Is Your Career Tank of Empty?
Your career tank is one of my favorite metaphors and it comes from Jason Alba from JibberJobber.com.
Jason tells a story about driving a rental car trying to get to a speaking engagement and the fuel gauge is almost on empty. We know if we are driving our car what that means. When my 2003 Honda Element gets to empty I still have 2-3 gallons left. When you are driving a rental car that is totally foreign to you, how far can you drive? Jason relates that we do the same with our careers. We usually wait until our gauge is on empty before we make a change.
Example #1 of a Career Tank on Empty
After my near-fatal bicycle accident in 2002, at the age of 46, I went off to teach high school math in an Austin inner-city high school. I survived my first year teaching both Algebra I and II but it left me exhausted. The whole summer was spent in recovery mode.
My second year of teaching my schedule was teaching 5 classes of Algebra II. I was prepared with enough lesson plans to get me to November. I was READY or I thought I was.
What was different in year 2?
- With the exception of one class, my classes were HUGE. I had four classes with over 30 students. My other class had only 12. The room could accommodate about 30 students. The room was packed.
- I was assigned a new mentor. She tried but was not very effective. Plus, she was at the opposite end of the school. A good 10-minute walk to get to her classroom. My Algebra II mentor that I made part of my team was right across the hallway but she was now teaching more advanced classes. I partnered with another teacher but I was helping her as much as she was helping me.
- I had one class that had 29 males and one female. There was so much testosterone and machismo in that room it reeked behavior problems.
- I was assigned one of the biggest problem students in the school in my last class of the day.
In many ways, I was set up to fail. I did really well until early November when depression set in. I did not follow through with the good habits I developed in my first year. My team fell apart. Daylight saving time ended and the days became shorter. I was going to school in the dark and leaving in the dark. My personal career tank was not full when the year started.
When the problem student in my last class threatened to cut me and he received Saturday school as punishment I said I had enough. My tank was empty!
I turned in my resignation and completed the first semester but was completely demoralized. It felt like I was abandoning my kids. I had one student tell me that he expected me to be back because I was just too good! I would come back in the spring to tutor students for the Texas end-of-year standardized exams but I would not return the next year. My teaching career was over after three semesters of teaching.
Example #2 of a Career Tank on Empty
In December of 2007, I was hired by a sexy tech startup to develop a training and certification program. The opportunity was alluring but little did I know the hiring manager was delusional. He thought the program could be developed and rolled out in months rather than years.
It took over 2 years to develop the 21 hours of online training, 4 certification tracks, and all on a shoestring budget. In the middle of developing the program, the great recession hit and sales growth slowed dramatically which diminished the need for the program. Management did not see it that way and the pressure to deliver grew with no additional help.
In December 2009, the company was acquired for over $400M. This is when the culture started to deteriorate rapidly. The final straw was when my boss put me in a highly unethical position telling me to hire a senior executive’s relative who was not qualified. My ethical boundaries were crossed and increased my stress levels to an unprecedented level. You can read more about this last incident in my post When Your Ethical Boundaries are Crossed.
In the fall of 2010, I made the decision to resign. I turned in my resignation on January 4th, 2011 where I attained the greatest financial gain as it related to bonuses, stock options, health insurance and vacation accrued.
Exhaustion had set in early 2010 but I worked on the plans for Career Pivot through that year. I left one year earlier than planned due to my career tank being completely on empty.
Example #3 of a Career Tank on Empty and What to Do Next
I am currently working with a client who’s tank is not empty but it is very low.
We are doing the following to prepare:
- Planning her finances to leave. I have referred her to my good friend Roger Whitney, the Retirement Answerman.
- We worked together to develop stop, drop and roll procedures to deal with her stressful relationship with her boss.
- Learning to say no at work. This will reduce here stress and could eventually lead to her being laid off but that is part of the plan.
She is working on healing at work. I previously have written on the importance of reducing your stress before you start looking to make a career pivot. I wrote about this topic in the post Hate Your Job, Miserable, and No One Will Hire You?
We are working together on a total plan, which includes finances, where to live next, and career before her career tank goes to empty.
Are You Waiting for Your Career Tank to Reach Empty?
In the first two examples, I did not take care of myself and I waited for my career tank to go to empty. In both cases, it took me over six months to destress and be able to move forward.
Have you waited for your tank to go to empty? If you have please leave a comment below with your story.