Diane Lee is redefining success in this essay.

On status, stuff and success

At the beginning of July—in a couple of month’s time—I return to my old job in my old department and I go back to my old salary, which is around $20,000 per year less than what I’m currently earning. I took a leave of absence, sabbatical, diversion—call it what you will—for three and a half years, and I left because I was heartily disheartened by a restructure that didn’t work in my favour. I was deeply unhappy. I inherited a manager that I couldn’t get along with (and who I felt didn’t value me and was–how shall I put it?–difficult, to say the least), a team that I had nothing in common with (who are these people?) and a job that was not the one I applied for (you want me to do what? For the love of God… why?). I tolerated six months of working hell (my interpretation) before I hightailed it out of there to my current department where, for the most part—and professional development and leadership issues aside—I have been relatively happy.

The thing is I don’t have to go back to my old department. I could have elected to stay in this department and networked my butt off to find another position at the same salary. I could have applied for other roles in government at my current salary (and I have half-heartedly interviewed for a couple but haven’t been successful but also haven’t really cared). I could easily apply for other roles outside government—and I did briefly look at the universities, local government and not-for-profits. I could even move into the private sector if I wanted to. But I don’t. I don’t want any of it. And I can’t be bothered with the bullshit recruitment process that is applying for a job. The thing is I’m happy to go back because–drop in salary notwithstanding–I’m not going back to my old job in my old department because it’s changed. My job, the department and most of all, me.

I could easily apply for other roles outside government—and I did briefly look at the universities, local government and not-for-profits. I could even move into the private sector if I wanted to. But I don’t. I don’t want any of it.

My old department is going through a lot of change, mostly as a result of budget cuts (aka savings strategies in government speak). More restructures, more staff leaving, more organisational unrest. My reporting line has changed, so I return to neither my old manager (you know, the one who made my life a working hell) nor to my old job. I return to a job, but I don’t know what it is. It’s in Learning and Development somewhere. But it’s a job, and it will pay the bills. And to be honest, that’s all I want from a job these days. I have no interest in the pursuit of status and success as defined by the any organisation for which I work. Even I define it quite differently than I did three and half years ago, when I left.

Back then, I wanted the organisational acclaim that came with a higher salary and a position further up the corporate ladder. I wanted the respect and recognition—from the organisation and my colleagues and peers and managers—that came with the knowledge I was good at my job and clever and worthy of being picked to work on special projects. That I was important and valuable and necessary to the functioning of the organisation. In three and a half years, I can see that I was seeking external validation based on a mistaken sense of entitlement, earned perhaps from my university education and academic ability. I was part of the machine. I subscribed to the You Can Do Anything and Be Anything and Have Everything school of thought. Except I couldn’t. And if I examined the Anything and the Everything, I didn’t really want it.

Enter minimalism and recalibration of what’s important.

When I returned from Europe in 2013, I had been living out of a suitcase for close to eight weeks. What’s more, I had survived—quite nicely, thank you very much—on not very much. A few changes of clothes, a couple of pairs of shoes, minimal make up items. So when I returned home, I surveyed my home unit from my vantage point of a jet lagged haze and was dismayed to see how much stuff I had accumulated in the 15 years I’d been living there. And some of that stuff—actually, quite a lot of it—was neither beautiful nor functional nor necessary. This stuff was taking up space. I had become cluttered. So I embarked on a decluttering project in 2014, and divested myself of books, bookshelves, clothes that didn’t fit and/or I no longer wore, shoes that were uncomfortable and unstylish and hardly worn, useless kitchen items and out-of-date bathroom crap. No room was immune (except for my daughter’s room… if she wanted to live in a cluttered room, that was her business). I cleaned up my garden, which was also in dire need of some tender, loving care. I got rid of all the shopping apps on my iPhone because I didn’t want to buy any more stuff. I vowed to make future purchases based on an identified need rather than an impulsive want.

I had, essentially, bowed out of the corporate rat race and the accompanying mindless pursuit of external validation. I now defined my own success.

By refraining from buying stuff, I have freed up more of my salary, which has allowed me to work less. My mortgage was already quite small, and I had no credit card debt or car loan, so I’ve been able to cut my working hours to three days per week. At the same time as I cut my working hours, I ventured into independent (self-publishing). Coincidence? I think not. I now had freed up time to work on my writing and publishing and I was the happiest I’d been in a long time. I was working creatively on stuff that I wanted to work on, and fulfilling a lifelong dream of being a published author and potential digital nomad. I had, essentially, bowed out of the corporate rat race and the accompanying mindless pursuit of external validation. I now defined my own success. I had, as Seth Godin likes to say, picked myself. And I was embracing the minimalist philosophy. Less is, in fact, more. Less is freedom.

So back to my returning to my old job in my old department. I see it a little differently now. I see it as a way to pay the bills and keep the wolf from the door and allow me to pursue my writing and my publishing without having to worry about ending up homeless. I am not someone who would thrive creatively in the role of the struggling artist. I like my creature comforts. I like air conditioning and gas heating and lovely food and good TV and my tablet and my iPhone. I have made it clear to my new manager that I do not want to work full-time. While working only three days (which I did when I returned from India in March this year) has been a luxury, it won’t be sustainable on the income I’m going back to. Four days, though: four days is doable, because I still want to be able to bolster up to my travel fund (I’m planning a trip to Europe in 2016).

I am now approaching my paid employment like I do men and relationships: I’m not actively looking. I have decided that I won’t be pursuing advancement in my job, although if interesting opportunities rear their pretty heads, who am I to knock them back? If they don’t, though, that’s ok. At this point in time, my own creative pursuits are all the advancement opportunities I need. Writing and publishing is the main event and my life’s ambition, as far as I’m concerned. After all, there’s nothing more gratifying and satisfying and humbling and wonderful than being a published author and having someone read your work and say: What you wrote really resonated with me. What you wrote makes me feel not so alone. What you wrote helped me examine my own life. What you wrote made me cry, it was so beautiful. I love the way you write.

That’s success.


Did this post resonate with you?

Collection 4: Working It Out of the Love & Other Brave Acts (Essays on Courage for Fearless and Fabulous Living) series is all about work, workplaces and organisational culture.If you liked this post, then you’ll love my collection of essays about work.

Part memoir, part analysis of workplace culture, I consider the world of work and the definition of career success. And anyone who has found themselves disillusioned about the progress of their career—and that’s a lot of us!—will relate to this book.

Grab your copy of Collection 4: Working is Out  from the Amazon Kindle Store for .99c.

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