Why I Fired Myself from IBM
A couple of days back, my good friend and fellow CAWW, Ayelet Baron put together a rather interesting, inspiring and very thought-provoking article over at The Huffington Post under the suggestive title “Sometimes, You Need to Fire Yourself? Don’t Wait to Be Picked”, where she comes to reflect on, perhaps, one of the main expectations from knowledge workers in today’s workplace: being validated and waiting to be picked up. And from there onwards she goes on to muse about the reality of what next when that doesn’t happen. Interestingly enough it’s a story I can relate to, specially, since I’m currently in transition myself trying to figure out the what next. Except that this time around I didn’t wait. I decided to shake off those golden handcuffs I put on myself back in the day and break free.
Most people may not know this, but back in June 2005, while I was still an IBM Netherlands employee, I got laid off and after having received the well-known compensation package I decided that I wasn’t ready, just yet, to leave the company. At the time I felt I had a lot more to offer and work on still. 9 years later, 4 different Lines of Business, and multiple other projects certainly would testify that it wasn’t my time just yet. So was it then my time, beginning of 2014, when I decided to quit IBM and move on? Maybe. I don’t know. Yet.
What I do know though is that it’s a decision that 3 months later, which is starting to look and feel like ages ago, I don’t regret a single bit. It wasn’t an overnight decision either. It’s been in my mind for about 2 years when I first started contemplating the thought of making a move and figure out what I would want to do next with my career. Somehow I felt The Call was near, so I may as well embrace it. As my good mate Rob Paterson wrote not long ago “Now the real adventure of your life begins”.
You can imagine how shocked and surprised (in equal terms) my boss was when I communicated to him, while I was still enjoying my holidays back in January, that February 3rd would be my last working day at the company after 17 years of work in there. We had to talk, he said. Of course, we do, I responded back. And the week after we got together on the phone for a 2 hour long conversation where we got to spend some time to talk in-depth about the decision.
This time around I was not going to wait. See? Once you have been exposed to a layoff, even if you manage to escape it, you know that things will never be the same. The whole concept of company / employee loyalty changes and while the motivation and purpose to do a professional job may well be there, very much intact, because, after all, you were hired in the first place as a hard working professional, things are no longer going to be the same. So, while we were talking, he asked me why I made the decision of leaving IBM after everything I have (helped) build over the course of time. He just couldn’t grasp such crazy idea and I understand perfectly why he would think that, specially, in today’s turbulent times.
Well, as Ayelet mentioned on that article, referenced above, I had to start thinking about firing myself, which is eventually what I did, after two years of waiting for the right moment to do so. I told my manager than I had to be realistic and come to terms with the fact IBM would not allow me to retire after another 25 odd years of work I have got still as my working life. Now, I could have stayed at IBM for another 5 or 10 years. Sure. No problem. But I know that it wouldn’t last forever (till retirement, at least) and, unfortunately, I happen to live in a country where after you reach a certain age, being unemployed and finding a new job takes the whole concept of a chimera into a new level. Thus, eventually, the older you get without a job, the tougher it is to find a new one.
I am sure that scenario could hold plenty of truth for various other countries, no doubt, but, in my case, I figured that before I would be getting too old, and after 17 years of big, corporate multinational work life, it probably was a good time to make a move, while I am still relatively young. That’s why I quit IBM on my terms and decided to become an independent trusted advisor around one of my all time passions (Social Business and Digital Transformation) and give it a try for 2 or 3 years to see if I could make it work and sustain that financial and emotional independence.
If that didn’t work out, for whatever the reason, I would still be relatively young to look up for another career opportunity. Perhaps to even go back to big corporate world, although plenty of people have been advising me that once you become a freelancer and you get to experience freedom, there is no way back. I suppose then that’s why I started working my way towards that system of me and put together multiple plans where I could continue to “dream big and have a purposeful and meaningful life”. Will I succeed? Who knows… What is success anyway? Waiting for another Call?
The reality is that while there is plenty of excitement about this new life as an independent freelancer, there is also a bit of uncertainty, about facing the unknown, at a very peculiar time where we may be going through the deepest, most profound financial econoclypse in our recent history. I guess that puts things into perspective as to what lies ahead and that I can summarise in a single sentence: I just don’t know. I’ll take it all as it comes.
I will make of it all a learning experience, why not, right? I am sure it’s going to be a rather interesting one. It’s the least I could do and see how things will pave out further along over the course of time on whether I’ll be sticking around with plan A, B or C. Plan B, if you remember from a previous blog entry, is essentially go back to basics: teaching (I am an English teacher, after all and I have always loved, and enjoyed very much, helping enable people to deliver their best at what they do -that’s what, to me, teaching and learning have been all about all along). Oh, and today’s snapshot, shared above, is a hint of Plan C, in case you are wondering… But somehow, I need to come down to earth again and be reminded of Ayelet’s wonderful piece of advice that keeps coming back ringing true more and more by the day:
“What I know today is that if I focus on why I am doing something and identify the core problem that needs to be addressed, I can go out and solve it. I can ask for help. I can connect with other smart people who choose to work with me to make a difference and get shit done.“
Thus, I guess I will just start there: get shit done.
Written by Luis Suarez
Chief Emergineer, People Enabler and Charter Member of Change Agents Worldwide and a well seasoned Social / Open Business evangelist and 2.0 practitioner with over 15 years of experience on knowledge management, collaboration, learning, online communities and social networking for business; and has been living, since February 2008, a (work) life without email challenging the status quo of how knowledge workers collaborate and share their knowledge by promoting openness, transparency, trust, sustainable growth, engagement, connectedness and overall smart work. He can also be contacted over in Twitter at @elsua or Google Plus.