For those of you in the employment gap, contemplating it, know someone who has been in it, or if you are looking at resumes of folks who have a gap, don’t miss this article.
In Her Words: Choosing the Employment Gap Part 2
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly.” – Theodore Roosevelt
Quit Your Job? Are You F@%king Crazy?
I stared at a postcard in my bathroom that I bought for myself which said: “Room to Dream,” wondering what else was out there for me. Something better? Was there more freedom? More creativity? More of being ME? I would daydream about the notion of having space to work on my own shit (as in my limiting beliefs) and hopping on a magic carpet ride to somewhere that I could be my best self and do really impactful work. Yes, I was contemplating the very difficult question of, “Should I quit my job?”
I was not in a reality TV show and there were no cheerleaders telling me to take the leap into the unknown of my own potential. People don’t egg you on to go take a risk – not even your biggest fans. In fact, people think it’s their duty to advise against leaving a job without something else in hand. They project all their fears onto you because they themselves haven’t found a way to believe there is another way. Trust me though – there are a lot of people out there in Corporate America dreaming of something different for themselves. There are numerous data points that talk about workplace satisfaction (or the lack thereof) and the negative effect it has on employee engagement. In fact, according to Gallup, 70% of workers are NOT engaged in their jobs.
So why do we think we should listen to those unhappy people to help us figure out how to be MORE fulfilled and satisfied in our careers?! Consider this: the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that 15 million people were self-employed in 2015. Keep this fact in mind the next time you are considering someone else’s council. Think hard about the advice you are receiving, the person who is giving it to you, and the scare tactic picture they are trying to paint. Weigh all your options for living your best life. Bottom line: sniff out the bullshit.
So here I was, considering leaving my six-figure corporate job without a clue about where I would get my next paycheck. After a decade of strategic moves, interviews, and clawing my way up the ladder, I found myself standing at the edge of the abyss, wondering, “How the hell did I get to this place?”
Hanging on and Letting Go
Alright, let me break it down for you. Every move I made in my career, every promotion, leap to a new company, shift in industry and function, had a reason. And I extracted every ounce of lemonade from every lemon project, ray of light, and drop of opportunity. But, at this particular juncture, the lemon itself was on life support. A confluence of things happened at the same time; my passion was shifting from marketing to corporate culture and coaching, company dynamics were shifting to a place of contraction versus growth, and I was turning 40 in a year. All reasons that would make someone question the purpose of life…
This stage of my life was compounded with a broader context: trying to fit into an outdated model of what makes a good leader. For 15 years I navigated my career by molding myself into whatever box my current company or boss wanted. By swallowing my words more than I spoke them. By making tough choices about when to stand up for myself, versus let things go. By holding onto the fibers of my true being despite the lack of leadership role models, all in order to reach the next rung of the ladder. Over the course of 15 years, I felt my wings were clipped more than they were encouraged to fly. A small voice inside my head told me I could soar higher if not for the comfort of big-company resources and the louder voice in my head that was limiting my belief system.
The moral of the story here is that the prevailing mentality is that staying on your trajectory is a safer, better place to dig in your heels. It is difficult and courageous to deviate from the “plan.” How many times do people urge us to just go and try something different? When anyone goes against the grain of societal norms, there is likely a storm going on inside, regardless of what financial stability exists, even after the decision is made.
If you are considering leaving your job, ask yourself the following questions and go deeper still to fully explore them.
- Are you in a toxic environment? Are your mental health and overall well-being at stake?
- Are you able to live your values with integrity?
- Have you explored every avenue to extract value and learning opportunities?
- Are you running from a problem, or boldly walking towards a new vision for yourself?
- Are you running out of fear, or walking tall in your full power?
- Is a short-term sacrifice worth a long-term gain at this juncture of your career?
- Do you have the support to make this choice feasible?
- What are the fact-based data points around the financial feasibility of leaving?
- What are your inner critics saying to you?
Once you’ve answered these questions, you’ll have a better sense of what you are hanging onto and what you want to let go of.
Get to Know Your Inner Critics
I reached the point where I had to take a leap. I knew this wasn’t a situation where I should just “get the next offer” to inevitably stay on the same path. I knew I had to break my pattern of playing my life safe. It was time to tear up my outdated printed playbook, which was influenced by who I used to be, rather than who I was becoming.
I had to plunge into the world of my inner critics because, while my heart knew my truth, the rest of me was on a much different page. Voices in my head sounded like parents, mentors, old bosses, ex-boyfriends, and expectations from society at large. I heard these voices while I was in the shower, on the subway, in meetings and watching TV. I had to intentionally separate these voices from what I really thought.
