I was working as the HR manager of a fairly large international technology company. I knew within weeks of taking on the role that I’d made a terrible mistake. It just wasn’t my ‘tribe’. I’d been the Personnel Manager of a manufacturing plant and I’d loved that role even though the surroundings were rough and the pay was terrible. But circumstances, and the lure of almost twice the salary encouraged me to move on.
Not one of my better decisions.
Being an HR professional, I know that it’s a really bad look to have lots of job changes on your CV, so I reluctantly decided that I needed to stay with this new company for at least 2 years so it wouldn’t reflect badly on me. When you say 2 years, it doesn’t sound very long; but when every day you get up and your stomach is in knots and your heart and soul are dying, then 2 years is actually a lifetime.
At the 18 month mark I negotiated my own redundancy. The company was in financial trouble and I knew that my role would probably be gone in a year or so anyway. I negotiated 12 month’s salary for 6 months work to set up the HR function so it could run without me.
I thought that was a fair deal. I’d decided that I would use the extra money to set up my own HR consultancy so I could be free to choose who I worked with and for, so I never got in with the wrong tribe ever again.
So came the joyous day I walked away. I felt the huge weight lift off my shoulders; I went shopping and bought a car, office equipment, stationary and had my very first business cards printed. I was SO excited.
And then reality hit. I had no income to begin with; I knew I was going to have to sell my beautiful home and trade down (though that didn’t worry me). What I hadn’t bargained for was the crash in my health.
All I know is that within a very short space of time I literally had NO energy. I could barely get out of bed in the morning, even making my breakfast was a challenge. I literally spent the next 6 months in bed.
However, even though I’d downsized, I still had to find a way to earn a living. I still had to eat and pay a mortgage, albeit a smaller mortgage. I still had to live.
And so I started doing the rounds of visiting Doctors.
Now I know that I actually had M.E. but this was the 1990’s and at this stage M.E. was considered a scam; a mind-over-matter thing. Doctors knew so little about it they absolutely didn’t know what to do and so I think they put the symptoms down to laziness.
I spent a small fortune on all manner of de-tox programmes; vitamin programmes etc. etc. And though each of these interventions helped a little, I described my body as a 6 cylinder car now functioning on one cylinder. The vitamins perhaps gave me 1.5 cylinders for a few hours each day but no more.
And then I found a Chinese Acupuncturist. He was a Western trained medical Dr but had also trained as a traditional Acupuncturist.
He checked me out and was shocked at how far my vital organs had actually shut down. My liver had just about given up; which caused other major organs to work twice as hard to keep my body alive. I was literally falling apart.
He prescribed Acupuncture twice per week alongside an array of Chinese medicines and within 6 weeks I was virtually back to normal.
The cure was horrendous. I guess I was de-toxing at warp speed. I had a headache which virtually had me banging my head against a wall; I hated the needles, but it was all part of de-toxing and miracle of miracles it worked.
I’m a great believer that things, even ill health, in fact especially ill health, happen for a reason. It is our body saying ‘take notice of me’; ‘listen to me’. And we ignore those signs at our peril. I also believe that when we get sick, we have to be willing to look in that mirror and face whatever it is WE are doing that is causing our body to say ‘enough’.
I could have walked away from the high paying job, I could have taken a chance on getting another lesser paying role. But I didn’t. I chose to put my body through those 18 months of misery and I have to take responsibility for that. I now recognise the signs if I’ve put myself into a situation that isn’t right for me and I quickly remove myself.
I don’t blame the situation, I just acknowledge it isn’t healthy for me and I take action.
Having that bad experience was the very reason I decided I didn’t want to simply look for another job. I didn’t want to risk going from the frying pan into the fire. Which is why I decided I wanted to work for myself. I wanted to be in a position to choose who I worked with and for.
I’ve now worked for myself for 30 years and I would never want to work any other way. Yes there are still highs and lows; yes the income is erratic, but for me, having that freedom to say ‘Yes I’d like to help you with your HR issues’ or ‘No thanks, I don’t think I’m the right person for you’ has been my personal Lotto win.
So what was good about the experience?
Working in the environment which made me so unhappy made me realise what my standards were; what my values are and always will be. I learned resilience; I learned that no matter what was happening around me, I didn’t have to get sucked in to things that didn’t sit well with me.
I stood in my own space and in my own strength.
And so I could lay the blame for my M.E. on a poor career choice; but as time passed I had to acknowledge that an even bigger part of my M.E. was actually ME.
Setting up my own business tapped into all of my insecurities; my ‘not good enough’ gene ran rampant. My negative voice saying ‘who do you think you are kidding?’ took over, and I crashed.
So for sure, it was those 2 arduous years forcing myself to work in an environment that drained every vestige of my energy that left me vulnerable. But I think I would have hit the wall somewhere along the way anyway.
Leaving a regular income tapped into all my scarcity genes.
But I didn’t go under. I didn’t die. I didn’t pull the blankets over my head and have a pity party. Because I had to earn a living I had to face my demons. I had to look squarely in that mirror and decide to get up and get going.
Don’t ever give up. You never know what success is waiting just around the corner.
Ann Andrews CSP
MD Big Thinking Business Forums
Founder The Corporate Toolbox