We went to my former employer’s holiday party last night. Even though it has been two years since I worked there, my husband and I still go to catch up with the people and enjoy the celebrations.
My old boss’ wife is a trained opera singer, and each year she brings in live music. She sings Christmas carols with the pianist and bassist in that rich voice of hers that finds you wherever you are at the party and invites you to join her. The food is spectacular, the drink plentiful, and the company whip-smart and funny.
From pretty much everyone, I got the inevitable question, “so where are you working now?” and bemused surprise that I’m actually on my second place since I left, 1/year. I learned they’re again advertising my old job, and some of the wives asked me if I was thinking about returning. I hadn’t known, and I’m not, but, it was great to catch up and feel the warmth and affection of the very familiar group. Maybe it was the Christmas carols, those bittersweet songs of longing and hope for holiday perfection, or, maybe it was all the champagne they poured me, but I got nostalgic.
Working there was fantastic, Geoff was probably the best boss I’ll ever have–unconditionally encouraging, entrusted us with freedom, unfailingly generous and collaborative. Some of my most successful moments at my last two gigs have been when I’ve imitated things he modeled. He also assembled a great team. I was drawn to work there by one of my then and current best friends, Andy, and I enjoyed the rest of my colleagues. We travelled to interesting places (like Yellowstone), and I learned a lot. It was pretty much a dream job. So much so that people rarely leave, and when they do they say things like what I’m saying here….
My husband and I curled up together on the comfy couch in front of the remote-controlled fireplace, overfilled with wine, dinner, dessert, enjoying the live music and the chatter of our friends around us, and I asked him “why did I leave this job again?” Used to my endless self-examination, he said he didn’t know, much more gently and non-judgmentally than I might have managed in his place.
I have been turning that one over in my head, because some of the answers no longer make sense. I thought I left because it was too small; I was idle and feeling superfluous. To keep me afloat in interesting project management and software design work, or any work at all, I needed a bigger project team than they had at the time. But when I left I went to a company of one, my own, and now I work for one not much bigger than my sole proprietorship. Hmmm. Too small? Maybe, maybe not.
Or, maybe I’m just born to be unsatisfied. I seem to have inherited my dad’s restless impatience and my mom’s romantic idealism, a challenging need for instant gratification of impossible demands.
My current best theory is that maybe my internal timer just went off. My husband has/had a 3-year ticker at each of his jobs. He has managed to stay past the 3 year mark at his current employer, but he did feel that 3-year-itch quite strongly, and only a well-timed opportunity to transform his job kept him where he is. My dream job had become routine and I wasn’t learning much anymore. I was bored, and I became more afraid of atrophy than of the unknown.
So, if it was time, why all the wondering and bittersweet regret? First, I’m not a believer in clear and unambiguous signals–it just isn’t that easy. And, I am noticing bittersweet regret is something I am drawn to–I read elegiac books about families, loss, and the passage of time (currently, reading The Big House: A Century in the Life of an American Summer Home), I listen to singer-songwriters like Richard Buckner fret over their own lives, I worry about the environment, habitat and species loss, essentially I seem to be focused on finding loss, refer to paragraph above about being born to be unsatisfied.
Instructions to self: stop, breathe, be thankful and move on, trusting I knew what I was doing when I left, am doing OK at the moment, and will continue to be fine on whatever next adventure I pick.