I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the decision I made a little over a year ago, to “go out on my own.” I owe my success first to a supportive husband and family, all of whom have made it possible for me to take this risk. But beyond that, my SHRM and local HR networks have been instrumental to my success, by providing guidance, pep talks, commiseration and tools to help me get on my feet and fashion the career I’ve always wanted.
The decision to leave the flock as an HR Professional isn’t an easy one. Working as a department of one, or in an established HR team at a company that pays you every other week and provides employee benefits and a 401K provides a feeling of security, camaraderie, and a clear future path. You get feedback on how you’re doing, and sometimes a pat on the back or some kudos when you hit it out of the park. The job can be easier, too. You know the minefield of personalities, politics and closet skeletons, and the goals are laid out before you like a yellow brick road leading to the Emerald City. The problem is, there’s also often a “man behind the curtain” and all of that isn’t what it seems.
I’ve been on the receiving end of a very fair salary that I appreciated going in, only to end up having to work two full-time jobs to avoid leaving real humans I care about without receiving the support, operational consistency and services they need from HR. So, the salary, benefits and 401K take on a different value when divided in half. Now, when I get paid, it’s because I worked my ass off and delivered exactly what I sold to my client, and more. And when I perform work, it’s because it’s meaningful to me and I’m interested in doing it. Are there lean times? Yes. And when those come, I am rich with time to do things I want to do. Time has immense value to me.
I’ve participated in goalsetting that doesn’t align with any semblance of business success-or that is supported in any way by internal customers. Sometimes those goals have been a moving target, or backed into after the fact based on pet projects of new leaders. There’s no yellow brick road, or if it’s there, it leads nowhere. Today, I set my own goals, and achieve my own milestones. And they are exceedingly meaningful to me. I celebrate, and appreciate, and love when my blood, sweat and tears (along with the support of my partners and resources) have brought me to success. The flip side? I fail. A lot. And I learn. A lot. The freedom to fail and learn is one of the things I cherish about the freedom my new career affords me.
In the past, I’ve been embedded in organizations where dysfunction reigns and the No Asshole Rule is never enforced. I’ve let myself be stuck in a vortex of self-pity and inaction when my efforts to call it out have failed. The upside of being my own boss is not that I’ve escaped that. To the contrary, that experience has helped me recognize where that’s happening, and consulting has gifted me with the freedom (and readiness on the part of clients to receive the message) to illuminate it where it exists and help repair it. Where teams revel in dysfunction and by default create their own survival code for members to suffer through each day, there is almost always a kernel of human pain and need, and lack of understanding and empathy at the core. I’m not always successful in triumphing over dysfunction, but I always get to try. The elephant in the room never goes unnamed, and I value that greatly.
Gratitude is the first word that comes to mind when I think about my career today. Appreciation for the many colleagues who have been there before me and have shared their advice on how to make this work-it’s helped me hang on and not give up. Fulfillment: it’s what I get from this work, and in turn, helps me have the energy to give all I have to my clients.
I own my career. And it feels like success to me.