Some Time For Reflection


I recently quit my job for a while, this is a record for my future self and others about how it went. I’m sure that one day I’ll look back on it and discover things that I didn’t understand at the time.

Why Did I Quit?

I don’t like quitting. Yes, I’ve started on many little projects that were susequently ditched in favour of something that was more interesting… but the point of those projects was never really about building something for others, they were just outlets for creativity. I don’t like quitting on things that I have committed to.

That said, I found myself in a miserable job where everything I tried made no difference to my situation. A toxic team member was destroying us from within, managers who had the only real chance of changing anything were too kind to make the sort of waves that were necessary, and trying to work harder or smarter made no difference when the wider business wasn’t aligned with what we were trying to achieve. Everything my peers tried had no effect either. The controlling strings were too far removed to care about the problems that we were facing.

Looking back, I can easily pin-point the exact moment that I decided to leave. It was the day that I walked to work and felt the dread seep in to the point where I nearly turned around. For me, a person sitting firmly on the positive end of the day-to-day happiness spectrum, this was a big deal.

How Did I Quit?

Like most decisions that have big consequences… with a lot of deliberation and self-doubt. In the end, trying to face the thought of a two month notice period where each day would result in a further erosion of my happiness was the final push that I needed. I handed my notice in with no job to move to. People have since told me that this was either brave, stupid, enviable or a mixture of all three. In truth, it was none of those things. The most apt description of my emotional state was (rather fittingly) resignation. I had resigned myself to the conclusion that no matter how hard I tried to rescue this situation, it was never going to get any better.

I hijacked a personal retrospective session (something I would do with my line manager once a fortnight) to break the news; this was the first in a torrent of bad news for him. The next few weeks were full of difficult conversations with truly decent people.

And Then…

Relief.

Overwhelming relief, in fact. An acute sense that things could now get better. The uncertainty over how was not, for one second, daunting or worrysome. It was, more than anything, an exciting time.

A short period of panic followed as our small team realised that the three people that they were losing had an enormous amount of knowledge that needed to be hoovered up in a very short time frame. We all saw this coming.

What Have I Done With Myself Since?

Whatever I felt like! And it’s been fantastic. A few holidays, time to gather my thoughts, the beginnings of an attempt to break free of the old-fashioned CV that wasn’t helping me explain my skills.

More than anything, I’ve had time for reflection. That is what this post is really about and why I’ve waited for a while before writing these thoughts down.

What Have I Learnt About Myself?

My chosen profession places me in a very fortunate position

Doing whatever you feel like for over a month is a luxury that not many can afford. Whilst I wasn’t thinking about this when I was all wrapped up in the decision-making process, I have thought about it a lot since sharing my decision with others.

The software industry is extremely forgiving right now in that it offers good pay, many opportunities and a progressive hiring market that doesn’t bat an eyelid at what I’ve done.

This is resolutely not the case in most industries and periods of life. Lack of pay and more responsibilities mean that taking time off is simply not an option that most have open to them. I would like to keep myself continually mindful of the relative comfort in which I live my life.

A great team trumps everything else

Something I’ve learnt to appreciate through music is finding joy in the process of creating. Creating software is a creative process like any other, and finding joy in the process of doing it is a good way to achieve happiness and fulfillment.

A great team is one that believes in a shared vision, is determined to help create that vision, and is going to get there with an attitude of respect and empathy. Growing a great team is really hard.

These are all important factors because they treat a team as a collection of human beings. Even the best of us occasionally have bad days, struggle to see things from other perspectives or have to work long hours. You can bet that all of those things are made easier if you have a team like the one I’m looking for.

I must continue to be confident in my work ethic.

Contemplating throwing in the towel whilst not enjoying the idea of doing it really makes you question whether you are doing enough. Around a year ago, I attended an excellent Women In Tech event in Leeds where women at all stages of their careers opened up very candidly about their journey so far. What struck me in this conversation was how many of the women talking, as well as those in the room, identified with imposter syndrome. At the time I was somewhat ashamed to say that I struggled to relate to this feeling. As it turns out, imposter syndrome is more likely to manifest itself in women as a feeling of low performance, whereas in men it tends to stem from a fear of being unsuccessful. No longer do I struggle to relate.

What helped massively was to share my time of uncertainty with a friend. She and I were leaving at the same time, for mostly the same reasons. We have a healthy relationship where we can be honest with each other without fear of judgement. We’re also very similar in that we both hate giving up.

This friend helped me to recover the view of myself that I would have had six months prior. She helped me to remember that during this fight we absolutely did not give up, despite how I might have felt by the end of it. We worked our asses off to try and make it work, and still we had to call it a day.

A note to my future self: if at any point you question if you could have done more, remember this time and be confident that you gave it your all. Nothing more can ever be asked of you.

What now?

I’m taking these lessons (and a load more that aren’t worth writing here) and putting them towards finding something that I’m proud to contribute to.

If you know of any small-ish teams that are set on making a difference then point them in my direction.

© neverstew 2022
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