Growing Apart, Together

The romance began 15 years ago. It was love at first sight.

As I sat in the waiting room at my doctor’s office, leafing through Fortune Magazine, I was hooked. It wasn’t a person but a company that caught my eye. They were innovative and on the cutting edge. They were philanthropic. They were changing the world. I closed my eyes and imagined working there. My heart filled with hope.

Fate stepped in. A month later The Company announced its intent to acquire the start-up where I worked. I anticipated the deal closing the same way I had anticipated the first date with my husband: with impatient confidence that this was THE ONE.

As the relationship blossomed I became smitten. Up until this moment I always felt like an outsider. An imposter. The child who stands at the edge of the playground hoping for an invitation to play.  This relationship welcomed me with open arms into an exciting, fulfilling, and safe inner circle.

The harder I worked the more support I got.

This relationship cheered me on when I got married.

It embraced me when I had two beautiful children. It held my hand through post-partum depression. It violently threw me from my graceful entrance into motherhood into the chaos of becoming a working mom.

It supported me through years of therapy to overcome anxiety – and many times was the subject of my sessions.

It forgave my mistakes.

It accelerated my personal and professional growth and pushed me past my personal limits.

My relationship with The Company was everything I imagined it would be. It was everything I longed for. I was part of a team who had a passion for changing the world.

Each day my love for The Company grew. Even on the rare days when I hated my job, I LOVED The Company. Year after year it lived up to its ranking as one of the top companies to work for.

I expected to grow old with The Company.

Until that day.  The day The Company declared our goal was to become number one. Our leaders talked excitedly about BIGGER! BETTER! MORE! instead of talking about the difference we were making in the world. I felt confused and disenchanted.

What had happened to the perfect company I fell in love with all those years ago on the pages of Fortune Magazine? Had they changed? Had I changed? Had we fallen out of love? For the first time, I considered leaving. But between the compensation and the culture it seemed crazy to move on. People spend a lifetime hoping to work for a company like this one. People bang down the door to even get a chance.

I did nothing. It tore too hard at my heart strings to consider a break up. I had been in this relationship longer than my marriage.

The spiral continued, I fell out of love faster and faster, grasping to recapture those feelings I felt in the beginning.  Then it happened. I had an opportunity to move my team to a new leader — a leader I admired and respected. I acted quickly and with deliberate intent.

When we moved I fell in love all over again. A single change shifted my cynicism to hope. But something was still missing.  Why did I have this overwhelming feeling that this Perfect Company was no longer for me?

I wanted to recapture what I felt years earlier.  I filled the void by diving into hobbies.  I became more involved at my kids’ school.  I invested in my personal and professional development with vigor. Yet I still felt incomplete. Something was missing.

I searched for an answer. But I couldn’t find it.

Until one day, in a classroom full of strangers, it revealed itself.  I realized I had the perfect job with the perfect manager at the wrong company.

I realized our purpose, cause, and beliefs were starkly different. While I searched for meaning in my work, The Company sought even greater power and prestige. We had grown together on different paths. Once intertwined, we now diverged.

Instantly my perfect job with my perfect manager was meaningless.

I was stunned. The passion fizzled. The admiration dissipated.

I craved a company that cared as much about its people as its numbers. A company that buzzed with creativity and innovation, filled with people brimming with ideas. A company with a relentless focus on making a difference in this community we call our world.

Fifteen years ago that’s how I described The Company. When the atmosphere changed my feelings changed.  I felt trapped as I stood in the center of the inner circle I once felt so proud to be a part of. My heart screamed “this relationship is over”.  My path became clear. It was time to move on and I was ready.

I flipped through Fortune Magazine. I scanned LinkedIn.  I sent more messages out to the Universe. I searched for a company filled with thoughtful people with a passion to improve the world.  A company whose mission is unmistakably inspirational and concrete, meaningful and measurable (borrowed from Essentialism by Greg McKeown).

The Universe delivered an unexpected twist.

I found myself on the doorstep of The Company.

What had changed?

Our mindset.

In a single meeting our Chief HR Officer delivered an inspirational vision of our culture. With courage and vulnerability she acknowledged we had lost out way.  She revealed a rather tragic year-in-the-life of a new employee, citing our collective missteps in each phase of the journey. Then she shared her plan to put the company – and every person in it – back on our path.

My hope was restored.

My commitment was renewed.

My heart felt full again.

Does this mean we will grow old together as I planned fifteen years ago? I don’t know. Whether I stay or go, I once again feel proud to say I work for The Company.

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4 thoughts on “Growing Apart, Together

  1. OMG, yes! I know this roller coaster well. Kudos to you for sharing your journey with such honesty. You are not alone, and i am sure many will take comfort in reading this and knowing they too are not alone, and hope is not lost.

  2. Love this post so much! It really resonates with me and where I’m at in my journey. Thanks for sharing, Jill. You really are a great story teller!

  3. mhgaither says:

    Love this and can so relate. Looking forward to reading the sequel.

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