Fifteen years ago, after a weekend career retreat I ran for myself, I walked into my full-time job and quit.
I realized that for a variety of reasons, the position was no longer working for me and I wanted to move into something else. With two kids heading into summer daycare that would eat up a good portion of my check, it seemed like quitting to work full-time on new opportunities for myself was the best option. I would actually save money at that point by not working.
I spent the next several months reading books across a variety of fields, engaging in deep conversations with some incredibly smart people who challenged my thinking and gestating some ideas for how I wanted to shape my business. It was my own intense professional development course and it allowed me to build and sustain my self-employment for the next several years.
One thing I've learned from my own experience is that sometimes taking a step back is the best way to move forward. I was reminded of this when I saw an article in CNN Money on turning underemployment into a new career opportunity. I was particularly struck by one story in the post:
Some readers report they've deliberately taken a step down in status and pay in order to move their careers in a different direction. "I've done it more than once over the past 30 years," writes Mike Frederick. Most recently, in 2007, when his department was eliminated, he turned down a couple of promotions to take a lower-paying staff job in his employer's corporate university.
"No one could promise me I'd ever get back to my previous level of management in that department," he recalls. Not only that, but the job called for tech skills that Frederick lacked. "I had a lot to learn and the odds against my success seemed daunting," he recalls. Even so, his employer funded a series of courses he needed to take: "What clinched it was the chance to learn a new career at no expense to me."
Fast-forward three years and, "after many long nights of studying on my own and hard work during the day applying what I learned", Frederick is "at the point where I wanted to be," he writes: In a management position in an IT training department.
What the experience taught him, he says, is that "taking a step down may be your best bet for ultimate success." Frederick's advice: "Find out if your company is willing to provide the training you need or will pay for college courses. Don't be afraid to ask and, after you make the move, don't look back. Focus on the possibilities ahead of you."
It's very easy for us to get caught up in feeling that the only way to move forward is by . . . moving forward--or up. But when it comes to our careers, it's often the steps backwards or sideways that can generate the most momentum and satisfaction.
In my case I left full-time employment to build a business. I've known other people who had side gigs that helped them explore new opportunities and identities that eventually turned into full-time work. And there are plenty of people who have been laid off and then use that time to re-think their careers, re-tool and move off in a different direction, happier than they'd been before.
Don't always assume that the best career moves for you are going to be through advancement or "moving up the ladder." Often we do this without thinking and find out it isn't what we wanted at all.
Instead, be open to the lateral moves and the moves backwards. Like me, you may find these give you a chance to re-tool and refresh your career, moving you in a direction you hadn't even considered before.