Quitter to Winner

Sunday, August 8, 2010

INTERVIEW: Erich Bennar is not his career

Erich Bennar's life and ambitions were shifting. Instead of muddle through his job at a company he helped build, he decided to take action and create new opportunities. What he thought would be a terrifying experience turned out to be a relief.

What prompted you to say "ok, not working might be scary, but working just doesn't work for me right now."?

It came down to me wanting to be happy. I had reached an impasse at my job. I was with a technology company for about six years. The company was experiencing growing pains. The direction the company was growing toward and the direction that I wanted to grow in didn't match up anymore.

For the previous three years I'd been involved in Pioneer Valley Roller Derby as a coach and a team captain. I really enjoyed working with people and helping them accomplish their goals. I also learned a lot of great communication skills, management tactics and leadership skills that just weren't being utilized at my job. I felt restless sitting behind a computer and was ready for the next step in my career.

How long did you process the decision?

It's hard to tell. Prior to leaving the company, I was stepping out of my roles with the PVRD to free up some time to pursue other interests. Part of me was realizing that giving up so much control in the organization I helped build wasn't as scary as I anticipated.

Stepping down from my derby roles and leaving the company were intensely personal decisions. Both organizations represented things that I helped build, refined and kept moving forward. At some level I used them to mask insecurities surrounding my divorce.

The decision had a lot to do with me taking a leap of faith, embracing change and having confidence in myself and my abilities to not only survive, but to find something better.

Once you made the decision, did you panic or feel relief? Or both?

More relief. I felt good for making the decision. It was hard to give up generous benefits for who knows what I'd find, but ultimately it was a relaxing break. I definitely needed that.

What have you been doing since you left?

During the couple months I was out of work, I halfheartedly looked for a low relief job to draw out my vacation. I also started building a pretty serious business plan to open a roller skate shop. Numbers weren't looking too optimistic so I put that project on hold, while I looked for something else.

I picked up a couple jobs - one moving boxes at a wine cellar, and the other as a management consultant for another local technology company.

What's your next move?

Next move is taking on a new role in a new industry. Both the technology company and the wine cellar wanted to bring me on full time. Both offered benefits comparable to my previous job. At the technology company, I enjoy working with the people and helping them build their team, but the industry is more fast-paced and demanding than I want to be involved in.

I took the job as the Warehouse Manager at the wine cellar. The job is laid back, still allows me to utilize my management and leadership skills, and will eventually use my technology skills as we enhance our inventory infrastructure and company portal. The environment is more in line with what I've been working to build in my other organizations, so it feels like less of a struggle. Also I get to immerse myself in a topic that is new and exciting.

Some people feel a slight identity crisis after leaving a job without a traditional plan/job in place. Did you experience that?

Maybe a bit. When you're a kid everyone asks 'what do you want to be when you grow up?' It makes you think that you are your career. I struggled with that a bit. But between my roles in derby, and an earlier identity crisis, my biggest concern when finding a new job was balancing: 'what are my skills worth?' with "what am I willing to accept if it makes me happy?" I'm fortunate that I found something that I don't have to compromise on either.

Do you know anyone else contemplating making the leap into the unknown? What advice do you have for them?

If you're seriously contemplating it - then something is wrong. Try to figure out what's wrong first. That way you won't regret it or keep wondering 'what if..?'. If it's not something that can change - then take the leap.

Also, take some time to figure out your expenses and income for the next few months and budget yourself. It'll be much easier if you know that you can survive without a job for one month or six months.

And don't be afraid to apply for government assistance. If you have a pride thing to contend with - get over it. You need to eat.

Whatever you do, keep your head up and keep working toward finding something that makes you happy to get out of bed in the morning.

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