this, which I appreciate very much, is that we rarely throw down the gauntlet and ask ourselves the immensely hard questions about whether or not leadership positions of any kind fit who we are, or whether we inherently have the chops to do that kind of work. Not only does this beg the inquiry about the type of work and pressures that are attractive to us (I love people, I hate people, I love interaction and conflict, I hate them, etc etc) but it also makes the demand upon us to think very carefully about the way work provides incentives. It’s perfectly natural to want, say, the corner office, the title, the money, the implicit power that may come with promotion. It’s quite another to have to leave behind the work we love to trade it off for administrative responsibilities, the headaches of negotiation, the constant interpersonal conflicts of team members. A recent study indicated that the biggest single problem today is the absentee boss. That’s the guy or gal who has the title but doesn’t weigh in to do the work.
Striving, as you note, is uniquely defined. For me it’s being an individual contributor, which later morphed into my own business. While rife with its own issues, that, as with your story, allowed me to self-define. Gone was the sense that I HAD to manage. I did it once and I bloody well sucked at it. I am a horrible manager and not the least bit embarrassed to own it. GOD what freedom to say that out loud and Just. Move. On.
There is an enormous gift when we can take a cold, hard look at what is presented to us as upward mobility and see it- as it relates to us, to our creativity, as living hell. You and I have every single right to make a case for what looks like work we love, rather than align with a heirarchical system that offers rewards for work that sucks.
You’re not a culture fit? Then the culture sucked for you. What a gift to be laid off. What a lovely opportunity to write your own novel. Me, too.
While not all of us get severance pay and a freelance gig which offers us the short term security to ask those critically important and life-affirming questions, your story still points out the essential process of asking ourselves the ridiculously difficult question of why am I doing this? Like you, in the Eighties I got bounced, with severance pay and time. I threw a backpack on my back and hitched solo around Australia, New Zealand and Fiji. By the time I got home four years later I had completely and utterly reworked both my life and priorities. I didn’t “find myself”- not at all. But I did redefine myself in terms of work. It took me a while but now I’m doing precisely what I love on my own terms. That, ultimately, is the purpose of real work. We are richly empowered and able to give the rest of the world the gifts we have to offer when we stop living up to false expectations established by insanely moronic standards in systems that rarely reward real creativity. Being radical pays off. Great piece.