I blinked! And suddenly it has been two years since I retired my lanyard, handed in my passes, and left my two-and-a-bit-ish decades old life as a public servant to pursue 'something else'. So now seems like as good a time as any to pause and reflect on some stuff.
When I decided to leave the public service, one of the drivers was my desire to spend more time with my family. As a senior executive, I had found that even when I was there, I wasn't THERE - my attention was often still focused on the problem of the day. I wasn't as present as I wanted to be, and my family needed me, almost as much as I needed them.
I often say it was simultaneously one of the easiest and hardest decisions I've made. Easy because it would give me the time I wanted, but it was so hard to let go of my identity as a public servant. If I'm honest, I still feel a subtle tug at my back - a kind of beckoning. But it's one that is weakening over time. And although I'm relieved to discover that the public service motivation that attracted me to the Australian Public Service back in the 90's hasn't entirely left me, I'm also thrilled to realise that there's more than one way to serve the public.
You see, it turns out that almost nobody told me that when I was actually IN the public service (though there's a chance I just wasn't listening)*. Not that anyone had ever explicitly said the opposite, but I felt that there was this kind of unspoken belief that being a public servant was THE way to make a difference. As it turns out - and as I have experienced for myself since leaving - actually there are a whole bunch of people out there in the private sector who are committed (even deeply invested) in the mission of the public service. They're not just primed and ready to help, but they see it as their purpose too. And now I am one of them. Contrary to popular belief, out here we're as willing to collaborate and support each other, and focus on partnership over competition, as public servants are. Perhaps more so, at times.
I've discovered that there's more than one path to success (whatever that is). Part of making the decision to leave involved decoupling the concepts of personal fulfilment from someone else's idea of success. What looks like success to me now is quite different from the way I would have described it a few years ago. Where I would have once described personal success in terms of a level, and professional success in terms of specific achievements, I'm now much more inclined to define both by the difference I can make. The bigger the difference, the greater the success. Interestingly, that's not because I deliberately sought out to change my definition of success - it's actually because I decided not to pursue success at all. In refocusing on a goal of personal fulfilment, I was surprised to discover that those other definitions of success just faded away - probably because they were never my definitions to begin with**.
The other thing I worried I had to let go of was being a leader - and having a team. It took only a few conversations with Lynn for me to realise that going off on my own was never going to work for me. But even outside our small team of two that established The Expert Leader, it turns out that I still have many opportunities to lead, and the most amazing dynamic team of people around me. Neither of these are really formal structures, but they bring me the same level of joy, the same opportunity to collaborate, and the same feeling of making a difference that I always had. But it's even better - because I can choose it for myself.
So no - as it turns out I have not regretted the decision to leave. And while there are many things I have missed about my former professional life during the last two years, I wouldn't give up what I have gained, even for a moment.
Yours in the pursuit of fulfilment,
* Actually, at least one person told me that - so it is not at all surprising that she is now my business partner, still my mentor and always a positive influence in my life.
** If you want to hear more about the problem of pursuing someone else's idea of success, I can highly recommend following Laura Gassner Otting.