My Layoff Anniversary

I know that Wednesdays are my normal Reflections on Leadership day but not this week. Today I am going to post a special edition of my blog saluting a milestone day in my life. Not to worry though because I will finish my How Not to Be a Jerk series (see part 1 & part 2) tomorrow.

One year ago today I was in the middle of a personal transformation with my weight loss journey and that is when my life took another unexpected turn. The result was that I turned was already a big transformation into a truly life-changing experience.

One year later I wanted to share how my life has changed.

My Tuesday surprise…

“We are making some organizational changes today and, unfortunately, you are one of the people who is impacted. We are eliminating your position effective immediately.”

That is how the meeting started on that cold Tuesday morning at the end of January. Then, in a matter of minutes, my ten years at my company was done. We finished the paperwork and I was walked out by my HR partner leaving the building for the last time.

It would have been pretty easy to be angry, sad and hurt at that moment — but I wasn’t!

My company had simply made a difficult, financially-driven business decision. They needed to eliminate several positions to match the size of the staff with the available budget. Plus they treated me very fairly on the way out. I was grateful for my HR partner of many years who had to deliver difficult news and did so in an empathetic and respectful manner.

It was the best possible execution of a crappy situation.

My surprise reaction…

As I said I wasn’t angry, sad or hurt, my reaction was a little more unusual …. I was excited and almost a little giddy! 

I was ready to move on and the universe knew that. 

I was no longer satisfied with my job and was ready for a new challenge. I was being given a rare opportunity to pause after ten years in stressful roles at the same company (on top of 10 years of continuous post-college employment before then) and take a breath. I had a few months to explore, reflect, de-stress and consider the next chapter in my career. 

Put simply I was at a turning point and was given the gift of time!

Now what?

So I had some time on my hands and needed to decide how I wanted to manage it.

I knew that I didn’t want to panic and immediately jump right into a new job. While I wanted to look for a job I wanted to choose wisely and look for something that was perfect for me, no compromises. But I also had other things that I wanted to do separate from just looking for work.

I decided to take some time and give myself a sabbatical – though I didn’t initially figure out that was what I was doing or immediately start using that term.

If you don’t know what a sabbatical is here is one particularly relevant definition I found online: a sabbatical usually refers to a full-time employee’s extended leave or career pause of at least two months. In general, employees use it to complete some body of work, such as research or writing. Sabbatical comes from the word Sabbath, which literally means “rest.”

What were my goals?

Like any other aspect of my life I wanted to se some goals for this time away. Some of the things I thought that I wanted to accomplish during my sabbatical included:

  1. What next: Get closure from the old job and figure out what I wanted to do as my next chapter.
  2. Job hunting: this was definitely still a priority because a sabbatical can’t last forever.
  3. Network: related to my job hunt but really bigger than that I wanted to reconnect with people I hadn’t talked to in a while.
  4. Hit my goal: I wanted to finish my weight loss journey. I was already down about 80 pounds versus my goal of 100 so I wanted to finish my “over 100 in under a year” journey.
  5. Run: Train for my first 5k.
  6. Write: Write my book to tell the story about my weight loss and how I did it.
  7. Live: I wanted to take some time and just live life without having a tight schedule every single day.

I say all of that but I was also completely ready to jump right into a new job if the perfect thing fell into my lap. Unfortunately I had no idea what the perfect thing was so that was going to be unlikely!

What did I do?

So I shared the goals that I built for my sabbatical and now I want to share what I did and how I spent my days over the nearly 5 months I had off. Most importantly there was not a single day where I wasn’t active and focused on my goals. This was not a vacation this was a gift of time that I didn’t want to squander away!

  • Wake up early. Just because I wasn’t going into an office didn’t mean that I let myself sleep in every day. I set my alarm every night and got up early every morning. I had things to do!
  • Daily workout. Nearly every day I would start at the gym with a workout. These workouts ranged from a quick treadmill session to multiple hour full body sessions.
  • Tending to business. Each day I would spend time sending and reading emails from my network, looking at open positions and tracking progress against my project plan. Yes, I created a project plan for my sabbatical.
  • Meeting with people. I tried to schedule a breakfast, coffee, lunch or drinks with somebody nearly every day. I continued to interface with people from my network daily. I even continued the mentoring relationships I had with people and helped people wherever I could.
  • Writing. Almost every day I would write. I wrote my book. I relaunched my Reflections on Leadership series. I blogged and shared my expertise everywhere I could.
  • Walk, run, explore. Many days I would spend time walking or running around the streets of Columbus and at our metro parks. I got fresh air and exercise and kept moving.
  • Sought knowledge & inspiration. I would find ways daily to soak up more knowledge and/or to find sources of inspiration. Reading, podcasts, art, music, journaling and much more. I even went to the Columbus Startup Week conference to learn about how to start and grow a business. I wanted to grow my brain and shrink my body through this time.
  • Cooking and tending to the house. I would often cook lunches and dinners and take care of housework because I wanted to make sure I was doing my part at home especially because I wasn’t working and my wife was.

