By Candace Wilson, April 8, 2014
"Are you interested or committed?" The question was posed in a discussion between my employer and myself, less than a year after I had joined her company. It wasn't being asked directly to me at the time, it was being shared anecdotally, as a means of teaching, but it nonetheless, gave me pause. The anecdote was most effective!
I had come to work for her company at a turning point in my career. I had been with my previous firm for twelve years, a niche market recruiter able to produce steadily, if at times sporadically. When push came to shove, I was always able to make something happen to produce the money I needed to stay afloat. Until the final two years with that firm that is, when a combination of market conditions and internal issues made it very clear I had to move to another company if I was to continue to succeed in my field.
With not a little fear and discomfort, I made the uncomfortable leap from the cocoon of my home based office (I had been working from home for the past six years) to a local boutique firm called Platinum Edge. Upon joining the team, I was encouraged to continue with my niche recruiting as well as expand into other markets, which I was happy to do as demand in my niche was at an all time low.
Things went swimmingly at first--I made a placement very quickly, filling an open position in an industry outside my niche, which gave my new employer and myself the reassurance and confidence we needed that we had made the right decision to work together.
What followed was to be the most painful year of growth not only of my career, but of my life. I made placements sporadically and painfully it seemed, never seeming to reach the consistency that I strived for and my employer expected. I became, what I like to call, "exposed".
Gone were the days when I could hide in the comfort of my home office, a mediocre producer, afraid to even go out and meet an existing client, let alone develop new one.
Now I was part of a 4-person team complete with co-workers whom I had to face daily, whether I felt like it or not. But, more importantly, through this new beginning, I was forced to face the things within myself that I had been using as excuses for why I couldn't succeed.
My "reasons" for my failure and mediocrity were revealed for the lies that they were. It was like there was a spotlight being shone on all my shortcomings and failings. I wanted to crawl under the covers and hide. But those days were gone. There was nowhere to hide. My character flaws were not only revealed, they were called out, one by one, by my co-workers, with excruciating clarity and precision.
As luck, or fate would have it, along with this professional surgery, came an employer who was endlessly patient and loving. Yes loving. I know that is not a descriptive we often hear about our professional associations, but there simply isn't another word to describe her attitude toward me. She continually lifted me up, praised, supported and encouraged me. She fed me positive books and showed up day in and day out with a positive attitude no matter what was going on, asking what she could do to help me succeed. I accepted her encouragement and waited suspiciously for the other shoe to drop. Surely the time would come when she would turn on me. It never came. In spite of a less than stellar performance during many of those months.
Why was she keeping me on? And why was I continuing to come in day in and day out? Why was I not producing at the level I needed to be? What had happened to the ease with which I used to produce? Why did it seem so hard now? As these questions and doubts surfaced, I considered leaving my profession. With my performance at an all time low, switching careers seemed a reasonable option. I began researching other sales opportunities and putting out feelers. A friend wanted me to come work for him, flogging promotional swag. My production numbers continued to be pathetic and sporadic at best. Maybe this would bring the spark back to my lagging career?
During this time, I watched a co-worker who was having similar struggles. She began actively interviewing at other firms and encouraged me to do the same. As did others I consulted with at the time. Why not? I began sending out resumes.
It was in the midst of this professional crisis that the question came, a jarring splash of cold water on the face of my lacklustre career. "Are you interested or committed?" No one had ever asked me that before. If the truth be told, in that moment, I wasn't sure I was interested at all, let alone committed to continuing to grow, develop and excel as a recruiter, which was what my new employer was trying to help me do. I wasn't honest with her about this right away. That would be professional suicide I felt.
In the days following, as I pondered my interest and commitment to my chosen profession and to my employer, I couldn't help but feel guilty that I was "cheating" on this woman, whom, it was clear, was committed to me. So I went to her and asked, "why are you keeping me here when I am producing so poorly?" Her reply was that I was amazing, that she believed in me and she would never give up on me. I could give up on myself if I wished. She never would. I wrote her note following that meeting thanking her and telling her that I would do what I could to pay back the investment she had made in me, with very little return to her. I wanted to make it right. With that written note, I became committed.
I stopped my job search with the clear realization that I would take myself wherever I went. If I wasn't committed to my own success here, with my present employer, I wouldn't be committed and successful anywhere else. The problem was within me.
Another epiphany came with equal clarity, as I watched my co-worker have similar struggles, but take little or no ownership for her part. I noticed this trend in the candidates I was meeting as well. It was always someone else's fault, there was always some reason why success eluded them. The company was having financial trouble--what did that have to do with them? Rather than be a part of the solution, they focused on the problem, not owning their part, blaming the company, their co-workers, the market, for their failings. I saw myself. The phrase "like rats abandoning a ship" flashed across my mind. And I was ashamed.
John Kennedy said, "Ask not what your Country can do for you, but what you can do for your Country." When was the last time I had asked, "what can I do for my company?"
I noted with interest, that not one person I had consulted during my career crisis had encouraged me to adjust my own attitude and do what I could to contribute to the success of my current employer. Everyone, without fail, encouraged me to "abandon ship". A sad reflection I fear of our current "what's in it for me?" cultural attitudes
I closed out the year as the top producer (next to the owner) with a promotion to my own office. My numbers were not as high as I wanted them to be, but I felt the best professionally (and personally), that I ever had. I felt accomplished and confident. I was given exciting projects to work on that put to use my background as an English major and journalist. I became clearer than I have ever been that I was in the right career, with the right company, working with the right people. I began to flourish in all my relationships, professional and personal.
What had caused this metamorphosis? I became committed. To my own success and ergo the success of my company.
If you are reading this, dissatisfied with your employer, dissatisfied with your career, or lack of career as the case may be, I would encourage you to look at yourself honestly. Examine your attitude. Are you a part of the solution in your present situation? Or are you part of the problem? Are you interested? Or are you committed? Answering this question honestly has made all the difference to me.