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Navigating professional change requires bravery, not perfection

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There are lots of conversations that happen in corporations about dealing with change: You cannot be averse to change. Change is uncomfortable but inevitable. Don’t fight change.

In a year of constant change, I realized it’s true: You can’t fight change. However, you have choices.

Over the last year, there were a lot of changes happening professionally that made me want to rethink my role. Things felt very unstable for me, but I was determined to ride through and make it work – until I got the call.

Navigating professional change with dignity…after the initial emotions

I wasn’t being let go, but my position was being given to someone else. I’d no longer be leading my team; someone else would be, and I’d be reporting to him.

I’m not sure how my manager expected me to take it, but I probably took it the worst way imaginable. I lost my cool. I yelled. I put the phone on mute and cried. By the end of the conversation, I was so drained and angry that I was in one-word answer mode. “Yes.” “Okay.” I hung up without saying goodbye.

I vented to my closest comrades. I went to Twitter to post something like “Hell Hath No Fury like a Woman scorned.” I stopped myself. Instead I posted a verse on rejoicing in hardships and weaknesses, wishing that’s how I really felt.

I didn’t sleep much, and to make things worse, the first thing I saw when I woke up was an email making the change official. I wouldn’t be leading my team. Someone else would be leading the team but my work is appreciated.

Ironically, there were few times in my life that I’ve ever felt so under-appreciated.

Advice on choosing bravery over perfection

I don’t remember the drive to the office the next day, but I do recall sitting in the parking lot for a bit, just thinking. Like it or not, I had a choice to make.

I could sulk and accept what was happening to me, or I could take control of the change. I could put things into my own hands and choose what I wanted for my career. When I re-evaluated and reflected on what was happening, certain things on managing career change became very clear:

Trust your gut: When you feel something isn’t right, it probably isn’t. I was told that “change is painful,” the implication being that I was being resistant to change, and that’s why I was feeling like things were spiraling out of control.

What you really need to ask yourself when faced with change in your career is, “Is the change for me?” Yes, change is inevitable, but only to a certain degree must you accept it at work. Change gives the opportunity to re-evaluate your current situation.

I had been re-evaluating for six months, wanting to try to make a change on my own. I knew this environment wasn’t right for me, but kept on talking myself out of it. Wait until the end of the year. Wait until the end of the quarter. You should be thankful you have a job. Just wait and see what happens.

I waited too long – until I was forced out. Reality is, the outcome didn’t surprise me. I knew my team was heading in this direction, though I knew it was the wrong direction. Yet I kept hoping things would be okay for me. I should’ve trusted my instincts.

Fortunately, I still had the opportunity to trust my gut. I knew I didn’t want to continue in the team with a lower position. I knew I wouldn’t be satisfied going to the role I was offered, so I decided I wouldn’t.

Figure out your areas of control: Others might’ve thought my decision was emotional, reckless, prideful. It was all of these things. In truth, I’m not someone who has ever done something without thinking out all the pros and cons. I was comfortable in my position. I was a recognized expert in my field. Part of me thought I could just ride the wave.

Many people gave me the advice to play nice. It will get better. This is a good move. My manager likely thought I’d do the same; that I was being emotional, but would get over it and accept the change. But I had no interest in playing nice if it meant sacrificing my growth.

I was given two choices: Stay and accept a huge step back in my career, or make the decision to move out and start fresh.  At the end of the day, no one could force me into this position. I had the choice to accept it or move on. Though moving elsewhere was the harder, riskier decision, it gave me the opportunity to own the change.

Invest in yourself: Things didn’t instantly get better. I had a lot of hard conversations. I applied to several positions that led nowhere, taking several more stabs to my pride.

A senior executive in a role I applied to told me while I had the experience, he didn’t have confidence I had an executive presence. I had enough belief in myself to know that this guy didn’t know what he was talking about, but it still grated on me.

Twice in a short period I was told by senior people that I didn’t have what it takes to do a job that I was qualified for. I could have internalized it and believed what they were saying, but I forced myself to not take it personally and move forward.

I had the opportunity to re-evaluate what I enjoy doing in my career and think about gaps in my knowledge and what I’d like to learn. I’m the kind of person who doesn’t apply to jobs unless I feel that I match every qualification. I threw that out the door. I’d invest in myself and build up my skillset. I’d learn what I didn’t know. I’d show my executive presence and would not step down because I didn’t feel qualified.

I reached out to my network of people who I had met along my career, many who were more than colleagues, but also friends. I marketed myself without padding what I could or couldn’t do. I was very honest on my gaps in my skillset, but was bold in how I said it. I pitched what I would be able to contribute, and my eagerness to learn what I didn’t know.

As difficult as some conversations were, each one gave me the chance to honestly evaluate the skills I was lacking and how to build them to make my next career move.

What’s not said enough in corporate retreats or off-sites around change is change is inevitable, but each individual needs to decide if the change is right for them. Yes, refusing the change can be a painful decision. It’s an option, though that option naturally has consequences, usually being that you have to move on.

The best advice I received throughout this journey (and I received it from several people, male and female, friends, coworkers, and family)  is that nothing happens without purpose. You can’t see it now, but there is a reason that this happened.

I’m happy to say I was able to take a bold step forward in my career. It wasn’t a dramatic step, but it was still a step with a team and a manager that have already helped me grow.

The story is still to be written on where this will lead and where it will take me in my career, but I’m happy I was able to own the change that happened to me instead of accepting the change that was thrown at me.

Lisa James
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May 16, 2019
Lisa James

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