Friday, April 27, 2012

Unexpected Change Means Hitting the Reset Button

For the most part I like change, well, change that I orchestrate. However, when change occurs suddenly, it can be jarring. I suspect most people find unexpected change unsettling, whether it involves family, career, community, or the environment. Transformational events—positive or negative—can result in a small shift in one’s life, a radical reshaping of it, or something in between.

My leukemia diagnosis in 2003 definitely produced a radical shift. One day I was convinced my health issues were something as easily remedied by proper nutrition and vitamins, and the next I was facing months of chemotherapy and a bone marrow transplant. Life circumstances can vacillate quickly and suddenly.

Change that I enjoyed immensely, yet cried for an hour as I drove away from Cincinnati, was when I moved to the Northeast on August 31, 2002. I had spent the previous year meticulously planning my departure and miraculously, the universe coordinated it beautifully. I always tell people to be careful what they wish for because if that wish comes true, following through on it is the only course of action. That’s what happened to me.

I had mentioned to a co-worker when I started my planning process that the coolest thing in the world would be that right when I was getting ready to move, my job would be eliminated and I would receive four month’s severance pay. Fast forward to six months later and two months prior to my scheduled departure, having just returned to the office after a vacation in Puerto Rico with some of my closest friends, the human resources department scheduled a conference call with all the assistants throughout the country. As I sat in the conference room, I could hardly believe my ears: almost all the assistant positions were being eliminated and there would now be only one assistant per region.

I was stunned at my good fortune but now there was no turning back. There was however one fly in the ointment, which was the fact that I was one of the top-rated assistants in the region (there was one other located in Cleveland). I knew if I were offered the position and turned it down, I would not receive the severance package that would provide a much-needed financial cushion. I immediately contacted my manager in Philadelphia, explained to her the situation, and she made sure I was not offered the job.

I left the company at the end of August and began collecting severance pay, which helped immensely during the transition into my new life. This was definitely change I was happy with and fully embraced.

These past few weeks, however, an unexpected announcement hit me much harder than I ever expected something like it would. Two NFL colleagues submitted their resignations, one I knew about, the other I did not. The one I knew about was a manager who is not only a dear friend, but like a little sister to me. Her departure leaves a hole in my heart, but I’ve known about her plans for a while so was prepared for it. The other departure was a complete surprise.

My boss, for whom I’ve worked nearly seven years, was offered an amazing opportunity at one of the NFL teams: to be their new president. We are all proud of him, and he will be a real asset to the Club. The team is lucky to have him. Still, we’ve worked together for many years, and on a couple of occasions he has had my back. He may have driven me a tad crazy at times, but I have come to love him and his family. We have a solid working relationship; I will miss it.

I considered following him to the Club to be his executive assistant—a decision I agonized over for nearly a week. My mother’s voice was stuck in my head: “Deborah, you should take it; it would pay well and you would have employer-paid medical and dental insurance, a 401K plan, a pension…all kinds of benefits.” And she would be right.

My ego was involved as well since I would be the right hand to the president of a NFL team—high profile, perks, business connections, all of which were very tempting. Yet every time I thought maybe I could make the move, I felt terribly sad.

One downside to taking the position was that I would have to buy a car because the job is not in New York City. I currently do not own a car and must admit that I love not having one—no car payment, no insurance, no upkeep, no gas to purchase, and no parking to deal with. There is much freedom in not owning an automobile, and of course, I live in an area where I do not need one.

Another reason for my hesitancy was the yet-to-be-fulfilled dreams and goals, in particular the performing one that I’d been striving toward for the past twenty years. I have achieved so many of these goals but have yet to reach my desired level of success. To continue pursuing many of my goals, I need to be in or very near the city and have easy access getting there via public transportation.

The executive assistant position would most likely mean I would have to be available 24/7 to the needs of the president. I have never wanted an employer's life to become more important than mine. I have a great life and like to be able to disconnect from my employer; to not worry about his/her every need.

Staying where I am is risky for very different reasons. I am a contractor so there is no guarantee as to how long my job will continue to be necessary at the League office. My services will be required in the short-term as they figure out how the department is going to function and if and when they will replace my boss. I like to think that the skills and information I've learned and the relationships I’ve made will ensure future employment, but however it evolves, will it allow for the flexibility to which I've become accustomed?

There is financial uncertainty because at some point I may be back out looking for temporary work and making half the hourly wage I currently enjoy. I recently negotiated a decent raise. I continue to pay for my own health insurance and dental coverage because mine is not employer-paid. I have no 401K or pension benefits, but I have set up an IRA. Still, even with all the uncertainty—and I am scared when I think about my current position being eliminated—the feeling in my gut and in my heart, when I thought about taking the job with my boss, did not feel right—at least not at this moment in time.

Once I made my decision, I felt great relief. Depsite the anxiety created by the uncertainty of my continued employment at the League, I know I made the right choice. In fact, this is the perfect time to hit the reset button. Over the past few years, I’ve become complacent in the pursuit of my other goals. Now, I have nothing to lose and everything to gain. It’s time to step up my game, be more assertive, and shake my life up. Life is an adventure; I’ve always believed that. I’m not getting any younger, so now is the time to be fearless. I beat cancer, so I can definitely defeat my fear of the unknown.

Like everyone else on this planet, I haven’t a clue how my future will unfold, and that’s probably a good thing. For now, I am where I belong and my life button has been reset.