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Tough Choices and Pursuing Bigger Priorities

More and more professionals around the country are choosing career paths that allow for a realignment of priorities and a focus on what is truly important. This flies in the face of conventional wisdom, which for so long has placed career success at all costs.
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2013-08-19-GettyImages_168307969.jpgI know a hard-charging 40-something senior executive who led global marketing for a Fortune 1000 company until two years ago when she decided to take the No. 2 role at a smaller organization for less money and responsibility. Was her old job in jeopardy? No, she was held in high regard. Was the company in trouble? No, they were having a record year. Why did she take what appears to be a step down in her career? She knew her life was dangerously out of balance and wanted to spend more time with her husband and two children. How is she doing now? In a recent phone call she shared that she has never been happier and is grateful that she realigned her priorities before it was too late.

A 30-something account manager I know had a great career at a fast-growing technology firm, but left over a year ago to start his own recruiting company. Why? The company treated him well, but he felt there was a significant clash between the company's values and his own. He also had a desire to create a culture in his own organization, which allowed him to live out his Christian faith, serve the community and allow more time with his family. How is this working out? His company is very successful, he is making a positive difference in the community and his young family is thriving.

Are these two examples unique? Hardly. More and more professionals around the country are choosing career paths that allow for a realignment of priorities and a focus on what is truly important. This flies in the face of conventional wisdom, which for so long has placed career success at all costs on a pedestal as the example for us to follow.

But, there is something more profound occurring here.

This may also represent a rejection of our materialistic culture. The media oversaturates our brains with how happy we will be if we take an exotic vacation, buy the new BMW or purchase the bigger house. We spend so much of our lives in a race to make more and more money to buy more and more things, but at what cost? Are we really happier? What have we been forced to sacrifice along the way? Our faith? Our families? Our health? Our friendships? Our values? Our authenticity? At some level, I suspect we know what is really important, but we may fear the potential loss of income if we shift our priorities. We may fear the negative opinions of our friends if we don't follow the crowd. Maybe our egos get in the way because we receive much of our self-validation through our careers.

I have been through this reflection process in a very personal way twice in my career. At the age of 32, I left my role as an officer and vice president of recruiting with a billion dollar restaurant company for a leadership role at a $3 million executive recruiting firm. I was committed to spending more time with my wife and young son, who I rarely saw because of the 80 percent travel the job required. My friends said I was committing career suicide, but I knew I was saving my family.

A few weeks ago, at the age of 47, I made another life-changing career decision. After careful thought and consideration, I stepped out of the managing partner role with my firm I had held for most of the last 14 years and took on a partner role. Why? I have a strong faith life, great work/life balance and a wonderful family, but I need to carve out more time for my other interests. I have written three books with a fourth being published next month and am about to sign a contract for my fifth book. I speak around the country on faith and business-related topics and recently started my own coaching/consulting firm (on my own time) called Serviam Access, which helps professionals improve the quality and quantity of their business relationships.

These other interests of mine, which have been developing over the last decade, are important to me, and I chose to realign my career to better serve these priorities while continuing to give my wife and sons the quality time they deserve. I am still fully engaged in my full-time job as a partner and enjoy the work, but I now have more time to focus on these other important pursuits as well. As I ponder the next 20 years of my business life, I am determined to do the things I love, help others and live a life in full. What a waste if my tombstone were to one day read: "He Was a Great Businessman!"

Sound crazy? Perhaps not. Consider your answers to these questions: Do you have God in your life? Are you spending enough quality time with your loved ones? Are you chasing things that are really not important? Is your self-esteem and self-validation wrapped up in your job? Are you maximizing your gifts and skills? Are you doing the things that make you happy and serve the community?

I recognize these choices can be very difficult. My goal in this post is to simply stir your thinking and make you aware that more and more people every day are making decisions to focus on what is truly important in life. If you can achieve tremendous career success and still have the personal life you desire, this post may not be for you. But, if you recognize that your life is off balance or maybe you are feeling trapped by your job and lifestyle, change is absolutely possible.

It may just be time to resist the culture, let go of pride and ego and pursue what really matters. Think about it.

(Image purchased and used with permission by Getty Images.)

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