Shane BarnhillWednesday,9 October 2013

The Snap:

Recently, I gave my notice to the company that I had spent the past ten years with, in order to take a position with another organization. I have been in my new role for about a week and a half now, and a handful of people have asked me how the new job is going. But what’s interesting to me is that even more people have asked why I left my previous job; in fact, by about a 4-1 ratio, I’m being asked more about my reasons for leaving instead of about my new position. So, I thought I would put together my thoughts for those who are asking. But in order to do so, I need to rewind back in time just a bit.

The Download:

You see, several months ago, it dawned on me that I had stopped listening to music during my morning commutes into work. I hadn’t switched to talk radio, however, nor had I started filling my forty minute drive with phone calls. Instead, for months on end, I had been driving to work deep in thought, and less than happy.

In complete silence.

I also realized that I’d fallen into another habit. After my silent commutes, I would pull into the office parking lot and sit in my car for several extra minutes, always because of some arbitrary reason that helped me stall going into the office. On one day, I might feel compelled to check Twitter and Facebook. On another, I might need to catch up on personal emails that had come in during my drive. There were reasons that I needed to delay getting out of the car and walking across the parking lot into the office building.

There were always reasons, of course. They weren’t important. Just reasons. Still, this practice became an everyday routine. I knew then that it was time to make a change, and I started keeping my eyes open for new opportunities.

And finally, change has come. As I noted above, I joined another organization last week, and I couldn’t be more excited about my new role, the group that I’ve joined, and my fantastic new teammates. Double rainbow all the way.

In fact, quitting my old job had a lot more to do with wanting to be part of my new employer’s mission than it did with wanting to leave my previous employer behind. But still, there were reasons for those silent commutes into work that prompted me to look for something new, and I have been reflecting on them over the past few weeks.

So here it goes.

First, let me say this up front: I was part of a great team, and I will miss them. David Timothy, for example, is very smart, does great work every day, and has an incredibly bright future. Theresa Hartzell has the best (and most contagious) attitude of anyone whom I have ever worked with, and Erica Brinker’s career has no ceiling, due to her intelligence, drive and leadership skills. BUT THE REST OF THEM — just kidding, I have no plans to light any bridges afire after my exit, and really, there is no reason to do so. I worked with a group of smart, fun people who came to work to do the best job they possibly could (at least most of them did), and I left the organization on good terms with peers and superiors alike. So now that I’ve gotten that caveat out of way, I want to touch on why I did leave, because, well, it’s cathartic for me, and many people have been asking me about it.

The big thing is that my departure had nothing to do with money. My desire to leave my former employer wasn’t the result of yet another year of 0% raises for employees, although admittedly those stung many of my former colleagues and me because of the $96.11 million that our CEO is reported to have raked in over the past five years. Nor was my desire to leave related to the declining quality of my former employer’s health care plan, which is major sore point for the company’s employees. Sure, I wasn’t thrilled with these issues, but ultimately, I’m a businessperson. I understand that these are cost containment tactics, and that my former employer has investors to please.

So if I was on good terms with colleagues and senior management, enjoyed working with my teammates, and wasn’t driven away by poor benefits, what did cause those silent commutes and my resulting desire to make a career move?

Well, my reasons aren’t totally unique — just see listacles like this one and this one, plus articles like this — but they’re mine, and they boiled down to three key things:

1. I wanted more on-the-job professional growth.

Notice that I said “on-the-job,” because of course I hadn’t stopped growing and learning new skills entirely. It’s just that the growth was all during my personal time. I’m a big believer in continuous learning, and so I read new books, take online courses and work on personal projects that help me to develop new skills and test out ideas. For most of my career, my roles have also helped with my professional development (duh, right?). However, I had reached the point where my work had become too routine, and I wasn’t learning as much anymore. My personal/professional learning balance had become too pronounced, and my overall growth has slowed dramatically as a result.

2. I wanted to feel empowered.

Collaboration is a critical for successful teams. It’s important for leaders to work well with others, solicit input from colleagues on major initiatives, and provide support to peers. But the other side of the collaboration coin is that these leaders then need to be empowered to make key decisions on their own, while being held accountable for the results.  If every big decision is analogous to a Senate vote, then your leaders aren’t really leading, and your organizational culture isn’t empowering them to make informed decisions. To reiterate: collaborate is critical. A variety of stakeholders need to inform big strategic decisions, but good leaders are going to want to some runway, and ultimately, I needed more.

3. I wanted to feel passionate about fighting every battle.

Not long ago, I read “Experience Slows You Down,” an amazing post by Nils Sköld. In the article, Sköld reflects on his career and makes a handful of great points. But one passage from his post really resonated with me, and in fact finally convinced me to go from passively listening to opportunities to actively looking for them:

“Two years in, doing digital work for a pharmaceutical company, at an agency, I started to be more efficient. Efficient in the bad sense of the word. I knew what things legal was gonna make a fuzz about, I knew what our contact person at the company disliked talking about, I knew what our project manager said the higher ups never were gonna approve. I also knew how long time it took to take the fight, and how small of a percentage you actually won, and how tight the deadline was. So along with getting more and more experience, I started taking less and less fights. Changing the game less and less for every day.”

But Sköld realized that this behavior didn’t represent who he wanted to be:

“I’m never going to do that again. I’m going to keep on taking fights for every single thing I believe in, all day every day, but it took some time to realise what happens when you work for/in an industry for a long time.”

Like Sköld, I’m not going to play the odds on what to fight for anymore. I want to grow, I want to be empowered, and I want to be part of a mission that’s worth fighting for every single day. By moving on to something new — and to an organization whose mission I’m passionate about — I’m in exactly that situation, and I feel more refreshed than I have in a very, very long time.

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Hat Tips:

Medium, Forbes, Harvard Business Review, YouTube, Image Credit: Flickr


  1. […] him, except that he was involved in some high profile court case. And I only know that much because my former employer had televisions in the cafeteria, and I would occasionally glance up at the muted TV sets while […]

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