Thursday, August 19, 2010

Things I've Noticed Since Leaving My "Real Job"

I was an excellent businessman in many ways. I made my share of mistakes and had plenty of shortcomings, but by and large I was really, really good at what I did. I established relationships both inside my company and with key vendors - productive relationships that got work accomplished and benefited everyone. I wrote reams of training materials (even when it wasn't really supposed to be my job to do so) and even delivered training on IT-related topics. I juggled insane numbers of vital projects while managing personnel all around the country, plus the specific needs of other executives, plus issues that hadn't been designated as projects that still needed to be resolved right away, plus whatever my boss thought was important. Ten years of marching up the managerial and executive ladder, however, took its toll on me, and it's a toll I can clearly see now that I've been out of the "office" for a year and a half or so. Some of these things I've noticed myself, others were pointed out to me by my wife and others, but they're all marked improvements in my life.

I don't mind "doing stuff" with my family. My wife noticed this one - it used to be that I worked like crazy all week long, and when it got to be the weekend I was so wiped out that I just spent the two days decompressing. I didn't want to go to the park, or skating, or out to blah, blah, blah. Whatever it was they were doing, I preferred to send them on their way and have the house to myself for a few hours of zoning out in front of my TV and computer. It was a necessary recuperation for me, but it was a lousy way to be a dad and husband. These days, I'm with my family constantly. Once in a great while my wife and kids head off to her mom's for the afternoon, but otherwise we're together, and it's indescribably better.

I don't yell. Well, no, I do yell - when the kids are going to war upstairs and I'm downstairs, sure I yell. But I don't do it when the kids are right in front of me unless their behaviour has been unconscionably egregious (which is pretty rare). I'm a hothead and I naturally zip into and out of angry-mode, but my angry-mode is about five levels less severe these days than it used to be. Don't get me wrong, I was never "that guy" - the monster who made everyone in the house hide in fear when he went on a rampage. I just yelled when the kids were naughty or broke things or made big messes. It got everyone's attention, but it was loud and annoying, even to me. Now that my stress levels are down in the green zone, I don't sweat that stuff as much, and my reactions are less intense.

I don't get headaches the way I used to. When I get one, it's an unusual event, it's most often not too severe, and then it goes away. When I was an IT exec, I was going through extra-strength Excedrin like they were potato chips. It was ridiculous how often I'd get tension headaches that just pounded away all day long like I had a vice clamped around my skull. If I'd gone to my doctor about it, he'd probably have put me on Valium or something. I'm frankly surprised I never got an ulcer.

I occasionally need a nap. It may be that I don't sleep well, or it may just be my body's natural rhythms, but I often require a siesta in the afternoon to be at my best for the remainder of the day. Sadly, the U.S. business world in no way accommodates a 20-minute power-nap at 2 PM, at least not at any of the places I've ever worked. I have occasionally had an office where I could prop myself in such a way as to get away with it, but that certainly wasn't the norm. Now, when I'm tired, I sleep. I awake rested and able to do my work for the rest of the day. It's a huge improvement.

I can be happy! Lord knows I spent more time miserable as a business exec than I ever did enjoying myself, but it's not me. I'm actually capable of happiness, just not while I'm trying to do five mutually-exclusive projects (total weekly work-effort, 80+ hours for me, alone. Oh yeah, and nobody else on my staff knows or can easily be taught to do what needs to be done.) plus three or four more mission-critical priorities that are patently impossible.

There was a lot I liked about my jobs as an exec. I liked being challenged to make a difference on behalf of the business. I liked being the guy who got to identify problems and then get them solved (or even to solve them after somebody else identified them). I liked being my boss's "go-to" guy - the one he knew he could hand something off to and it was as good as done (I liked it even better when they treated it as done and didn't feel the need to endlessly follow-up on my progress). I got to do a lot of great work with some really good people, and some of it was actually very satisfying. Some day I might even decide to go back to it, but right now I'm happier, healthier, and nicer than I ever was when I was making big money working my ass off.

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