Know When to Walk Away

I grew up the youngest child of three girls. I had infinite trust in others because I was always taken care of and there was always someone to show me the way.

Living this way was a problem for two reasons:

1. Other people don’t always know what’s best for me

2. I didn’t learn how to make decisions on my own

It got really ugly when I was 24 when I took a position at a startup. The charming CEO offered me a higher salary to ensure the safety of the CEO’s Ferrari in the parking lot, schedule his haircuts, book his flights, order his friends’ sandwiches upon request, and automate the company’s accounting system using Excel macros (per the CEO’s recommendation).

I was completely under qualified for the position. I had no idea it was crazy to run a company’s accounting system on Excel macros and I didn’t know how to fix it. The CEO fired me over email and hired someone in my place. The replacement was three years older and had a masters in Accounting.

I was in shock. I prided myself on my work ethic and I never ever thought I’d get fired in my lifetime. Lazy people get fired. Ungrateful people get fired. I wasn’t either of those so how could this happen?

Here’s the thing. I should have known better. I should have walked away from the opportunity from the start.

I didn’t ask enough questions in the interview. I didn’t examine the job description. I didn’t think about what I’m good at and I didn’t take the time to see if the position included most of those things. I went into the experience blindly, assuming that the CEO knew what was best for me. He didn’t at all and that’s what screwed me over.

While that experience was incredibly painful and I had a massive anxiety attack that lead to years of therapy and a life of yoga, I feel wiser.

Recently at Marketo, my boss told me I wasn’t doing a good job. He wanted me to absorb new technologies like a dry sponge and he wanted me to learn as many languages (i.e. JavaScript, Solr) as possible in my evenings and on the weekends. Essentially, he wanted me to be a computer science aficionado and he wanted me to spend all my time in front of a computer. He said, “you’re doing a great job at the other 50% of your job which involves product management and design. But I can’t give you a full time job where you only use those skills.”

Here’s the thing:

I’m awesome at design. I’m also awesome at product management. I’m not awesome at coding. Additionally, I’m somewhat of a multifaceted person because after work and on the weekends, I go backpacking, play gigs with my afrobeat band, and write my own music.

I did something unusual.

I felt something in my gut, took a breath, and explained, “I hear what you’re saying and I totally believe in working on your weaknesses but I don’t think I’ll ever be as fast as you’d like me to be. I’m not wired that way.”

(pause)

“I think I should focus on product management and design because that’s what I’m good at and maybe you should find someone who’s more technical with a computer science background.”

I surprised myself as those words trickled out of my mouth. I knew I was right and he knew I was right too. He told me, “I’m totally supportive of you finding other opportunities and I’ll always be your mentor regardless of whether you’re here or somewhere else.” He wrote me a glowing recommendation a few weeks later.

So here is what is awesome about that situation:

1. I did not get fired.

2. My boss was grateful that I suggested a solution that would give him what he needs. He told me I could work there as long as I needed to to find a better fitting position.

3. I found an awesome new position where I could do everything I’m good at. I was so excited I jumped up and down.

I know it’s not always easy to walk away from an opportunity or to leave a position. Sometimes you won’t have the financial flexibility or you’re not high in demand. However, after being in a lot of different roles (admin, accounting, hr, email marketing, design), I’m finding that it’s really important to listen to my gut when it tells me I’m in the wrong place or that I’m headed in the wrong direction. While it can lead to uncertainty and anxiety, it can also lead to a ton of growth and self discovery.