Last October, with the unwavering support and encouragement of my teammates at Actionable, I was fortunate enough to do something that many dream of but very few actually do: I put my job on hold for six months, packed a suitcase, and traveled around the world. Realizing this dream was rewarding in so many ways, many of them probably obvious, but it also had a significant and unexpected impact on how I feel about my job. Read on and I’ll explain.
Stepping back from anything—a dilemma, a relationship, or yes, even a job—is really valuable. More than anything, it provides a lot of clarity and fresh perspective.
It’s why writers take a break from their work and come back to it later with fresh eyes. The typos, which weren’t immediately apparent—despite reading it over a gazillion times—suddenly stick out like a sore thumb, and that sentence you were agonizing over finally comes together. When you’re too entrenched in something, you can’t see the forest for the trees.
It’s no different with a job, even if it’s one that you love as much as I do. I’m passionate about the work my colleagues and I do on a daily basis, and am proud that it’s changing the modern workplace for the better. However, even as engaged as I am, stepping away for six months illuminated for me not only what I love about what I do—working with a group of talented individuals who are passionate about learning, and helping authors spread their ideas to our amazing community of voracious business book lovers—but also the aspects of my job I’m not so keen on (I plead the fifth on that score). This is something that I was asked to be conscious of while I was gone, and I’m really grateful that I was because it was really powerful (incidentally, you’ll be surprised what kind of an aha! moment you can have gazing up at the formidable Sphinx).
The time away really showed me how I can provide the most value to this special organization, and continue to contribute to the best of my ability.
I left at a unique juncture in our organization’s history. We had recently split Actionable into four different websites—Actionable, Consultants, Conversations, and Books, the latter being my domain. Up until then we had been experiencing something akin to an identity crisis, so this change was a long time coming. Returning to my role as Managing Editor in April really felt like the beginning of a new chapter for me, and for Actionable Books. The time and distance allowed the ideas that had been percolating for some time to really take shape in my mind. And the plans that had been put on the back-burner for so long were now returned to with fresh inspiration. I resumed my job with new determination, feeling enthusiastic and ready to take Actionable Books to the next level. I’m excited for you to see the changes as they unfold over the coming months. I think you’re really going to enjoy them.
There were, I’m afraid to say, some downsides to putting my job on hold, albeit temporary ones. Full disclosure: I don’t cope well with change, at least not at first. Actionable, as a company and as a team, is evolving rapidly. While Actionable continues to embody and live by the unique values that it has held from day one (even when those values weren’t as clearly defined as they are now), something felt a little different upon my return. After some reflection, I attribute this to the team growing dramatically while I was gone. This wasn’t unexpected—I knew we’d be scaling up drastically during those six months, but it was still disconcerting and a little intimidating. I returned to a sea of new faces that I didn’t recognize, and a number of titles and roles that didn’t exist when I left.
This manifested itself in different ways, from the innocuous (not knowing who to go to for something or other when there was suddenly so many faces to choose from) to the more serious—feeling for a time like I didn’t quite know my place anymore.
The rapid growth of the team had meant that out of necessity it had broken off into smaller subsets, and each one has its own unique dynamic which I had to learn to navigate as if I was a brand new team member. While everyone was extremely gracious in welcoming me back, it took some getting used to. I felt like the new kid on the block (indeed, I even went through new employee training—although that didn’t extend to receiving the swanky new employee gift box! No really, I’m not bitter). Now that I’ve had a chance to get to know these amazing new additions to the team, I’m happy to say that I feel a part of this new dynamic.
So, how can you step back to ensure that you’re doing work that really matters to you? Here are three ways:
Take a Vacation
While not everyone has the luxury of putting their job on hold for six months like I did, there are other, less drastic ways to take a step back and gain some clarity. You know that vacation time that’s been piling up? Use it! Even a week or two away can make all the difference and help you gain a fresh perspective on your job and the value that you add to your organization. You’ll also come back feeling revitalized and ready to take on the world. You don’t have to travel to some exotic locale—a staycation can be just as elucidating. Just make sure that you really unplug from work, so that you can benefit from a fresh perspective.
Engage in Constant Dialogue
This may sound simple, but chances are you’re not doing it. Having an honest and transparent dialogue with your boss about your role and your evolution in it is paramount to your success and happiness. Sometimes, even in a job we love, we veer from the path that brings purpose and fulfillment to our lives. Any leader that’s worth their salt will want to do everything in their power to help you stay on course. This isn’t a conversation that you have once and then abandon. It needs to be returned to regularly.
Clarify Your Passion
If you require clarity around what it is you’re passionate about in the workplace, look no further than what you’re drawn to in your down time. What’s that one thing that gets you in a state of flow, where the minutes (or hours) seem to pass by unnoticed? For instance, maybe you have a flair for writing and have been working tirelessly on a novel in your spare time. Work with your boss to find a way for you to implement this passion for writing in your day-to-day and I promise you that work will feel less like, well, work.
Looking at anything, especially your career, with a fresh pair of eyes is important to staying true to yourself and your journey. Fortunately, you don’t have to travel to the ends of the earth to gain a fresh perspective on the work that matters to you and your unique place in the organization that you belong to.