- Erin Hatzikostas is a former corporate CEO turned career coach, speaker, and podcast host. She is the founder and CEO of b Authentic inc.
- At age 42, she became the CEO of a large company – everything had fallen into place and was bustling. But she still found herself feeling bored. Within a year she retired and later started her own company.
- Leaving her high-paying job allowed her to find breathing room, and realize how much anxiety she had been shouldering. She was able to create, no longer chained to her inbox. And she met people she never would have encountered otherwise.
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On paper, everything about my career was amazing.
I’d become the CEO of a large company at the age of 42. In less than three years, I’d led a massive company turnaround. My job, which at first was one intense fire drill after another, had settled down. The company’s reputation was high, and my personal reputation was even higher.
Everything in my brain said, “Enjoy this time. You earned it!”
But everything in my gut said, “I’m bored. What’s next?”
One day, while traveling for work, I struck up a conversation with a very nice woman in the Southwest cattle-call line. She told me that she too used to work in corporate America, but left many years ago to start her own HR company.
We sat together on the plane and I continued to pepper her with questions. I explained that I was in the process of figuring out what was next for me and thinking about leaving to start my own thing (what it was being completely TBD at the time).
“It would probably be really stupid of me to do right now. My career is soaring, and my reputation is at an all-time high,” I said.
She looked at me, and – without missing a beat – asked, “Who says this is the top?”
That one comment not only changed the course of my life – it has stuck with me to this day. Within the year, I retired from my high-paying, “sexy” job.
Too often, in both our careers and our personal lives, we settle for old-fashioned definitions of success. We chase the next promotion, the next home remodel, the perfect school for our child. We do it all without defining for ourselves what’s most important.
When I left my job (and that fat paycheck) I was looking to discover my own “top.” I never would have guessed that the metric I’d use to measure my success would be joy.
Today, I run my own company, b Authentic inc. It’s new. It’s a work in progress. And yet, it has taught me more about joy than I ever learned when I was making a ton of dough and rocking my big-girl job.
Here are three joyful things I have now that I could never have purchased, even with half a million dollars a year.
1. Breathing room
When I decided to retire at the age of 45, most people assumed it was to stay home with my children. That’s a common (and often false) assumption people make when a woman leaves a big job.
I didn’t want to stay home. I just wanted a little breathing room. Imagine driving the kids to school instead of high-tailing it out of the driveway to make a meeting! It sounded divine, and it is.
I’ve never considered myself an anxious person. I even felt sorry for friends who’d talk about struggling with anxiety regularly. Interestingly enough, now that I no longer run from meeting to meeting, fight traffic in a daily commute, or have customers and executives breathing down my back, I’m able to step back and recognize that I was, indeed, dealing with major anxiety. I just thought it was normal to feel like I was constantly late for something, or to worry that something really bad was going to go down at any moment.
News flash: It’s not normal.
Now that I’m on my own, I appreciate the breaths, both literal and figurative, that I’m able to take on a regular basis.
Of course, not everyone is in a position to strike out on their own tomorrow – but there are ways to take some control. Pay close attention to how you feel as you go about your day. Don’t let others take over your schedule, your priorities, or your life. It is possible to make an impact without being a nonstop buzzing bee. Remove guilt wherever possible. Take deep breaths often.
Dr. Marla Deibler provides great advice on how to handle feelings of anxiety at work. She provides 10 practical tips that will help you recognize and mitigate the stress you’re feeling.
2. Time to create
If you’re a successful corporate employee, you’re likely a creator. That is, you have many ideas, and you thrive when you’re able to execute them.
Unfortunately, you’re also likely to often be locked up in meetings or handcuffed to your email inbox. Even if you do find time to create, there are numerous other constraints: the legal and compliance team, technology limitations, and the like.
I equate this feeling to a recurring bad dream I used to have. In the dream, I’m trying to get to a basketball game I’m playing in, but I can’t even get my shoes on. It is indeed a nightmare to be filled with ideas and the energy to create and innovate, but not able to put them into action.
