Dear readers, I am honored to share with you an inciteful and powerful story by one of my awesome clients.
When you tell people you are changing jobs, they want to know why. Many people will even ask, “Are you going to make more money?” or “Is this a promotion for you?” They don’t know how to react when the answer is, “No.” I make less money than I did two years ago. I am not the boss. I don’t have a title. Yet I am happier.
This concept would be so foreign to the younger me. Since high school, it has always been about the next step – college, medical school, internship, residency, that first job, that better job, more responsibility, more money, more prestige. At each step I was unhappy, yet I struggled through because I just knew that happiness would come when I reached the next level.
Two years ago, I had everything the world had taught me that I should have: more money than my parents ever did; freedom to run my practice the way I wanted; a directorship position and a chief of staff position. But I wasn’t happy. How could that be? I had checked off all the boxes in life, delayed gratification for years and found emptiness at the end of it all. Since my usual way of handling dissatisfaction was to force my way through to the next better thing, I just assumed that I needed to progress to a new level. Without realizing it, I was looking for more ladders to climb. I was so used to the constant “what’s next?” that I could not enjoy the now.
I enlisted the help of Heather Fork with the idea that I would find this great new career path. Certain that she would steer me into administration, medical writing, or some exciting new field, I jumped in with both feet and worked hard on the process. I was excited about the idea of developing new skills and succeeding in a new area. What I found instead was that I was in the right career but had lost sight of what I liked about it. With a little thinking about who I am and what I like, I could see the times in my career that I did enjoy what I was doing.
It turns out that I didn’t need to keep climbing; I needed to go back down! I have always enjoyed the basic work of my specialty, but my current position did not allow much of it. I was isolated, I was not working on interesting cases, and I felt as if I was not really making a difference. I knew I needed a new practice setting. So I set about looking for a new job.
The best thing I ever did was let go. I put in the work – got on LinkedIn, built a network (or rather, discovered that I actually had a network), bought a new suit, buffed up my CV, and applied to at least two dozen positions. Then I let go. Spending my life forcing the next step and searching for the perfect position had brought me nothing. This time I would let the process flow, and I would flow along with it.
The second best thing I ever did was to change my standard of living. All my chasing after more and trying to live the American dream had boxed me into a lifestyle that kept me reliant on my current job. It is easy to look back now and see that the level of joy in my life has never correlated with my income level. So I made some major lifestyle changes in anticipation of up to a 30% pay cut. Incredible freedom comes from living below your means and it opens you up to many new career opportunities.
I went on three interviews. Interestingly, of all the positions I applied to, all the fantastic letters I wrote, and calls I made, the only interviews I got came through someone in my network.
My first offer came through a nearby group. I would not have to move and it seemed the perfect opportunity. But as I looked it over and thought about this group, I found myself saying things like, “Well I guess I could live with that” or “I would just have to learn to do without this.” It dawned on me that I was forcing it. It didn’t feel right – it didn’t flow. So I turned the job down.
Then I was offered an interview in the “perfect” city, with the “perfect” group. I interviewed and thought this is it; this is where I will be. But I was not offered the job. I briefly thought that this flow business may not be working.
My next interview came from a friend of mine from residency. The thought of working for him was intriguing but I only took the interview out of respect for him. This job was very far from home, in a very different part of the country. The city didn’t exactly sound exciting either.
The interview went very well. I can’t explain it, but it felt right – I felt the flow. This would be a job with a good friend of mine and other, like-minded colleagues. The workload would be heavy, but interesting and worthwhile with a lot of support. After two weeks of sleeping on it, I called and accepted the job. Not two hours later, the second place I interviewed with (the “perfect” one) called me again. I was told that now they wanted me. They offered me a better package than my friend’s group. I really thought about it. I hadn’t signed anything, I could easily accept the new offer; but that would have been forcing it. I was resolved to let the process flow, so I told them no thanks.
So here I am, no longer in charge, just another guy doing work that I enjoy with people I like. I look back now at the whole process and think that had I not taken the time (with Heather’s help) to learn about what I really like and why I was unhappy, I would have forced a solution that was not in line with my true self. The biggest change I made was not changing my job, moving 1200 miles away or getting back to the basics of my specialty. It was a change in my attitude. I have learned to stop and enjoy the now. I am also starting to look for ways to incorporate some of my other interests into my job. I have had a desire to do something creative and to teach. So over the past year I have experimented with a couple of writing and speaking projects and have had the opportunity to do some mentoring. It is nice to know that I can do these things without completely changing careers. This new job is great but not perfect. No job is, so there is no need to always think about it and look for it. I may not be here forever, but I am here now and that’s what counts. At some point, the flow of life may take me somewhere else: but I’m going to let it be a surprise.