This Just In: Career Change is Hard

This Just In: Career Change is Hard

by Kerry Scott on 28 December 2010

A year ago today, I said goodbye to my old life as an HR executive.  I remember it because my hands shook a little when I hit “publish”.  I wasn’t sure whether I was being brave or stupid.

A year later, I’m still not 100% sure.

The thing about my old life was that I was a senior.  Remember high school?  Remember your senior year, when you knew everyone, knew the landscape, and knew your place in it?  You may not have liked it, but you knew it.  It was familiar.

HR was like that for me.  I hated those corporate pantsuits the same way I hated my class of ’89 perm…but they were easy.  I didn’t have to think about them.  I’d been in HR for 14 years when I stopped, and most of the time, I didn’t feel like an idiot in my job.  In fact, sometimes I felt pretty smart.  I didn’t have to look stuff up.  I pretty much knew what I was doing.  Plus, there was a nice chunk of direct deposit every two weeks.  It was safe, in the same way being a high school senior is safe…you know, sucky, but familiar-sucky.

Sometimes I miss that familiar-suckiness.  I miss not feeling like a newbie freshman idiot.  I miss not having to look everything up.  I miss people not looking at me like I’m nuts when I tell them what I do for a living, or saying, “Really?  People pay you for that?” and “Why would you give up your career for that?” and “But you’re going to get a real job again when the economy improves, right?”  I miss knowing who’s who in the field and where the politics are and all that.  It’s harder when you don’t know where the land mines are.

On the other hand…I’m a freshman!  It’s all ahead of me.  I’m like a kid who’s just starting out (except, you know, saggier).  Remember when your career was new and fresh and you loved everyone and everything and it was all so exciting? I get to be there.  I might be newbie idiot, but every day I get smarter.  You don’t get that when you already know everything (or worse, you think you know everything and you don’t really want to learn more because you don’t like your job that much anyway).  I’m excited to sit down to work every day.  In fact, my biggest problem is that I don’t have enough time to do all the work I want to.

Last week I took my 3-year-old son downtown to a museum.  Afterward, we had lunch in the cafeteria of the tallest building in Wisconsin, because he’s obsessed with skyscrapers.  The tallest building in Wisconsin is only 42 stories high, so it’s not exactly a tourist destination, and as a result we were the only mom-and-kid couple there.  Everyone else was a corporate type who had come down from a cubicle or office for lunch.  I sat there with my son, eating my cafeteria pudding.  I looked around at all of the business casual people sitting together, talking about the long meeting they’d just sat through, or the snippy voice mail they’d received, or the silly HR training they had to attend.  They all had the look of the familiar-sucky.  They didn’t look new, or fresh, or excited.  They looked tired and resigned and overly-comfortable.  They looked like they hadn’t learned anything new in a long, long time.

And my son said, “Mama, can we go home and do something brand new?”  (That’s his thing lately—”brand new.”  He’s a freshman too.)

And I realized how lucky I am, to be a freshman at 39.  I don’t get direct deposit anymore…but I get “brand new” every day.  I don’t have to stick with the familiar-sucky.  I can choose something different.  That’s the same scary choice many of our immigrant ancestors made (on a much, much larger scale).

Plus, this time around, I’m old enough to say no to the perm.

Photo by leahleaf

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{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

kristin December 28, 2010 at 4:16 pm

being able to say no to the perm is enough to make the change worthwhile all by it’s self.


Amy Boland December 28, 2010 at 4:41 pm

Yay on you. A lot of people get trapped in the golden cage of a comfy job where they’re not learning anything, but the threshhold of discomfort has become too high to leave.


Linda Gartz December 28, 2010 at 4:46 pm

Right on! I’m especially aware of this right now — because my immigrant grandfather was on his way exactly 100 years ago on that bold and scary journey. His diary reflects his anxiety and will to get to America. What a way to start the new year! 1911 — on a ship to America. I’ve posted his words all this past week on my blog
PS I also changed careers — from teacher to tv producer — many moons ago. It was a scary move — and had to learn on the fly. I loved both jobs — each right for the phase of life I was in. Now…trying yet another new move — the world of the blogosphere!


Susan Tiner December 28, 2010 at 5:10 pm

Sometimes familiar-sucky turns into familiar-horrible, as companies expect higher and higher levels of worker productivity to compete in the global marketplace. It’s not easy being an entrepreneur, but at least you have the flexibility to keep trying things to see what works, and as you said, the 24-7 learning curves keep your work brand new every day.


Carol December 28, 2010 at 6:14 pm

Stepping out of thy comfort zone, scary and wonderful!


ABDPBT December 28, 2010 at 6:46 pm

Very true. Happy one year anniversary of sorts!


Jo Graham December 28, 2010 at 10:42 pm

I’m in the same boat, Kerry, but I had a safety net of going part-time familiar-sucky (regular wages) and part-time brand-new fun & exciting stuff over a period of several years, so I had the best of both worlds. I packed in the part-time familiar a year ago and have been flying solo since – it’s exciting and scary at the same time, but I don’t have any dependents to buy pudding for ;-) Happy “Birthday” – I wouldn’t want to go back and I’m sure you’ll be fine!


Lynn Palermo December 29, 2010 at 9:03 am

Kerry I walked away from my career 5 years ago. I have to thank my husband for making that possible, my career was taking its toll on my family life and I felt I had no other choice. I still haven’t even begun to replace my salary but our wealth is measured by the time we been able to spend together. It was the single best decision I have ever made, and I do not regret it for a minute.


Denise Coughlin December 29, 2010 at 9:51 am

Happy Anniversary!! I started all over again in a new city 9 years with no support system in place. It’s definitely a scary “freshman” place to be but all the fun ahead!! BUT I personally LIKED my perms only because it finally gave my hair some body. Now I’m to at a place where it’s perm or color….and COLOR is winning :) Just don’t fall in with that bad crowd in your “sophomore” year!!


Dr. Bill (William L.) Smith January 7, 2011 at 8:50 pm

Congrats on the one-year anniversary! Best wishes on the new career. I still teach my HR online university class, but I really like my new (18 months now) job: retired!
You’ll get more happy with your decision as that three year old grows, as well.


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