It's early, around 6 AM and I'm up. I am not working out, not preparing breakfast or showering. I'm just up. In just a few hours from now, it starts again. Shower, clothes, breakfast, commute, parking and boom, Manager. 9 hours after that, it's manager, parking, commute, home and Husband.
That was my routine a few years ago when I was still a sales manager. That routine was something like 12 years old by then. Names changed as people joined and left my team. The product changed as I changed companies, and the money changed of course as I became a more experienced manager. What didn't change though was my routine.
I spent my entire career so far (most of it anyway) working for big corporations and most of that time, I spent in sales roles. In that context of large enterprise sales teams, the way of things as I learned it was simple: there's a point in time when you either grow out of your role, or you move to the next sales role, potentially with another company. In other words, you have to move on, and moving on when you're ambitious (and naive) enough usually means you become a manager.
I never questioned that and I was equally ambitious and naive to yearn for such a role even though I didn't know if I was prepared for it. Of course, I wasn't. I didn't doubt that was my path though, even when my first manager job was bad and I did an awful job at it. I didn't doubt it when I did better at later management roles. That was the way of things. And not only for sales, only in sales things happened faster.
"If you're good enough you'll move up kid, no way around that."
That's what one of my mentors told me back then. "No way around that". It made sense in the corporate absolutism I was used to. I didn't question it, I didn't doubt it, and I felt I was great at my job.
I don't know that I was really. Not sure anyone knows if they are any good at managing others, but in any case, I made a career out of it like many others and a profitable one actually.
And then came a time in my life I had not thought would come: I stopped being a manager and instead became an independent consultant. Circumstances do not matter, all that needs to be said is I decided I wanted a break and the opportunity showed up to do just that.
That's when I realized that I had been walking a path that had been laid in front of me. I wasn't pushed to follow it but I was strongly directed that way, very much like Dorothy and the famed yellow brick road.
Unlike Dorothy though, I never reached Emerald City though I realized it didn't matter. I was walking down a path that no longer felt right for me, and so I pivoted and created not a path but instead the possibility of one. Instead of managing a team I moved to the side and helped other managers do their job better. I specialized in facilitating and designing programs that would allow managers to create something with their teams, not for them.
That path has no bricks of any color at all. It's raw, full of turns and there's even a few dangerous drops ahead, so in a way, it is more uncertain than Dorothy's. Even so, I realized something: I walk it with a passion that was not there when I led people. This wasn't imposed on me, it didn't happen because it is the way things are, but instead, I made it happen, and the how was very simple.
I just stopped walking.
Note: I wrote this in 2020, it's on my LinkedIn profile. I'm sharing it because I just finished a 8 session coaching with my last coachee. She came to me with the feeling she was stagnant, and we worked through that. In any case, I remember I felt like that and one day wrote about it as advice and thought I'd share it here as well!