They Don’t Put Earrings on the Crash Test Dummies: Why I Left My Job

I made a life-changing decision last week. It started when we took our host daughter to Disney World. At first, she wasn’t sure why we would take a teenager to an attraction “for little kids.” But asimg_3615 soon as we raced to our first FastPass+ at the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train (thanks, Tara!), she internalized the magic. After each micro-experience, the magic poured out of her and became contagious.

I’d boarded the plane with my own challenges. In every pocket and zipped compartment, I carried small sources of stress. None was big enough to make an impact on its own, but all together they weighed me down. The more I struggled to discard them, the more they stuck. But I couldn’t manage to call them out by name. They’d been growing for weeks. I was working to unwind, but if you have to work at it, it doesn’t quite happen.

Disney Tip: Always Recognize the Waiter as a Resource
During our lunch at Yak and Yeti (in my favorite park), we asked our waiter, Nicholas, what he thought we should see or do. He had an interesting perspective, with generations of Disney employees in his family. He suggested the Rock ’n’ Roller coaster, and then told a story that resonated with me.

When the ride first opened, Disney invited employees and their family members to try it first. No one said, “The ride’s too fast.” But a few people lost earrings. By slowing down the ride just a little, they allowed people to rock out and keep their jewelry. I don’t know this for a fact, but my hunch is they don’t put earrings on the test dummies.

Echoes from Childhood Inspired Me to Resign
img_4158Disney’s dedication to the best possible experience is palpable. Everywhere you look there is evidence of Disney’s attention to detail. They have hidden it in every corner. Surrounded by delight, I remembered what it felt like to be a child. And there’s a major theme that has followed me from early childhood: writing. I’ve always been able to tell a story, to put ideas to words. As I got older, I learned how to grow words and ideas into value.

When I rebranded this website, I made it all about writing. My plan was to gather my samples and apply for jobs with a focus on strategic communications. “There’s no rush,” I told myself. I reminded myself, “I have a job many people would want, with a solid salary and people I adore.” This is just as true today as it was two weeks ago. However, it’s clear that what I really want is to get back into creative work. I remembered what it was like for work to feel like a theme park. I’ve made it urgent. There is a reason to hurry—to do what I love.

After leaving Disney World, I resigned from my job. I’m getting back to my roots: writing and strategic communications.

How I Got Here
I became a project manager after working as a writer for over a year, because it was the only way to join the family. I was a regularly-requested contractor for a small company of shining stars, people whose joy and expertise drew me to them and spilled out into my work. The end of each project came with sharp anticipation, holding my breath until the request for the next one came.

My favorite part of each project was interviewing the subject matter expert (SME) of our clients. These calls involved walking into a meeting “cold.” I’d never met these people before and usually knew very little about their industry. By the end of the call, I almost always had what I needed to motivate and influence their audience. Sometimes I was able to help the client articulate what new behavior they needed. Cultivating strategic insights gives me an energy that writing alone does not. But getting to create content off these insights made work feel like my own professional amusement park.

Why I Changed Direction
When I got hired as a project manager, it was the ultimate positive feedback. I felt relief that I didn’t have to guess about when my next piece of work for this company was coming. As a staff member, my place in the company solidified. We’d made a commitment to each other and now I could focus completely on the work itself, even if the work was different. As a project manager, I thought, I would be still be working with big ideas and strategic stories; I would also have the added joy of nurturing client relationships.

This was true—at the start of projects. After the content phase was over, the strategy and audience insights took a back seat to production. And while I continued to work hard for every client, my spark dimmed and diminished as the project moved from the big ideas to the tiny details. And while I believe in details (they make your project sing), I don’t love to manage them in a vacuum. I felt separated from the ideas and relationships I found so energizing at the start of my projects. Relationship building was a smaller part of my job than I’d envisioned. But I learned a ton, and I thrive on learning. And I got to immerse myself in the team of shining stars. So it’s been worth it.

The Silent Feedback I Learned to Hear
Each piece of stress that stowed away to Disney World was a clue. They all told me that when I took my new job, I left behind the best parts of my old job. I didn’t have anything as obvious as an earring flying away. The feedback I’ve finally heard was silent. It was the subtle tapering of joy across the project continuum. It came in small pangs of envy as I assigned work to writers and limited myself to introductions on our content calls. It came when I told a design survey the best thing I’d made were writing contributions to courses that are now two years old.

When I resigned, I could see that instead of walking away from something special, I was walking to something even better. Because of the past two years, I have evolved into a writer that has keen empathy for both project managers and clients. I have a new hunger for data I didn’t have two years ago. I can see now that I view everything through the lens of relationships. After my resignation, though I hated to leave people I love and admire, the stress fell away, like marbles slipping out of a hole in my pocket.

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