This was a busy time in my life and, for the first time ever, I was busy with things that were important to me and were my priorities.

What did I accomplish?

All of this focused effort and keeping myself busy every day resulted in lots of accomplishments during this time. I am pretty proud of everything I was able to do.

  • Got a new job. Let’s start with and important fact that may be pretty obvious – I got a new job. I joined a consulting firm in a project working for the State of Ohio. This project lets me use my knowledge, experiences and skills to help drive innovation for a project management office. I get to help our government accomplish big goals in new ways.
  • Achieved my weight loss goal. On March 13 I stepped on the scale and it told me that I had achieved my 100-pound weight loss goal. That was an amazing moment! It meant that I not only achieved a personal BHAG (big hairy audacious goal) but I did it in only 75% of the very aggressive timeline that I gave myself at the beginning. But I did NOT stop there, I continued focusing on my weight loss and was down a total of 117 pounds at the end of my sabbatical. Plus I had started working with a personal trainer halfway through this time and started seeing myself change shape and improve my abilities.
  • Became a runner. When I started my sabbatical I was beginning to mix a bit of running into my walking but I would never have referred to myself as a runner. By the end of my sabbatical that had all changed. I was a runner and could comfortably complete a 5k run and more. I was ready to run in my first organized 5k which was the basis for the next accomplishment.
  • Hosted a 5k. I mentioned that I wanted run my first 5k. After becoming a runner and training I decided to approach my first 5k the way I approached the rest of my journey – I did it my way. So, the weekend after returning to work, I hosted and ran in the Operation Melt First Time 5. About 15 people participated in this race which was a fundraiser which raised about $650 for Central Community House.
  • Launched Operation Melt. I had already started OperationMelt.com and a blog when my sabbatical had started but it was pretty limited. During my sabbatical I really established my blog and associated social media channels. I built followers and really began engaging with others to help them achieve their goals.
  • Launched Reflections on Leadership. In my old job I sent a weekly email to my team called “Reflections” that would share my ah-has from the prior week. As I was nearing the final days of my job I had stopped producing these emails. During my sabbatical I relaunched this as a public series about my reflections on good and bad leaders. I have produced an issue weekly ever since.
  • Wrote a book. Once I hit my 100 pounds lost goal I wrote my book about my journey. The goal of the book is to tell my story, share my process, share my lessons learned and help other people experience the same success. The book just finished the editing process and needs just one more chapter to wrap up since my weight loss journey is done. Then I need some help with layout and production and then I will launch!
  • Explored the city on foot. Almost every day I spent time walking and running around the city and explored nearly every inch of the inner city area by foot. In total I walked and ran 863 miles over this time. Some days I covered more than 10 miles!
  • Rekindled relationships. I rekindled relationships with many people in my network who I hadn’t talked to in a very long time.
  • Supported friends going through struggles. I am happy to say that I was also there for several friends who were going through work and personal struggles during this time. I like to think that I made it a little easier for these friends to succeed.

In short I became a runner, an athlete, healthy, a superhero, a writer, a consultant and a better friend, a blogger and much more during my sabbatical. I don’t know many other people who can say that they accomplished all of this in just over 4 months. I am super happy with what I was able to accomplish during this time.

But there is one more thing…

I made a new friend!

During this time I had one other big accomplishment – I made a new friend. I made friends with somebody who I hadn’t been friends with for a while and had become kind of estranged from over the years.

I became friends with me!

I learned a lot about myself during my sabbatical. Most of all I learned that I am pretty amazing and I have lots to offer this world. I learned that I have superpowers the primary of which is my ability to achieve goals.

As a manager I used to say that getting let go from a job can be the best thing that ever happened to them. I mostly believed this but I never really thought it would happen that way for me – my job was too big a part of my identity. But that all changed over the nearly 5 months I spent hanging out with myself.

I can honestly say that getting laid off and spending time on this life changing sabbatical was one of the best things that ever happened to me.

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