What it's like to leave an unhappy job: my 10 mini-lightbulb moments

I think I need to leave my unhappy
job = fear.
I decide to leave my unhappy job = hope.
I leave my unhappy job = elation.
I've left my unhappy job = oh crap.

Now what?

If the planets had aligned, I'd have a fabulous new job to walk straight in to. But that didn't happen. Although I had been looking around for a new role and talking to various people, my heart wasn't in it. And if I'm honest - I was happy for the reprieve. I felt battle-scarred. My confidence was shaken. But I had to balance the pressure of finding a new job with not running headfirst into the same disparaging situation I left.

Not having a job was foreign to me. I've always been career-driven - my first casual job was at the age of 14 (the minimum legal age in Australia) and at one stage in my late teens I had 6 jobs at the same time as attending fulltime Uni. So not working (save for 12-18 months maternity leave when each of my 2 children were born) was unfamiliar ground. And pretty scary, because for the first time, I was in the dark about my career.

Mini-lightbulb moment #1: You don't need to know what you want. Knowing what you don't want is a start.

When I left, I didn't know what I wanted in my next role, but I knew what I didn't want. I knew I didn't want to let my strengths go idle. I didn't want a workplace that wasn't genuine. I didn't want the bullsh!t anymore. What this ended up pushing me to do was think about what was important to me. By looking at what I didn't want, I ended up working out what I did want. And that was resonance. I wanted to feel a connection with the company. And the best way I could assess this was through a company's culture.

Mini-lightbulb moment #2: If you don't have the answers, find the right questions.

So with my new idea in mind of what I wanted, my focus when talking to potential employers shifted from roles to asking questions about their company's culture. What was it like? Did it resonate? What does the company do to help you perform at your best? It was fascinating to see the body language of the people I was talking to when discussing this. Some didn't give two hoots. Others got super excited and passionate about their company. And that spoke volumes!

Mini-lightbulb moment #3: Read for resonance.

I'd taken some time to 'reboot' and soon the thought of a new job, new culture and new boss didn't scare me as much. I started researching online to see what elements of company culture really sparked my interest. And how could that translate into a role for me?

One article led to another and then I found it - something that was all about culture but that also spoke to my innate desire to make people happy. You see, I'm a people-pleaser. Always have been. But I didn't realise there was a job out there that's a melting pot of culture, happiness, productivity, leadership, and workplace. It was something called a 'Chief Happiness Officer'. That exists?!? I delved further and found someone who had a role that fascinated me: Vice President of Leadership & Culture. And this is where things got interesting...

Mini-lightbulb moment #4: It's OK to be a groupie!

I immediately followed this VP of Leadership & Culture on Twitter to see what he was all about. Was it all fluffy stuff, or was there substance and evidence that culture matters? With huge relief, I found his messages resonated, and thought how awesome it would be to meet him. But he was based in Utah and I'm in Sydney. And Australia isn't exactly close to... anywhere, really.

But this time, the planets did align. The VP of Leadership & Culture worked for Pluralsight and my husband, Troy, is an author of security courses for them. There was to be an Authors Summit in Utah in February 2015 that Troy was attending. Right. I'm coming too!

So off we went to Utah (where the snowboarding is awesome, by the way!) and there I met Max Brown. Poor guy didn't know what hit him as I asked a million questions about what he does, his greatest challenges, where he sees the future, etc. So you know what? It's OK to be a groupie if it helps your journey!

Mini-lightbulb moment #5: Don't under-estimate your own journey.

While in Utah, I met a number of Pluralsight Editors. These were in social settings and I was amazed at how interested many of them were in my story. It got me thinking about the journeys each of us take. We think that our journey is nothing special. I realised that's not always the case - I'd taken a stand by walking out of an unhappy job without a new one to go to, and didn't want to compromise on my next job. It was seen as pretty ballsy and resonated with a lot of people who'd been in unhappy jobs before. So they asked if I'd be interested in pulling together a list of courses that I might be interested in writing for Pluralsight.

And this was a rather big lightbulb moment for me - what if I could use what I've just gone through as a way of helping people boost happiness in their own workplace? Why have so many people been unhappy in their job? What's going so wrong? Could I actually do something about it??

Mini-lightbulb moment #6: Even if you don't know where the next step will take you, take it anyway.

Something shifted in me in a big way. Huge lightbulb moment.

I'd spent all this time trying to find a job that I could fit in to; now I realised I could carve out the niche for myself.

What if my new career direction was writing courses on workplace happiness? Was this the first step to becoming a VP of Leadership & Culture or a Chief Happiness Officer? Who knows? But I had to take a step. Before we'd even left Utah, I'd started creating a list of topics for Pluralsight based on my passion, experience and skills. Here's my look of deep concentration as we waited to fly home from Salt Lake City airport:

Concentration photo

I still get goosebumps thinking about that moment.

Mini-lightbulb moment #7: There will be darker moments. Accept them and move on.

If you've read my other blogposts, you may know that my very first online course, Boost Productivity Through Employee Happiness, was launched in July. I'd done it! But I'm not going to say it was an easy process. Lots of emotions played out during the months it took to research and develop the course. Elation, fear, self-doubt - you name it. But it was all part of my journey, and if I hadn't accepted those dark times, dug deep, and just got on with it, I'd never have finished the course, nor started this blog.

Mini-lightbulb moment #8: You're not a fraud.

A big part of my self-doubt was the fear of being 'found out'. It's something that Sheryl Sandberg (COO of Facebook), Meryl Streep (award-winning actress) and countless others have said they experience, and it's called Imposter Syndrome. Dr Margaret Chan (Chief of the World Health Organisation) once said:

”There are an awful lot of people out there who think I’m an expert. How do these people believe all this about me? I’m so much aware of all the things I don’t know.”

That's exactly how I felt (and still feel on occasion) on this journey. But do you know what? I had another mini-lightbulb moment... #9.

Mini-lightbulb moment #9: Own it.

Since my first job at 14, I felt I had to conform to what my boss thought my job should be (remember: I'm a people-pleaser!). Don't get me wrong - I've had a pretty successful career doing that. But I'm now realising that in being a conformist, I'm doing myself a disservice as it's just not me.

I'm not prepared to sacrifice my passion to fit into someone else's idea of what my job should be.

This blog and my course for Pluralsight are helping me uncover my unique value proposition. By taking one step, then another, and another, I'm building on my passion. My way.

Mini-lightbulb moment #10: Say 'yes' and work it out as you go.

I don't know where all this will lead me, but while I'm working it out, my mantra is to say 'yes' to as many opportunities as possible, and work it out as I go. I'm not going to have all the answers, and there might be moments that are brighter than others, but I won't know until I try. As Steve Jobs said:

"The only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven't found it yet, keep looking. Don't settle. As with all matters of the heart, you'll know when you find it."

The motivation behind writing this is to provide my experience in the small hope that it will benefit someone. For me, it wasn't a single lightbulb moment, but a series of mini-lightbulb moments that have brought me to where I am today. Some were brighter than others - that's the journey I'm on. There's no way I could have foreseen the events that have led me here, but it's these moments, or mini-epiphanies, that have kept me going. To pursue my passion. And who know where it will lead? I'm kind of intrigued myself...