You worked steadfastly to move up the career ladder and earned that leadership position. So, is it crazy to switch career paths and take a position that requires less of you? Not at all. Some people live to work, others work to live, right? Our own personal truth may be somewhere in the middle. Only you can truly know the importance of your financial obligations, how much you have left in the tank, as well as the value of your available time and energy.
The thing is, a lot of people already know the answer that’s right for them. Why not hang up that leadership role and find something that will offer a greater sense of personal and professional satisfaction? Often, the only thing stopping them is the logistical steps and the soft landing that ensures they can change their job without completely upending their life. These three stories, told by women who have been there and done that, provide invaluable advice and inspiration for anyone sizing up the decision to downsize their career.
The Next Step Doesn’t Have to be the Final Step
Of Bethany Walmsley’s 30-year career, more than 20 years were in healthcare where she took on senior leadership roles. Her most recent role was as executive director for a non-profit in Oregon that works on improving patient safety—a job she loved. But when her husband heard about an opening for a promotion in Michigan, she saw an opportunity. “Frankly, I reached a point where I really felt that I could use some time and space away from ‘running on the treadmill’ 24/7,” Walmsley says. “I spent 30-plus years working full-time—many of them in high-stress positions, leading teams, managing personnel, and also in the realm of healthcare where emotions can run really high. So, it was an opportunity to not only support my husband in a potential promotion but also a chance for me to collect myself and spend some very pointed time decompressing.”
Walmsley and her husband moved to Michigan and, because they were financially secure with their savings along with her husband’s income, she made the decision to retire. Or so she thought. “What you find when you go through this is that, even though you have these very thoughtful ideas about what you want to do, because you’re so used to going at a very high pace and interacting with lots of other people, I literally, for the first six months, I probably never sat down all day long every single day,” she recalls. She planted a garden—something she never had an opportunity to do before. She painted all the walls in their new home, reorganized all their belongings and concentrated on her favorite hobby—quilting—which led her to a part-time job at a local fabric shop. “I just channeled all my energy into other things,” she says.
But something was missing. “As much as I enjoyed having other interests and being able to have some time to work on some of those things, there was a key thing missing for me and I really wanted to get back to it,” she says. Walmsley did a lot of soul-searching and reflection, which made her appreciate the moments in her career where she impacted people’s live, albeit indirectly. “At the end of the day, I missed what I do,” she says. After thoughtful introspection, Walmsley decided to be true to her heart and return to the healthcare arena where she is currently looking into employment in the Pacific Northwest where she and her husband feel most at home.
Blessings in Disguise are Great, but They’re Not Enough
Four years ago, when Shazzy Tapias slipped on black ice on her driveway and suffered a serious concussion she had already begun to question how much longer she could be a product manager for consumer electronics. “I knew within two to three months after I started that job that I couldn’t do it more than two or three years.” It was obvious when she said she was working from home that it wasn’t about flex scheduling. “Two or three nights a week, I’d be on the phone with China. To be better than your counterparts and competition in that job, you have to. And Sunday night is Monday morning in China so I didn’t get my Sundays, either.”
Her ex-husband was also in product management, and their careers had them moving on a regular basis. “I moved seven times in three years…San Francisco, Sacramento, Salt Lake City, Hood River, OR, Portland, OR, Redondo Beach, and back to Salt Lake City. Product managers and designers have pretty good salaries. We bought a house. We had fancy cars. We went on nice vacations. Outsiders looking in thought we had everything, but we never had any time together. His company would fly him to China, Vietnam, the Philippines. Then I would have to fly to China at a different time. They wanted us to move there, but we weren’t about to move out to Asia. We were constantly stressed. Of course it depends on the company, but product management jobs aren’t really family-friendly. ”
It took her six months to recover from the head injury. She couldn’t watch TV or look at a computer screen. She couldn’t do much of anything. Yet, Tapias calls it a blessing in disguise. It gave her the time she needed to realize the life she had been living wasn’t working. “I wasn’t excited. It was taking me away from my core being. That surface life, that keeping up with the Joneses, I was miserable with my ex. I found myself stuck. Of all the psychological, emotional, and physical therapy I had, yoga was the best for my recovery. Yoga is kind of a mirroring of oneself. I could tell I wasn’t in alignment. I also spent a lot of time just thinking of ideas.” Even still, it wasn’t a straight line to her new career. Her marriage fell apart about a year after her recovery. Needing to support herself, she went back to product management, and the same thing happened. She got a fancy apartment because she could afford it again, but still felt empty inside. “I tried to compartmentalize my life. This is my life at work. This is my life at home. This is my life at yoga, but I wasn’t at peace.”
