Sometimes, the most successful paths are the ones that don’t initially make sense. I like for things to make sense. I make up my mind and then I follow my heart. When it comes to my job, my mind usually steers where I’m going; the heart gets put on the backburner behind the need for a roof and a full fridge. But a few years ago, I chose differently. I chose to follow my heart.
And at first, I felt completely CRAZY doing it.
In 2013, I was frustrated with my job, which happened every so often. Perhaps it was ennui or the hankering I occasionally feel to learn new things. Either way, I clocked out in a huff and decided to apply to work somewhere else. I forgot all about the application until I received a call for a phone interview a few weeks later. I had filled out the application not really expecting to hear back from the company.
That was my first mistake: discounting my worth
After I passed the first stage, they invited me to do a face-to-face meeting. I decided to go hear more about the position and the employer, which was a Fortune 500 company. The office was in an impressive, distinguished building in downtown Atlanta. Polished ecru granite tiles covered the expansive lobby. I took an elevator to the 12th floor and waited to be seen.
The interview went well! I was genuinely excited about the work they presented–I rather think they liked my enthusiasm for editing boring documents. Still, I didn’t see it coming when they offered me the position. I got the job?! I got the job!
I did a happy dance or two. It was a great company, with decent benefits, room for possible advancement…I could imagine myself working there. I told them I would think about it, but I was prepared to accept the offer.
That was my second mistake: focusing on the wrong perks
Once the initial excitement about the offer wore off, I started thinking, really thinking, about the prospect of working for another business in the finance sector. Finance wasn’t exactly my passion, but I could proofread and edit just about anything in English. Right? I frowned.
I had been working from home nearly a year by then. Teleworking is an easy amenity to get used to pretty quickly. The prospective company was located in the heart of downtown; taking the job would require me to purchase a monthly parking pass and commute nearly 50 miles round trip daily. Blech.
The company was offering me a salary higher than the one I was currently making. But when I factored in the increased cost in gas, the parking pass, and frequent car maintenance because of the mileage…the raise wasn’t as impressive.
But who turns down a higher-paying job? Who does that?! I couldn’t do that.
That was my third mistake: limiting my options
I asked my mama, who is a veritable sage about employment decisions, what she thought. She told me to negotiate the salary. I’m sad to say I had never done this before. At that point, I was on the fence about taking the job at all. But she urged me to swing the bat–if nothing else, I could still walk away with a higher salary. Wonder of all wonders: they countered my counteroffer, but it was still a higher number than their initial offer!
At this point, I really had to take that job. There was no way my current job would ever give me a raise that high. But I had no peace about jumping from this rickety ship into another dinghy, as badly as I wanted to leave.
The truth was, despite the raise, leaving would mean a lateral move for me in the sense that the sectors were similar. Both were in a sphere that would not look at me as a creative individual who had more to offer than stet marks. I asked: Where did I see myself working happily in the next five years?
That was my first power move: being honest about my ambitions
I had somehow gotten trapped into the worker bee formula: decent-paying salary + decent enough benefits = great job! To be clear, those can be components of a great job, but they do not comprise the totality of a great job for me. I had experienced great-on-paper jobs, but something was always missing. Without fail, I always ended up in a place where I wasn’t happy.
- I entered the workforce in 2007 in a panic after 3 months of post-grad unemployment.
- I accepted my first job because my student loan deferment was ending
- I took my second job because my first job paid a demoralizing $26K, because my supervisor sexually harassed me, and because it was the wrong field.
- I took my third job because my second job was laying off people like Jesus was coming tomorrow.
- I was considering taking this new job because I was afraid of being stuck in a rut.
In each case, I left or accepted a job because of fear. What would it look like if I decided not to make a decision rooted in a negative emotion? What if I did not run from a bad situation, but steamrolled towards a goal?
That was my second power move: I envisioned better for myself
In the end, I decided not to accept the job. I was nervous like a mug about turning it down after negotiating a higher salary, but I made that phone call. But here I was, yet in the same position I’d found myself in when I first filled out that application. Or was I?
All along, I had overlooked my most precious commodity in working from home: Time! I had more time. I could wake up later. I could run downstairs to throw dinner in the crockpot at lunchtime. I could take naps after work and wake up energized when Beanie came home. And, most importantly, I could write.
I chose to trade a higher salary for more time to write, which was what I really wanted to be doing with my time.
That was my third power move: I walked and worked in faith
I have never told anyone online about this, and only a few people I know in real life. It still seems crazy to me to walk away from more money. But I decided if ATL could not provide me the type of job I would run to, I would create it for myself.
I started a personal, private project I called “Freelance by ’15.” I gave myself the next two years to get acclimated to writing for an audience. I started a blog, I joined Twitter and found writing communities. I began pitching articles to different online outlets.
One by one, my presence online, as small as it was/is, opened doors to greater opportunities. I give that credit to God; many of the good things that have happened to me are far beyond my control. Somehow, He turned my baby steps into giant leaps that more than outpaced the mustard seed I planted by saying, “No, thank you” to a job that was less than what my heart truly desired.
Two years later, I am well on my way to being able to do what I really want to do for a living, not an acceptable substitute.
I’m not telling you all of this to urge you to turn down good money. If my family had been hurting for the extra salary, I would not have hesitated to take a higher-paying job. No, ma’am and no, sir. Get your paper, stack it to the ceiling, because Lord knows dreams don’t pay rent unless they are funded by reality. I am still gainfully employed full-time; I just decided to work on my dreams part-time.
Saying yes to my dreams taught me so much. Ambition is not a dirty word. I learned how to fight for myself, in more ways than one; I learned it’s not robbery to want better in my life; I learned how to make decisions from a place of courage rather than fear. Finally, I learned sometimes your heart can give your mind the right direction, if you’re opening to doing something a little on the crazy side. I have yet to regret it.
Have you ever made a decision (career or otherwise) that seemed strange at first, but turned out to be the best thing for you? Share it with me!