Thursday Jul 17 2008
Last week I began a new job. In itself, this is not remarkable; people change jobs as a regular occurrence, whether as a result of individual initiative or organizational circumstance. For me, this latest career move serves as a stimulus to reflect on my commitments and priorities and how these evolve over time.
Early in my career, I was energetic, curious and ambitious. I had student debts to pay, a family to support, and the aspiration of home ownership. At the same time, I recall being very clear that the work needed to be meaningful to me and my sense of values. While my decision criteria may not have been very well defined or systematic in those days, in retrospect, the priorities that shaped the choices I made were clear.
After more than a decade in public sector work in Ottawa, most of my early career goals had been met: our family was settled in a home of our own, we were active in church and community life, my career was progressing and secure. Then, at 33, I chose to resign from the public service to pursue new priorities—a geographic move, private sector experience, new challenges and possibilities for me and my family.
Learning continued and even accelerated in the years that followed. While I may have identified less with the overall mission of my employer, I was totally immersed in making the company effective through business education, organizational development, and leadership excellence. As well, there were opportunities to work on international projects and to collaborate with some of the top consultants and academics in the world. This phase of my career fostered a deepening of my sense of who I was as a professional and as a person.
The next major career shift came when I was decided to pursue further graduate studies, a possibility that appeared following a major corporate downsizing. Logistically this required another geographic move, this time to Montreal, and senior level appointments that provided both great learning experiences and financial stability during my doctoral studies. By this time, our children were pursuing their own university educations and setting out on their own. Meanwhile, my graying hair suggested there might actually be some wisdom in the making.
With my Ph.D. completed and our nest empty, my wife and I decided to come home and start another career phase focused on consulting, service and family. In practice, this became another period of new experience, possibilities and learning—without the structure of a normal employment relationship. For the first time in my career, my daily schedule was unconstrained by organizational rhythms and processes. The freedom was delightful, the possibilities endless, and my productivity expanded to include home renovations completed and kilometers cycled.
So back to this latest change. I have accepted a full time developmental role in a graduate school of business. The work will be new to me, yet will draw on my professional background in diverse corporate settings and my academic experience. This is a great move—one that offers a significant challenge and the chance to contribute to important work in an organization that matches my core values. While many people I speak with seem shocked that I would commit to a full-time position after nearly a decade of relative leisure in a quasi-phased retirement, for me this is the chance to wake up every morning with a reason to get out of bed, to make a meaningful difference as part of a larger commitment by an organization to add value beyond individual personal interests and pursuits.
Simply put, work adds meaning to my life just as I aspire to add life to my work.