Now that I have my own business, I am able to create daily. (This article is just one small example.) I limit myself to no more than three meetings a day, so I have plenty of creative time to develop and execute big ideas. It’s liberating and rejuvenating.
I once had a mentor tell me, “It’s your job to find the time to focus on the big stuff.” What he said has always stuck with me. It’s not that it’s your job to focus on the big stuff. It’s first your job to find the time to focus on the big stuff. There is a lot of joy to be had in finding, or making, that time.
Striking out on my own has afforded me time to create, but it isn’t the only way to get it done.
Don’t play victim to your email inbox, superfluous meetings, and other people’s priorities. Be clear on the two or three things you need to accomplish to make a big impact. You might even want to consider following “Granny’s Rule,” based on the principle that kids must eat their veggies before eating the rest of their meal. Do the same for your work. Or better yet, do this to focus on the steps you need to take to help you get closer to your dream job or career.
3. Diverse and extraordinary relationships
Throughout my entire corporate career, I always had a strong network. Forming authentic connections with people was not just critical to my success, it was something I loved to do.
When I was contemplating leaving, I called up a former colleague that had experience across all fields I was considering – corporate, startups, and consulting. His advice was blunt:
“Don’t f—— do it. You’ll have to work with the most horrific people.”
I’m not sure who he ran into, but I’m happy to say that my experience has been the exact opposite.
I truly believe the universe rewards risk, and every time I’ve taken a risk – joined a group, reached out to someone – I have been rewarded with meeting the most extraordinary people. People I never would have come in contact with if I’d stayed in my corporate cocoon. I never would have met and collaborated with a former television producer, someone that worked in President Obama’s administration, and a fashion blogger if I had simply stayed in my safe zone.
Not sure how to take the first step? Try volunteering for a local nonprofit. Take a class at the local university, or invest in an online course/group/mastermind. The trick is to get away from traditional networking events where everyone you meet is swimming in the same pond.
Get uncomfortable. Invest. Take risks.
Find your own joy
If you’re reading all this thinking, “Hallelujah! Sign me up for it all!” I suggest writing what I call a future diary post – one that’s dated a year from now.
Write that diary post as if you just had the perfect day. What happened when you woke up? What did you smell, say, do? What did you do that day for work? Who did you see? Did you travel or stay close to home? What was your interaction with your family like?
Write this diary post in a way that feels only about 50% accurate. This is important because it ensures you don’t just chase what you think is possible. Instead, you start to define the impossible life. (Hint: It’s not at all impossible.)
I’ve written two of these future diary posts in the last two years. I’m now working on my third version, because most of the others have already come true. For example, one of my future diary posts said I’d recorded a podcast episode with my friend, Nicole, and then gone out for drinks. Today, we do cohost a podcast and we frequently drink while we’re recording. What can I say? Sometimes real life exceeds your plans!
Not only does this future-journaling technique help you define your own “top,” it helps bring that top your way through the power of manifestation. Manifestation is a slightly woo-woo technique that is taught by nearly every coach out there. Why? Because it works.
For me, this has meant that I no longer simply dream in my head. Instead, I now write what I call a “future diary,” which is a written account one year in the future as if I’m already living out my dream. This has made a profound impact on my life. I now spend every day taking simple steps that ensure I achieve the future that is so clearly laid out in front of me.
Once you know what your top is – what will bring you the most joy – start by taking one step toward it. And then another. And another.
I couldn’t be happier that I ditched the job that I thought looked good on paper and created my own, new version that doesn’t just look good – it feels fantastic.
Erin Hatzikostas is a former corporate CEO turned career coach, speaker, and podcast host. She is the founder and CEO of b Authentic inc. She’s on a mission to help people rise in their career, without compromise and is hell-bent on doing that by empowering more authenticity in the workplace. You can listen to her offbeat career podcast, b CAUSE with Erin & Nicole, or you can start pumping up your career with her free guide, “10 Simple Steps to a Rich Career.”