One of the best things about my experiences in Corporate America is the people I had the opportunity to work and interact with. Several of these colleagues have turned into lifelong friends who have long surpassed various jobs, different companies, and corporate paychecks. Interestingly, several of my closest former-colleague-friends have also recently taken leaps of faith to pursue their own passions – and this has only further cemented our relationships as we navigate these new experiences together.
One of these dear friends is Dana. I met her what seems like a lifetime ago (okay, maybe it was around 15 years ago) when we both worked for a Japanese captive finance company. I remember the day we met. We were having a team meeting and she was the newest member, joining us for the first time. She was pregnant with her first child and bravely starting a brand new job. She looked at me and I looked at her and for some inexplicable reason we both instantly decided that we didn’t like each other. This is comical now, as she is one of my closest friends and confidantes. Neither one of us can even clearly explain the reason for the premature “dislike” – aside from thinking that the other looked bitchy. Just goes to show – first impressions and all that.
Dana and I worked together quite a bit, helping to implement one of the biggest and longest-running (years long) projects in the company’s history. It was a fast-paced, demanding, and stressful time. We bonded over the strain. And relieved tension with (too many) practical jokes. Well, maybe I was more of the practical jokester – but who’s keeping count? Dana was someone I could count on, who had integrity, and who was invested in all that she did. Our friendship grew as we worked together, played together, and even traveled together with other girlfriends to blow off steam. We joke that she is my Hawaiian sister from another mister.
I have to admit that I wasn’t overly surprised when Dana confided to me over dinner one day that she was planning on leaving her corporate job. I knew that she hadn’t been happy, and that she had been taking on an ever-increasing workload. She had shared many times that she missed her family, her children. In her quest to be everything to everyone, she was burning out from trying to juggle it all.
So she and her family made the decision to take the leap – and now she is a fully Licensed Certified Occupational Therapist Assistant! I am so proud of her. She has been an inspiration to me as she invests time in work she loves, is passionate about, and on her own terms.
I asked if she would mind answering some questions to share her experiences and hopefully inspire others in the same way that she has inspired me – and she was more than happy to oblige.
Thank you for taking the time to meet with me today. To begin, what inspired you to quit your job? Was there a specific tipping point?
It was really just me being at a place in my life where I was not completely satisfied with what I was doing at work. The specific tipping point was when I was asked to cover for a colleague who was out on maternity leave, as well as for another colleague who transferred out of our department. This was in addition to continuing to manage my own job. When, after doing all of this, I received a performance review rating of “Meets Expectations” at the end of the year, I knew it was time to make a change.
Why did you decide to go into the field you chose?
It was important to me to do something of service to the community.
What did you do to prepare before quitting?
I had a lot of discussions with my husband to prepare myself. I knew that I needed his full support, and I got it. Without it, I don’t think I could have ever done it.
Did you have any fears or concerns about quitting? Is so, what were they?
My fears were more or less about finances because I knew that a big chunk of our income would instantly disappear. But we made it work.
How did people react to your decision to quit and start a new career?
Most of my friends, family, and coworkers were supportive. There were only a few who questioned my decision. They were pretty blunt. One coworker outright told me that I was making a mistake and that I should reconsider my decision. Another friend asked, “can’t you just transfer to a different department?”
Did you ever have any doubts about “starting over”?
I never had any doubts around my decision to start over. I was excited by the newness of going back to school, studying, the challenge of striving for good grades, the new training, etc. Just about everything along the way reassured me that I was doing the right thing.
Tell us a bit about your journey since you’ve resigned – what have you done?
Since I resigned I completed an Occupational Therapist Assistant program and interned for four months at a skilled nursing facility and a school district. I passed the boards and am currently working per diem at a skilled nursing facility in Orange County. The biggest perk of my new career is that the hours I work are totally flexible, which allows me to be there for the kids. I love picking them up from school, making them a snack, helping them with their homework, and cooking dinner for them. If I had continued working at my previous job, none of these things would have been possible.
How did it feel to be back in school?
I loved being back in school. I met a great group of peers who went through this two year journey with me, until the very end. We keep in touch and encourage each other, giving each other tips on testing for the boards and applying for our licenses.
How does it feel to now be licensed?
I’m relieved that I am finally licensed. Reality has settled in and I am happy to say that I am not disappointed.
Would you ever consider going back to Corporate America? Under what circumstances?
No, I don’t think so. I gave up 15 years of my life to a big corporation and I don’t care to revisit it. I can’t say that the whole time I worked there was unpleasant because it wasn’t. I met some amazing people that I am still friends with even now. The regret I have in working there is that I can never get the time back. The time that I missed tucking my kids into bed at night or saying Good Morning because I would have to leave for the office before they woke up. I missed family trips because the deadlines for programs or testing had to be met. It’s silly now to think that I ever put all those things before my family.
How has taking this leap of faith changed you?
It changed me in a way that is difficult to explain, but I will try. I feel freer than I have ever felt. I feel lighter, happier, more at peace, calm, and less anxious. I worry less because my family and I made it through a rough two years and in those two years we laughed a lot more and smiled a lot more and talked a lot more than any of the years I worked at my corporate job.
Has it changed any of your relationships – with your family, friends, others? In what ways?
I think it has made my relationships stronger. I’m still busy and I get too busy to see my friends and family all the time, but the split is now leaning more towards family time and less towards work. My priorities have changed drastically and I love it. I have more time to care. Before I was so distracted by deadlines or presentations or training. Now I go to work and totally enjoy it, but I leave my work at work and get to mentally and physically enjoy my personal life.
What hardships or difficulties have you experienced along the way? How did you overcome these?
Financial, but we made it work. We just had to cut back and adjust, then we had to make more adjustments. Someone else’s plans to do what I did may not always go as planned, but you adjust and then maybe have to adjust again.
If you could look back and give your former Corporate American self advice now, what would it be?
Life in Corporate America is not the only way to live. I would remind myself that it is just a job. Make family your priority. They will not be there when you finally retire. The kids will graduate and go to college and you will miss out on those opportunities to have those meaningful talks and be there for the events that all kids go through. You only have one life. What do you want to remember when it’s time to say Good Bye? I hope it’s not work!
If you could give advice to someone else dreaming of quitting Corporate America, what would it be?
Do it! Don’t think too hard. Somehow things work out. We are creatures of habit, but because we are intelligent we can create new habits. If we are not changing, then we are not living.
Any other words of wisdom to share with our readers?
Life is beautiful, but only if you stop to enjoy it. That’s what I feel I did.
Thank you, Dana. I’m so proud of you and your accomplishments, and can’t wait to see everything else that the future has in store for you.