I wrote this in September of 2013 and I was 49 years old, leaving an 18-year career with Microsoft and preparing to start work as a manager at AT&T. It’s an indulgent and heavy-handed write but I’m sharing it here for those who might find themselves in a similar career change and need some reassurance and more to the point, might try to do it alone.
By Mitch Lavender
I knew the way and the path was familiar even though this was a new pilgrimage.
Corporations are treacherous catacombs, filled with dead-ends and devastating fates for the unwary. Eighteen years, I have navigated these passages but too late, I realized I took a wrong turn. All around me, peers and superiors told me otherwise and that the path was true, but I knew otherwise. I knew, but it was too late.
I made a career misstep. I accepted a path that lead to this inevitable conclusion – I was going to be terminated from my job and that was entirely on me. It took two years for this to manifest and when it did, I had a choice to make – do I wait for the final email to meet with HR one sleepy morning in the near future or do I proactively seek employment while the proverbial ax hovered over my head?
Changing jobs might seem like a small bump in the road for some, but I worked for a key technology company; one that shaped the future of how people looked at the world and would continue to do so throughout my lifetime and probably beyond that. I wanted to be a part of that, however small my part might be. Also of consideration, I was 49 years old and I knew there was some stigma of hiring someone 50+. We have more health issues. We usually don’t want to travel, should the job require it. We don’t want to work overtime unless it’s unavoidable. We want more salary for our experience. In truth, all of those things applied to me though I was willing to compromise where I could (read: “If I had to.”)
So I updated my resume and started going to job interviews. I tried to do this on my own and that I thought I was strong in doing so was my weakness. I thought it would be a show of strength to shoulder this load alone. As I tried, I heard the bones in my back cracking under the strain. My footing faltered and I staggered like a drunk, overwhelmed by my circumstances.
What I failed to consider was that others are affected by this decision and they deserve input and consideration. More than that, I needed help. I couldn’t do this alone and that’s exactly what I said, finally.
“I can’t keep doing this.”
My hands were limp at my sides as I stood there, feeling like I might have a tear roll down my cheek if I didn’t fight it back. I fought it back.
“Can’t keep doing what?” Lynn asked, putting down her book.
My dear wife might think I am giving up on our marriage; something laughable to me, but she was bright and such an open-ended comment as mine would certainly light-up her imagination, fueled by potential insecurities.
“Work. I have to find something else.”
“You mean, find another position within the company?”
I wish it was so, but no. Not within the company. Over the last year, I had kept close tabs on postings within the company, and while there were many opportunities, none were in our area and I wasn’t willing to relocate.
“No. I mean leaving the company,” I said, feeling the weight of the words as I said them aloud. “I mean starting over somewhere else. Taking a step or two back, so we can take big steps forward in the future. Steps I can’t take where I am today.”
We talked, my wife and me. We discussed the options and weighed the pros and cons, the lifestyle changes we needed to make. We did this together and sometimes she cried and yes, sometimes, I cried. Ultimately, we made a decision. It was our decision and we would face the challenges together. Then, we made love.
Over the weeks and months, I interviewed with several prospects and finally decided on one, with the understanding that I wanted to finish my project at my current employer and also stay long enough to get my earned stock awards. They agreed.
As the weeks followed, my lack of confidence became evident and I needed to check with my wife to insure we were of the same mind. Though we were facing an uncertain future, I knew we were strong together.
“It’s easy to go dark,” she said as we got into bed one night.
In two days, I start my new job. I know this is what she is referring to but I don’t get the full meaning. She took my face in her hands and said these words:
“It is easier to extinguish the light within your soul than to illuminate the darkness around you. You have chosen to shine.”
I know, in the bigger picture, my role is of little consequence, regardless of the company I work for or the things do. I know big things will be accomplished without me, and perhaps I may yet be a part of some big things in my future career. What matters most is that my wife will be there with me, through it all.
Without her, I could not do a tenth of what I have accomplished. She is a pillar. A rock. A partner. A lover whom I adore. With her at my side, I can do great things. I feel as though I can build empires or crash them to the ground. With that kind of support, I can certainly start a new job.