Lessons from a corporate burnout turned social entrepreneur

The emails kept coming.

Ding.

Ding.

Ding.

It was Sunday morning and my email kept f’ing dinging. 

In 2004 I was a sales director for CareerBuilder.com. I was 34, made great money, had a whole bunch of cool dress shirts but there was one problem.

I was a corporate burnout.

I had a great team, fantastic boss and was doing really well but I was completely burnt out.  Burnt out from the emails, the CC’s, the powerpoint decks and the meetings. Burnt out from the travel, the flight delays and the endless conferences.

The crazy thing I actually had it pretty easy, all things considered.  I loved the company.  Careerbuilder was a wonderful place to work.  I loved my boss (Jamie Pachter-Crosbie, you are awesome!), my sales team and colleagues were fantastic and my reputation was solid.  I made a ton of cash, was newly married and life was good except for a minor detail:

I was completely unfulfilled.

I wasn’t unhappy necessarily, I just wasn’t fulfilled at all. I didn’t feel like I was really contributing to the good of society or making any difference at all. I kept thinking, “Is this all there is?”. I kept asking myself was, “How could this get any better?” 

Again:

  • I made great money
  • My team was killing it, sales-wise
  • Everyone loved me
  • My job was relatively stress-free
  • I had a fantastic boss
  • I loved the company I worked for

How was this going to get possibly better for me? I was 34 and facing 20 years of a career that was probably only going to get worse, not better for me.  Plus there was that whole not-being-fullfilled-thing hanging out there. 

Being a corporate burnout with a dream is a unique position to be in.  If you’re anything like me you’ve probably faced similar challenges. Tell me if any of these sounds like you:

  • You make great money
  • You get a sh*tload of emails
  • People in your company love and respect you
  • Money has replaced meaning for you
  • “Next year I’ll…” is a popular refrain

I know, I was there too.  Faced with a life of quiet desperation and meaningless work, I did the only thing a reasonable person would do.

I quit.

One week later, with no job, and no set plan, I found out my wife was pregnant with our first daughter. What a week that was…

Fast Forward to 2014

I remember those early days fondly.  I still have friends at Careerbuilder.  I still help out my past employees when they need job recommendations. And now I have two daughters.

In short, I am living an epically awesome life (as I would define it).

My life is epic in many ways including:

  • My relationships with my daughters and my wife are great. I honestly think if I was still in the corporate world, it would be much weaker.
  • My career has meaning for me. I love what I do and love helping the social entrepreneurs that I work with.
  • I do what I enjoy.
  • The people I work with inspire me.
  • I feel lucky and honored to be making a difference in the world.
  • My time is my own.  Sure, I have meetings, deadlines and customers but if I want to leave early to go to my daughter’s swim lesson, I leave.
  • I leave my office early when I want and I stay late when I want.
  • I love Mondays.
  • I work ridiculously hard but love it.
  • I do well financially and am 1000x happier than when I was in the corporate world.
  • I surf, play basketball or football 3-5 times a week.
  • I get no more than 10 crucial emails per day.
  • I do fewer meetings and don’t waste as much time.
  • I wear jeans and my beloved Pumas almost everyday. I wear suits when I give speeches but that’s about it.
  • I don’t own khakis’ or business casual clothes.
  • I sleep great.

For me, that’s an epic life in progress. I’m not perfect, have my share of bad days but overall things are awesome.

I’ve learned some lessons along the way that I want to share with you.

  • Being unfulfilled is different than being unhappy. In many ways, being unfulfilled is harder to deal with.  If you’re unhappy because your boss sucks, you’ll eventually do something about it. If you’re unfulfilled, you’ll either learn to deal with it or you’ll do something about it (see below).
  • You can waste time, you can waste money but you cannot do both.
  • Taking action is greater than having a perfect plan.
  • You are greater than your greatest idea.
  • Seek success, not perfection. The former will get you to launch faster while the latter will drive you nuts.
  • The biggest lesson I can offer if you’re currently in corporate burnout mode and want more meaning and fulfillment from your career:
  • Make a decision. Decide to quit, decide to take a leap and launch or decide to do nothing.

Either way, make a decision so you can stop driving yourself nuts. Either blaze the trail forward or do nothing. And there’s no shame in doing nothing- tons of people shelf their dreams to keep a steady income, steady job. It’s not what I recommend but there’s nothing wrong with it.

If, however, you do have a little bit of badass in you and if you want to be truly fulfilled then do it.  Decide that it’s worth the risk, launch and join me and the several thousand social entrepreneurs who are changing the world.  You won’t regret it.

Let me know what you decide…Jim

Epic LivingJim Simcoe