Tom: Today’s guest post is courtesy of Charlotte Kingston — once of the BBC, now an adventurer winging her way to India. You can follow her exotic wanderings and wonderings at chakakant.com. Charlotte’s story is utterly compelling and I am sure it will strike home with many of you, which is why I was so keen to publish it here on Leaving Work Behind. Enjoy!
Last week, I left my job at the most venerable of institutions: the British Broadcasting Corporation. In some ways the hardest thing about leaving was the perception of others — I’d love to work there, why would you want to leave?
When working for a large organisation with such a haloed reputation, it can be great to revel in the connection people have to the brand. Contributing to making something that people love can be kudos-tastic and tough to take an objective view on.
I had a brilliant job in theory, but the day-to-day feeling of working there didn’t reflect the dream. Working on live events and broadcasting was extraordinarily stressful — the never-ending hamster wheel of production kept turning, with me powerlessly scrabbling within it, trying to keep up.
I wasn’t getting anywhere fast and felt frazzled all the time. Something had to give, but indecision held me back. In this article I will describe how I eventually overcame my decision and gained the courage to take the leap into the unknown.
I had invested five years of my life in the BBC and had so many brilliant experiences, and as such, found myself asking questions like:
- Could I really give my job up?
- Could there still be amazing opportunities for me within the organisation if I hustled just a little more?
- Could I hang on in there for redundancy, a new opportunity or for things to change?”
Throughout this time I spoke to many people about the situation and my colleagues and friends were so supportive. I had such a variety of responses — from yes, you must leave! and no, you’re silly, what are you doing? It was especially tough when you knew there were plenty of people out there who would love to have my job. Feelings of confusion and guilt mingled in with everything.
I was so busy worrying about what people thought. Would I be letting people down? Am I throwing away a huge opportunity forever? I’d gone to the big city with such high hopes — would I be sheepishly crawling back home with my tail between my legs, having tried and not quite made it?
Usually I find talking things through helps everything, but in this case, more talking meant more indecision. Why? Because I was waiting for someone to give me answer, to tell me what to do. But ultimately only one person could make a decision — me.
At times the pressure of indecision got too much. I had to take a step back and think.
Switching off from it all, I was flicking round Netflix and caught a National Geographic documentary about stress which led me to the wonderfully titled Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers by primatologist Robert M Sapolsky.
Animals — including us humanoids — are not meant to live in a constant state of stress. Our body’s fight or flight mechanism is made for three minutes on the savannah escaping a lion, not forever worrying about a sent email or deadline or whether a spreadsheet was filled in. Sapolsky’s research also revealed that even within primate hierarchies, those in lower ranking positions were prone to stress and depression — in fact, it was inevitable.
This book provided the pivot point I needed to change my mindset. So used to ceding autonomy to the organisation, I felt powerless, like Sam Lowry in Terry Gilliam’s Brazil. My years of working within such a hierarchical structure made me consider only my limitations (what I couldn’t do) rather than the limitless opportunities available to me (what I could do).
Thinking about the impact my job was having on my body and mind was a real eye-opener. I realised that it didn’t have to be like it was. If I wanted to and was willing to make a change, I could feel more in control — better.
Instead of seeing my amazing past experiences at the organisation as a reason to stay, I realised that they were a reason for me to have the confidence that I could leave and would be alright. I realised that I could achieve such great things and have other equally or even more spectacular experiences again.
Once I made that key mental shift, the decision was easy. It took a combination of four factors:
- Rejecting constant stress as an acceptable way of life
- Ceasing to worry about others
- Taking control of my own decisions
- Reminding myself of what I am capable of achieving
It all came down to choice. As Morrissey sang, “It’s my life to ruin, my own way.” Whether good or bad, I had to make a decision. My decision.
Take a risk; or as my friend elegantly put it, “throw the deck up in the air and see how the cards land.”
That’s what I did, and I can’t wait to discover what adventures await.
Tom: My thanks go out to Charlotte for sharing her wonderful story! We’d both love to know what you think of her decision and whether you think her story will help you overcome your own indecision. Share with us in the comments section below!
Photo Credit: Emma Davenport, Big Bouquet Photography