A few years ago on holiday in New Zealand, I met a man, Sam, who had recently relocated from London to Dunedin, a charming University city on the east coast of the South Island. He was working as a wildlife guide in a nature reserve in the Otago Peninsula, a place too beautiful to describe.
While chatting during our tour, he told us that in London he had a high-flying finance career as a top manager in a renowned bank and his wife was a well-known psychiatrist. They thought they had it all. At one point though, they realised too much was too much: Sam would get phone calls from around the world in the middle of the night, his responsibilities were incessantly growing, the demands from his boss were becoming ridiculous. He started suffering from hair loss, insomnia, heart arrhythmia and mood swings. In talks with his wife, they decided to make some changes to their lifestyle and started to look for opportunities abroad.
Being both nature lovers, they eventually ended up in New Zealand, where his wife began working in a school while he took the job as a wildlife guide. ‘I could not stand it anymore, the clients, the demands of a neverending working week, with work being the only thing constantly on my mind. I realised being a manager was not what I wanted. Now, at least, the penguins and the seals let me sleep at night, they don’t call, and I have the freedom to finally enjoying life.’
Promises of a higher salary, of fame, of our boss’s vote of confidence, sometimes lure us into a career we are not sure we want. We hardly take the time to know ourselves. We tend to follow the flow. While that is desirable for those, who have the capacity of being a leader, for others, it can turn into a nightmare.
Reasons to change a successful career path
Reasons that ex-managers say are behind the decision to change the course of their lives include:
1. Being in a top managerial position is a 360 degrees job
You have to know it all. People are naturally inclined in dealing with either tasks or people, but as a manager, the expectations are you should be able to cope with both.
Even if numbers are not your forte, you still have to deal with budgets and spreadsheets and if you are not a ‘people’s person’, HR is still your responsibility.
2. It’s lonely at the top
Your staff will not treat you as their equal. Your coworkers will be criticising and gossiping, and in company gatherings and celebrations you will feel awkwardly out of place, not entirely being part of the team. You know your team would feel much more relaxed to ‘let some steam out’ if you were not there. So, you leave.
3. Office politics
As a manager, you have to take into account that you will be under scrutiny and will have to fear for your position. Even if your KPIs are where they should be and your years of experience seem to work as a guarantee for what you have achieved, there can be someone else who is better than you, or better connected, or just more suited for your position. The pressure to push yourself to the limit is tremendous.
4. Temporary lack of common sense
When we fail to acknowledge that there are some things we are good at and others we are not, we are dragged into a vicious circle from which we cannot get out. Climbing the ladder, and obtaining a high managerial position is not always the ‘holy grail’. You may be brilliant, and you may be smart, your path might only be different. In that sense, companies should promote creativity and hard work not only by assigning new, ambitious titles but by really looking into what role could be appropriate for each person to bring the company forward.
Teo, an MBTI consultant and trainer I worked with, had reached an excellent managerial position. He had been with the same company for 15 years and loved working there. He got promoted as a branch manager, but soon noticed he started to feel sick more often. Teo would lament back and neck pains and problems with sleeping.
At first, he didn’t understand what was going on: he was well-loved, and everyone respected him. He loved developing his staff, listening to their problems and trying to fix them. Soon came the realisation that all the issues were job-related. He couldn’t carry all the weight of the responsibilities on his shoulders.
During an MBTI training, Teo learned aspects about himself he had not noticed before. He was an extrovert, who indeed cared a lot about people, but was very disorganised: he piled up too much work, that he could not handle as he had done previously, on a last-minute basis. He finally saw that administrative issues were eating most of his energy, so, even with a heavy heart, he left the company, opened his own business as a consultant and trainer to work with people dealing with change at work. A new Teo was born, who had followed his newly discovered instincts and could finally feel accomplished.
What do you value?
Being a top manager is not the only career option. Every so often, it is recommendable to stop, think, rewind, refresh, reset. If you notice that you are always worried, or you are too involved in people’s lives to be able to fire them, or that the demands of the job are taking a toll on your private life, ask yourself why. What is it that you value? Talk to someone about it.
Being a good leader is not the only choice. Open up your mind by discovering new things you are attracted to, challenge your limits, look out of the box. Find the direction that is right for you, don’t focus on where everyone else is going.