I will never forget the moment I broke through that barrier. One of my coaches at the time (oh yes, I needed all the help I could get) asked me to tell her all the reasons why I shouldn’t quit. I blurted them all out with tears in my eyes, except it wasn’t my voice I was hearing. When I finally paused, I realized that I didn’t believe anything I had just said. I was on autopilot, reading from the same script that had been read to me over and over again.
If you want to get to your real truth, especially when facing a big life decision like leaving your job, get acquainted with your inner critics (yes, that was plural) with these steps.
- Gain Awareness: For at least a week (ideally two), write in a journal every time an inner critic in your head says something to you.
- Separate the voices from yourself (they are not you!): When you hear those inner critic statements add the following words to the beginning: “My inner critic is telling me that…”
- Create characters for your inner critics: Have some fun with this. Draw a picture of what that voice looks like to you. Give it a name (but don’t use any family names). Provide a description of that critic. This will help you see that your critics are NOT you.
Does this sound scary? Yup, it sucks. BUCK UP. This is the REAL work of your life – learning how to push the limiting beliefs out of your life so your real dreams, hopes, and aspirations can come to the forefront. No one can do this for you. No amount of reading books will make it better. Dig in, dig deep, and learn about who you are behind all the noise that’s been holding you back.
Taking the Leap, Now What?
Even after I made my decision, I had to take a few more steps. I gave myself a deadline to meet so I would actually hand in my notice. I even told a few people about it to give me some accountability. I had to accept that I was going into the unknown and was about to face a range of reactions. I also knew I would feel better about my choice if I committed to starting a coaching certification program to ground me with the “what” of my life as I entered the gap.
When I gave my notice, I only told the people in my life who I knew would give me high fives and lovingly call me a badass. It was a vulnerable time and I didn’t want to subject myself to haters! I also wanted to give a consistent message about why I was leaving and what I was heading towards because I wanted to own the path that I was building for myself, even if I didn’t know how it would all turn out.
Here’s an abbreviated “to-do” list for when you decide to take that leap of faith:
- List of all the things you are walking towards, including how you want to feel, who you want to be, opportunities you want to chase, and growth you want to experience – so you can go back to this list in moments of doubt.
- Clean out your office a few weeks before giving your notice, to help you make your decision feel real before you say goodbye.
- Decide how you want to leave – with what mindset and with whom you want to spend quality time with before you go.
- Have an anchor for how you want to use your time once you leave – whether that’s a training program, a vacation, a project you intend on tackling, or a list of books you plan on reading.
- Determine the soundbites you want to leave with people before you put in your notice.
- Plan to celebrate your courage and bravery with those who supported you on your journey.
One Year in the Gap and I Would Do It Again
Let’s not get it twisted here. While I have been fortunate enough to spend time in the gap – my journey this year has not exactly been filled with cupcakes, unicorns, and endless brunch dates.
I have taken this year to give myself a good hard look in the mirror, to shift into a new way of being, and to dedicate myself to healing old wounds. It’s amazing how much I’ve had to unlearn and learn; like how to unlearn living inside the structure of 9-5 and how to learn to live in a state of flow, creativity, and flexibility. I’ve had to unlearn how to define success and learn to create new ways to see my value. I’ve also had to learn how to listen to myself first (not last) and accept that my intuition is a powerful force to leverage rather than dismiss. I’m also continuing to understand what self-compassion looks like and that self-care is so much more than getting a massage every so often. To respect and honor my needs and desires is a way of being.
This gap year has come with miracle moments and dark times. Trust – I spent plenty of nights with a bottle of wine as I witnessed friends get fantastic new jobs and I wallowed in the uncertainty of still “figuring it out.” I have to remind myself that I dedicated this year to growth and adventure so that I could be my best self in service of others – in whatever capacity I choose to do so.
One year later, almost to the day, I have just signed on the dotted line to have my business website built from the ground up. To create a hub for my hopes and dreams and unleash MY full potential. To believe and embody that anything is possible. Maybe it will end up working out or maybe it won’t. Either way, I know that I will always choose to be in the arena and to live this life as fully as I possibly can.
Tosca DiMatteo is the Founder and CEO of T.L.C. Tosca Liana Consulting, which she created to help inspire and support individuals and organizations in discovering / re-discovering the heart of their brand, so they can live it authentically from the inside out. Previous to this, Tosca spent 20 years honing her badass marketing and collaboration skills in the Consumer Goods, Media and Retail industries.
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