Saturday, February 2, 2008

Tommy Takes A Risk

“Most people never run far enough on their first wind to find out they've got a second. Give your dreams all you've got and you'll be amazed at the energy that comes out of you.”
—William James (1842-1910), psychologist, philosopher, author

Tommy Walks The Walk and Talks the Talk

Thirty-six year old Tommy was facing an important decision. In 2006 he was working for a large invest bank in their IT department. As an experienced and highly skilled engineering manager, Tommy was responsible for twenty-three people who reported directly to him. The responsibility was huge and the pace at the bank was frenetic. The internal customers that Tommy and his team serviced were extremely demanding. The pay was good and so were the benefits but Tommy wasn’t happy. A native of the Deep South, Tommy was homesick living and working in Chicago. On his daily two-hour commutes, he imagined a better work-life balance and started thinking about making a change.

Over the last decade most companies stopped offering long-term job stability. With the economy bouncing around like a rubber ball, Tommy knew that he needed a financial cushion if he were to relocate and find a new job. He spoke with his employer about a role in Charlotte, NC but with hiring freezes and other issues it didn’t work out. Like so many people who want to change their lives, Tommy felt between a rock and a hard place. After one of his long train rides home from the office he told his wife, "I am sick of the cold Chicago weather and if I had enough money I would just quit and move!"

“What about the account you set up when we first moved north?” His wife asked. Tommy was so good at planning that he forgot that he set up a “relocation” bank account six years prior when he arrived chilly Chicago. When he arrived at his office the next day he checked the balance of the account to find to his surprise, that it was quite significant. Combined with his 2006 bonus he walked into his boss’s office that morning and quit on the spot. He was back home by noon.

Tommy didn’t have a job waiting for him but he had a feeling that Charlotte, NC was the place to be on the map. He made his decision to relocate and find a job when he got there based on hope, fortitude and survival skills. Eight days after quitting his job, he and his wife’s belongings were shipped south. Leaving eight inches of snow behind them, they spent some time living in their RV, meeting very old friends and fishing until the wee hours of the night. One month later Tommy landed a position with a new employer.

Tommy and his wife went from living in a cramped Chicago neighborhood to four acres of seclusion just thirty minutes from Tommy’s new job. Besides having more space, he and his wife can't see or even hear his neighbors. He went from doing engineering work with twenty-three direct reports straight into managing a first line support desk with just three reports. He explains that it is a significant step backwards professionally but the quality of life is exponentially better and his salary took a pretty significant jump. “I am much happier now. It was a pretty risky move on my part but seems to have paid off well in the end.”

It turns out that this wasn’t the first time Tommy had done something like this. Many years ago when he moved to Chicago on a wing and a prayer he placed an ad in the "Work Wanted" section of the Chicago Tribune as a Webmaster. “My thought at the time was that even corporate recruiters need a handyman or yard work done and if I could put my number in front of them over coffee on Sunday morning they might call. It was a desperate move but I ended up getting more calls from that than I did from two weeks of shopping my resume around. The recruiter that ended up brokering my hire at the time, kept that ad on his desk for as long as I knew him as a reminder to himself to never give up and to always think outside of the box.”

Tommy’s risk paid off. He walks the walk and talks the talk. He wanted something better and was willing to put in the effort. But what’s most important is that he refused to accept that he was stuck between a rock and a hard place. I have a feeling that even if he didn’t have the once forgotten “relocation” money set aside, he would have found another way to make it work. He also admits to having put the skills that he learned in the training classes and coaching sessions that I facilitated into practice.

Sometimes important decisions seem like crevices larger than they really are. Take a deep breath and start planning a route across. Take a leap of faith, a risk. Nothing is as imposing as it seems. Once in your new ‘life’ you’ll take a backwards glance and see that it really wasn’t so difficult. Today, take one step, any step, which will lead you closer to where you want to be.
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