Thinking that you want to step off the fast track? Had enough of the long hours, world travel and stress? Yearning to do something that has a little more meaning?
If you’ve answered “yes” to one or more of these questions, you’re probably at the top of your game but feeling that something is missing from your very successful career. More money and more responsibility are no longer the keys to your fulfillment—and you’re thinking you might want to find a way to use high-level expertise in a lower-pressure way.
It’s not uncommon. Many women, weary of the corporate grind, fantasize about a slower-paced career. They want to keep working, but they think about a mid-level job at a non-profit, turning a hobby into a business, or even an administrative role at an interesting start-up.
If you’re having similar musings, you need to think first about what motivates you to work in the first place. Do you thrive on leadership and building teams? Do you like the power of being the decision-maker? Is the amount of money that you earn tied to your feelings of self-worth?
These and many other questions determine if your lower voltage aspirations would be a cultural fit. The auras of many non-profits, for example, could drive many a “Type A” corporate refugee up the wall. Many non-profits have very loose structures and require more of an entrepreneurial mindset—which is definitely not the right fit for someone who likes processes that are very buttoned up.
If you do like that corporate structure, hanging up your own shingle may not be your dream come true. I’ve observed that a very small percentage of the population is truly entrepreneurial, and most people don’t really think through what it means to own your own business. At least at the beginning there’s nowhere to delegate, so a lot of mundane tasks cut into your day. You’d probably start slowly from a home base—so your work would stare at you all day and night. If being part of a team (or directing a team) gives you a charge, you might feel particularly isolated when you’re thinking up ideas on your own and asking your reflection for input. And starting a business is not exactly a departure from stress, unless you’re thinking of more creative ventures for the occasional crafts fair.
If minimizing stress is your main objective, taking a big leap down the career ladder may not lead to a good fit—and it may not be possible. Though it may sound like an easy but fun gig to be the office manager for a small growing company, for example, most employers feel that the best fit will be a career administrator. It’s hard to see an ex-VP in an admin role: all the senior-level women who have tried to convince me that they really, truly would be happy ordering supplies, decorating the office and scheduling meetings have raised my eyebrows an inch or two.
The fact is that wherever you choose to work, your “professional DNA” will eventually emerge. One great example is when high achieving women leave the workforce for family reasons and then redirect their energy fields to volunteer posts. A non-profit director once shook her head as she described the MBA firepower on her board—and how all these women were verging on a hostile takeover of a very small and somewhat sleepy organization. This woman was grateful to have access to so much talent and expertise, but she also felt overpowered, overwhelmed and exhausted by women who really were a better fit for much more challenging and high profile environments.
The moral of the story? Downshift on the fast track when you ferret out new people and places that are in synch with your professional DNA. —KAS
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