Quitter to Winner

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

INTERVIEW: Kelli Allard's project manager approach to quitting

Kelli Allard was a project manager for a bustling web development company. After nine years she thought it was time to seek new opportunities - even without another job offer in hand.

You left behind your job of nine years without a "plan." What prompted you take the plunge?

I wasn't feeling passionate about my job anymore. I mapped out a strategy that would secure uninterrupted employment; I went on interviews, but nothing felt quite right. Which makes sense. Nine years in one place is a long time. You can't figure out what your “dream job” is overnight. I had a crazy thought one afternoon: “What if I left without a plan and gave myself a break to regroup before moving on? Wouldn't almost anyone do that if given the chance?” Instead of feeling panicky about this obviously insane rationale I felt excited and calm. I gave my notice the next day.

What was the hardest part about making your decision?

Worrying about how my husband would feel and how he would cope. He's a very rational, rule abiding, point a to point b kind of guy. Luckily he also trusts me, loves me and respects my decisions. He agreed with my “non-plan”. Surprisingly, I think he made the transition a little better than I did.

How did you deal with the "oh, man. I just quit my job. NOW what?!" feeling?

Ha! Although it was subtle at first I'd have to say that feeling started to tickle me about 14 minutes after I locked the door behind me for the last time. Over a month that feeling became overwhelming at times. I knew I was supposed to be relaxing and regrouping but I couldn't. I became overly concerned about the condition of our kitchen floor, our living room floor, what overachieving dish I should make for dinner; I couldn't sleep. I felt twitchy and nervous a lot of the time. Luckily while I was twitching I was also reading “Happy at Last: The Thinking Person's Guide to Happiness”. In his book, Richard O'Connor describes how leaving behind the adrenaline rushes of a high-pressure job is not unlike withdrawing from an addictive substance. Just knowing that I was a junkie in recovery and that this was “normal”, made me feel better.

That’s so true! What are you doing now?

Planting the seeds and keeping myself busy while I wait for the “right fit”. Since leaving work I feel like I've never really stopped working. Sometime I feel like I'm working more. In addition to my job search, interviews, and networking, which all feel like their own full time job, I'm a licensed massage therapist and have been seeing clients. I'm doing some freelance workshop planning and assistance, and filling in occasionally at my old job, too. I'm also half of an acoustic duo. I'm not having any problems keeping myself busy.

Additionally, I've been consulting with Val Nelson (http://www.valnelson.com/) a local career counselor. Knowing that I'm being productive and proactive helps keep that “oh, man. I just quite my job. NOW what?!” feeling in check.

It’s best to stay busy enjoying life while you regroup. Do you regret your move?

I do not regret my move but I miss the routine, rhythm and flow of a full time job. I miss being part of a team and being with people all day. It sounds so corny but I miss that feeling of putting in “an honest day of hard work”.

Being in limbo is hard, too. It's been very challenging, but also rewarding to just NOT KNOW what is going to happen next. I was a project manger for so long that my brain is hardwired to feel like it has to know exactly who is going to do what, and when, and what the result will be. You can plan all you want during a job search but you never know exactly what you're going to end up doing or who you're going to meet next.

What advice do you have for people who want to quit without a traditional plan?

I have three ideas for you crazy people.

Read Richard O'Connor's “Finding Happiness...” book first. In it he talks about the mental risks of leaving one job before finding another.

Being unemployed in our society, even if it's by choice, can wallop your self-esteem and self-image if you're not careful. Make sure you are engaging in some kind of self-care that keeps you happy, healthy and motivated. If I don't run almost every day I don't sleep.

Have some kind of project set up and ready for you to work on during your first week of unemployment. It's tempting to think about luxuriating in nothingness for a week, but if you're leaving a highly stressful situation your mind and body may need some kind of active transition to fight off the withdrawal symptoms.

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