When you made a big career mistake

posted by Jeff | Saturday, October 12, 2019, 9:18 AM | comments: 0

I hate Facebook for a lot of reasons, not the least of which is that it's a terrible company, but it's where the people are, and I want to stay connected at least superficially with the people I've met across thousands of miles of moving. I like the memories function though, because it's neat to see where I was on this day years ago, with 13 years of history. Sometimes though, you can't help but get some icky feelings.

In 2011, this time of year, we had moved back to Cleveland. I won't rehash the reasons for that again, but suffice it to say that we were wrong about the social aspect, totally right about the house situation, and I correctly predicted that we'd end up in Central Florida. It all worked out, but the regret of leaving Seattle sat with me for a very long time.

By the time I landed at Microsoft, I was in active career management mode. Being a huge company, there is probably something well suited for you once you get there, but it may or may not be hard to find. I got so close to what I would consider a dream job at the time, running a development team that made test tools for studios using Xbox Live. The hiring manager was honest with me: I could have done the job, but the other guy had just a little more experience. He was even trying to get budget to build a second team, and put me on that one. That would have changed the outcome entirely, and I still wonder "what if." Where I did end up was a team that was "old" Microsoft in its approach, and trying to change it was hard. It left me with indifference.

So I landed at this marketing agency in Cleveland. I've worked for various organizations like that one, for periods ranging from two weeks to four months, and every one of them was a disaster. In this case, I had nothing to do. Imagine you worked on an app for the world's largest software company that processed 100 million interactions per month, and then you've got nothing to do. Then they complained that I was arriving and leaving early, 7:30 to 4:30, which has been my m.o. always in order to avoid traffic. They didn't trust people to be grownups, so they fired me.

I sensed it was going to be a disaster, and quite literally had an interview elsewhere at lunch that day. But that intense feeling of, "What have I done?" was such a sinking feeling given my desire to actively manage my career. The next few weeks were actually loaded with opportunity. I had offers to decline even before I got back to Cleveland, and then I randomly was flown to Louisville to speed date/interview with groups there for remote work. It ended up being a terrible company to work for, but it was still valuable experience. I just remember the constant gray skies of Cleveland, and thought, "What have I done?" In retrospect, that was probably the source of much of the regret.

In an expanding economy where you do something that's in demand, career mistakes are temporary. I'm not alone in making these kinds of mistakes, as my friends have all been there (especially those on the west coast). When you make them, it's important to stop and be deliberate. What are your goals, personal and professional? Where do you want to live? What income do you need to make your financial goals? How long do you have to do it?

We were in Cleveland for less than 19 months before I got back on track. The work here in Florida has been generally good, and now I'm at a company that's growing fast. It's challenging, but it's the part of a company lifecycle that I haven't been a part of before, and with significant responsibility. The mistakes were OK in the long run, if only to give me focus.


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