After almost 2 years at the new job, she got laid-off and, rather than fight or negotiate, she welcomed the decision and immediately started setting new intentions. More than just her career, she downsized her life, starting with her apartment and lifestyle habits. She started exploring those areas in her life that had always made her happy, especially yoga. She started her teacher training as a yoga instructor. It was then that she met and started a relationship with Music and Yoga Instructor James Hardy. Together, they founded One Love Yoga—an inclusive yoga lifestyle brand that will offer eco-friendly yoga apparel and accessories, as well as host community events, classes, and retreats. You can also find more insights and more about Tapias’s personal story on her YouTube channel that offers insights into “relationships, spirituality, healthy living, and just truth-seeking and truth-speaking.”
Tapias also reminds us that it’s not just the amount of stress that determines job satisfaction. It’s also the nature of the stress. One Love Yoga has made her life busy, busy, busy again, but this time she’s working for herself and accountable to herself. And she never sees herself going back to seeking “the raise, the house, the things, and playing that game where you end up chaining yourself to those things. It’s been humbling, but it’s also kinda a big FU to society’s expectations. I took the plunge, and I’m the happiest I’ve ever been.”
It’s Not So Much Taking a Step Down as Taking a Step Back
If you like the company you work for but don’t want to continue on the same high-stress path, try looking within. After 22 years as a nurse in southwest Ohio, Sylvia Pickett realized that the stress and long hours of her nurse manager position were taking their toll. At the time, she was also working to help get a brand-new hospital facility up and running. With this in mind, the change she was looking for wasn’t about changing location. She explored the job opportunities at her hospital and was fortunate enough to transition to being a unit-based educator.
Here’s what she told us: “Realize that under the right circumstances you can successfully go from a salary to an hourly position within the same company. Think about the company where you currently work and who you can trust within that company to help you, whether it is by giving you a reference, giving you advice or exploring the options within the company without jeopardizing your current position.”
A good, high-paying leadership position isn’t easy to come by, so taking a step down on the career ladder can be scary. But if you’re unhappy, unmotivated or unhealthy (perhaps all of the above), a change might be what you need. Pickett emphasizes, “Do not look at this change as a failure but as a chance for your career/life to go in another direction. Making the decision to leave a job is difficult, it is even harder when you are ‘downsizing.’ It is a big revelation to realize that you are not ‘stuck,’ that not only can you do this, but you will do it. Stop looking at all the negatives and focus that energy on finding a new job. Come up with the plan, how much time to devote to finding a new position, who you know that can help (different people can help in different ways) and where to find job openings.”
She, too, found that downsizing your job takes planning and the right perspective. “Be realistic about what your finances are. What expenses can you eliminate or decrease? How much of a pay cut can you take and still be ‘OK’? Figure out as a salary employee what your hourly rate is considering the number of hours you work. You are on your way when you realize that your focus is not your current job, that you no longer have the ‘I am leaving no matter what’ mentality, but you have the ‘I have a plan and I will see it through to find the job that is right for me’ mentality.”
More Tips and Resources
- Relearn How to Apply and Interview for a Job: Don’t be intimated by the prospect of interviewing for a job that doesn’t quite fit your resume. Take a look at these tips from thebalance.com on how to apply for a job you may be overqualified for.
- Maybe All You Need is an Extended Break: You might also consider taking a leave of absence. You handled those 80-hour workweeks like a champ for years and built a sizable nest egg, and now you just need time to reboot, rejuvenate and reflect. Maybe you’re not dissatisfied with your career, so much as suffering from the long-term grind of the everyday rigors of the job. “Professional fatigue” is what a lot of people are calling it. There’s a decent chance your employer has heard of it, too. Companies like Adobe Systems and General Mills offer their employees sabbaticals after minimum years of service, according to FORTUNE magazine.
- Downsize with Storage: Sometimes scaling back can provide you a fresh outlook on life. When you feel bombarded with all the things that surround you, it can be suffocating. While you cut back your workload, try downsizing some of the belongings in your home. They hold personal significance (why else would you keep them around?), but they could be taking up valuable space that you could otherwise use to clear your mind. It’s also a great way to prepare for downsizing your living space as well. If it sounds like storage should be part of your plan, Closetbox has the perfect solution. We offer storage with pickup for about the same cost as traditional self-storage.