Knowing When to Walk Away
A former boss told me the average staying power at an organization is either three or five years. She watched me pass the three-year mark at the same organization and determined I was on the five-year team. Though I had been itching to leave after one and a half years, I accepted the fate of the five-year’er.
My staying power at that organization, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), turned out to be eight and a half years. In that time, I lost both parents, fell incredibly sick twice and lived and worked in the Balkans, Afghanistan, Southern Sudan and Colombia. It’s easy be allured by the bright lights of another job. I saw colleagues soar into those bright lights while I perched under the lone yellow street light of the same job. I opted for a portfolio I knew (Balkans programming), supportive colleagues and a sympathetic boss. It was an environment allowing me to cope with severe loss yet slowly continue work on my career transition. My goal was to figure out where best to apply my current skills. I made decisions that peers guaranteed would slow my career progression at USAID – but the job I wanted next was nontraditional and not within USAID. I wanted to launch my own venture, to open The Global Sleepover.
I built a matrix of skills – what qualifications did I need to complete this transition? How do I transition from a 10-year career in international affairs to launching my own venture? In my mind the only qualification should have been to love sleepovers and world travel! The joy of doing my own thing, not having to commute every day, and sending official emails from my comfy bed in my pajamas allured me.
For years I had set-up Global Sleepover while working full-time and living for long periods of time abroad. Any hour outside of my full-time hours at USAID were dedicated for Global Sleepover. My business partner at the time was based in Europe. We had a daily call time of 11:30 pm my time / 5:30 am his time or, when I was in Europe, 6:00 am. The hours were so obscure that sometimes, during these calls, every joke was hilarious and every idea was brilliant. Skype and Google Voice were water in the desert. It was fun, exciting, inspiring and exhausting. We were molding our ideas into reality– with our motivation as the only incentive. Inside jokes, code words, and a work plan fueled our drive. My mind was running between foreign policy and international politics to children’s publishing, technology, entrepreneurship. I couldn’t quite find enough hours to do all I wanted - eat right, commute, work full-time, travel, commit all free time to a new venture, exercise, maintain a social life and rejuvenate.
When it became clear that Global Sleepover deserved the best hours of my day, I knew it was time to transition from my previous career. I was in the eight and a half year camp at USAID but hope I’m in the entrepreneurship universe for many more!