Volume 31 Number 2
By Krishnan Rangachari | February 2016
While at my first job, I underwent a life-changing surgery. It was paid for by my employer’s excellent health benefits, so I paid nothing out of pocket.
I felt so grateful that I believed I was “meant to be” in that job. I repaid my firm’s kindness by staying on for years. I considered leaving tantamount to betrayal. Over time, I became unproductive, hardly performed at my best, and began to resent my job. I felt handcuffed by my own loyalty.
Looking back, the best way I could have been loyal was to stay there as long as I performed at my peak—and then left with heartfelt gratitude, wishing my company and coworkers the best when I couldn’t be at my best any longer.
Anytime I’ve stayed on at a job out of obligation, I’ve failed to live up to my own potential. Worse, I’ve actually betrayed the very managers to whom I’ve tried to be loyal, by growing to dislike my job.
Settling or Choosing?
Imagine I’m not really interested in someone I’m dating, but I “settle” for her and end up marrying her because I don’t think I have a shot with anyone else. By doing this, I cheat her out of an amazing relationship with someone who in the future will love her fully. I’m cheating myself, too, because I don’t think I’m worthy of such full love myself.
Settling for an employer is no different. To let go of a bad employer or relationship is as much an act of love and loyalty (both to myself and the other party) as it is to stay.
In my career now, I’ve cultivated my employability, partly by mastering the art of job hunting and the science of careerism. I can walk away and get another job, but I choose to stay because I love it. Now that is real loyalty.
The Antidote: Letting Go with Gratitude
Today, I give thanks for the rewards, friendships, health and growth my company has given me, and let it go for having been in my life.
Today, I understand that I’m not “meant to be” in any job. Even if I’m awarded a million dollars at work or have my life saved by my coworkers, it doesn’t mean that I’m meant to be there. Where I am right now is, by definition, exactly where I am meant to be. If I’m not happy with it, I can change it. If I’m already happy, I can keep going. My destiny is the life I’m living right now, not the life I want to live in the future.
No matter what career mistakes I’ve made, that’s exactly what I’m meant to do. The way to ensure that I don’t repeat mistakes is to learn what I can and forgive that which is outside my control. When I thank these mistakes for being a part of my life and let them go, I unlock my own power and reach greater heights.
The Darker Side of Loyalty
At one point, I went through a string of bad jobs, characterized by long hours and harsh coworkers. Eventually, I found my way to an excellent company with perks, colleagues and a work-life balance to match.
And, yet, I found myself repeatedly frustrated at this new dream job. I’d come to believe that real work had to be very challenging, and that my life had to be difficult to have meaning. When I didn’t feel external pressure to perform, I felt I’d sold myself short to a starry-eyed employer that didn’t understand competitiveness.
In retrospect, my loyalty to my own conception of an ideal employer had become self-destructive. I was thriving on the excitement and aggression of intense work, at the expense of self-respect and fulfillment. In lusting after grandeur and belligerence, control and power, my hankering would unfailingly turn to heartbreak. Finally wising up, I began to go for a slower burn, experimenting with companies who loved me and weren’t afraid to show it calmly.
I did this by playing with my own assumptions. If I felt judgmental toward a company during my job search (for example, too trusting, too laid-back, not intelligent), I’d go against my instincts and give them a shot.
Ultimately, I started to err on the side of prizing balance, kindness, generosity, and respect in my interviewers and coworkers. Instead of dismissing these qualities as weak, I began to see them for what they really were—wisdom and love. Gradually, as I began to prize these qualities in others, I began to live them out in my own life.
Krishnan Rangachari is the career coach for hackers. Visit radicalshifts.com to download his free career success kit.