Jumping Off the Corporate Ladder Was the Best Decision

shadow of a ladder against a bright sandy background

Jumping off the corporate ladder and making drastic changes to where I focus my energy was a decision I didn’t make intellectually so much as feel. It was terrifying, and I thought that if I jumped off and couldn’t “make it” doing something else, I’d fail. What has happened is something entirely different.

Basically, I was fed the message that I would choose a career, steadily climb the corporate ladder, and have stability, which would set me up to be happy and fulfilled.

Sound familiar?

The problem with that messaging, is it doesn’t leave any room for questioning and exploring. Back in my day, rotation programs weren’t a thing, and even then, if I had access to a rotation program, it would show me different roles I could play under the umbrella of civil engineer.

Again, not a whole lot of room for exploring. 

Sure, I suppose that’s what college was for, but I went to an engineering school, and because of the ingrained conditioning of pleasing my parents, I wasn’t about to switch schools just because I wanted to explore. That was ludicrous! In my upbringing, the message was to choose a major and stick with it rather than explore what may be a better fit. 

When burnout hit 20 years into my career, I could no longer deny what had been eating me from the inside out for decades. I needed to explore something different. And it needed to start immediately.

It felt late to begin this inquiry; I was 43 years old, married, with two young children in preschool and elementary school. Days were packed with multiple responsibilities pulling in all directions. Wasn’t this phase of life supposed to be when I was hitting my stride career-wise? According to all familial and Gen-X messaging, I had “it all” and could “do it all.” I was putting in the work to lean in, and I fell on my face instead.

Here’s the thing: making the move I made was necessary for my mental health and my physical well-being. Five years after the burnout episode, it was my best move ever.

Five years is a blip in a career. In a 30-year career, it’s 15%. Using fifteen percent of my career to heal from burnout, to do the intense inner work that an awakening demands, and to come out the other side feeling alive and grounded in who I am is no time at all. The alternative was to plod along unhappy, unfulfilled, and blaming myself non-stop for my unhappiness. That hardly makes for a good life.

My family agrees. When I have moments of doubt, my husband reminds me I’m happier than he’s ever seen. The energy in my house has calmed considerably since I’ve worked on my mental health. I have connected and close relationships with my kids, and I’ve learned to follow their leads regarding their interests and strengths.

I haven’t lost my skillset as an engineer, and I’ve gained a host of new leadership skills by stepping back and letting go of control. I’ve learned to use intuition rather than logic my way through every decision. In using intuition, decisions come easier, and I’m able to discern when I’m taking on someone else’s “stuff.” These aren’t skills learned in a corporate classroom setting that can be measured in metrics; they are skills steeped in *gasp* emotions!

You may not be able to jump off the corporate ladder. Everyone is different, and my experiences come with a certain amount of privilege. I’m not here to say my way is the right way; it’s not. It’s one way. People don’t acknowledge that enough. 

As a coach, I’m here to support my clients in finding their way. Finding their way means listening deeply to what their goals and desires are, creating a space where following intuition can be practiced, and asking the right questions to pique an inquiry.


Photo by Nick Fewings on Unsplash


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