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[WHO] Belonging, Brene, and Saying Yes to Myself by Saying No

Updated: Mar 19, 2020

I turned down a six figure job offer the week before Christmas.

It was the most I’ve ever been offered. I think I said thank you and wow about 5 times each when I got the call.

The interview had gone well. I knew they valued my experience. I knew I thought they were nice enough. I knew the work was kind of boring, but man, maybe this is how the other half lives: bored but with nice stuff. As an educator I love my work but we were all warned in grad school to not be in it for the paycheck.

It was tempting.

The idea of money made me look back on my decisions and wonder: Did I even WANT to be in education? Or was it for a lack of access to other options? What if earlier in my life I’d believed that I could have done anything with my career rather than scraping by, bouncing around, and hustling to get recognized?

Would I have still picked education? If the business school hadn’t slammed its door in my face (they certainly did not care that the available classes conflicted with my work schedule) or the banking manager job I’d applied to after college hadn’t fallen through?

Would I still have chosen education if after being in college so long and getting so frustrated with the whole process that I hadn’t shrugged at my advisor as a 25 year old, pointed to the curriculum sheet and said, “Ok which concentration gets me out of here the fastest?”

Would I have had the chance to make actual money?

Like the good career counselor that I am, I asked to spend the weekend thinking about it before deciding. Plus I have an interview Thursday for a position that I’m also really interested in “You have to answer by Monday,” they said. It was Friday at 3:00 pm. No pressure. I was going to have to decide before I knew how Thursday went.

It’s one thing to coach other people not to choose money, especially when you yourself have never had it dangled in front of you. It’s easy to teach about the importance of choosing careers based on values when you know no one in your office is getting rich.

And then there it was.

The offer with the most money I’ve ever seen.

But what would it cost me?

An hour and half commute each way. Time away from my kids. And the actual work turned me into a bizzaro version of myself: dimmed. Bored. Tired. Excited about none of it.

During this same time period around the interview, offer, and its set explosion I had the good fortune to sit in the 2nd row of Brene Brown’s Keynote at Opening Night of the Massachusetts Conference for Women. She was everything I’d hoped for: funny, sharp, poignant, vulnerable, and the best live story-teller I’ve ever seen. I distinctively remember the watershed moment of my life when I cried nonstop during her recorded TEDtalk about vulnerability and shame. She gave me vocabulary for experiences buried deep in my heart. With this new vocabulary, they could finally be released.

I’m going to cry when she comes out, I told my sisters as we waited for the doors to open. Through the glass wall we could see the stage and open seating area setup. I mentally planned my route, warning them that I would lose them in the crowd. The doors finally opened—“see you up there!” And took off from the crowd like it was Black Friday at Walmart.

And there she was.

Her theme for the night was belonging vs fitting in. Fitting in meaning becoming more like those around you to feel included. Belonging meaning to stay true to yourself no matter who surrounds you.

She played audio of Maya Angelou reciting I Shall Not Be Moved, and told a story about the out of body experience of meeting Maya Angelou at Oprah’s house. Maya asked her to stay in Santa Barbara an extra day to continue their conversation and Brene said no, Thursday’s are carpool. It is time spent connecting with her kids and getting an update on their lives as they chat together with friends and forget she’s there, she said. She needed that time with her kids.

The next story was about how when Brene was getting traction in her career the offers for speaking engagements starting really pouring in but always with a caveat. Offers like: come speak to my congregation, but dial down the swearing. This turned into a trend of being invited to speak with little caveats regarding changing her behavior to fit what they were looking for. Even though she worried about slowing the momentum of her career by passing on these opportunities she ended up saying no because they weren’t true to her.

It’s tempting, right? To say yes anyway, even if it doesn’t fit.

In a scarcity mindset we worry that this is the only chance to be successful. Money and the opportunity to make it seem rare. Your instinct is to say yes and to get what you can for fear of no other options. However, if you’re ok at doing something and are a decent hardworking person people will want you to keep doing so.

You’ll keep stumbling upon chances to keep doing things you’re ok at; employers tend to hire you on things you’ve already done. My personal brand was evolving to the tech realm and it felt like I better do something really quickly or forever be sent down this new path. A career pivot that had started as a hey why not was getting a little too close to becoming my new work identity. Which slowly but surely will permeate into my personal identify if I don’t stop it in its tracks.

I missed my old self. And my old work. My offer was to explode by Monday. I had an interview for another position in my intended field on the following Thursday. If I walked away nothing was guaranteed about what I’d get to do next, if anything at all. I could end up losing out on both.

But it was time to say no.

If Brene can say no to Maya because of carpool, I can say no to this job offer, I told my sisters after the keynote.

This felt brave to confess.

What about the bills?

And the future of my career?

Who says no to a six figure pay check?

Then do it. Say no. They said. Your kids are only small once. And it was decided.

On Monday I declined. The recruiter scoffed at why someone would move “backward” in their career. This was new: usually it’s me arguing in my mind against pressures of society about what I should or shouldn’t do. This time it was a human in real time challenging my choices. And rather aggressively.

Without missing a beat I told him through the Bluetooth car speaker that it may seem like a backward move to the untrained eye, but my definition of success doesn’t include what you might typically assume. I have two kids, I told him, one with special health needs, and I didn’t care about the optics. This was true for me. Success for me isn’t just about what I choose to do; now it includes what I choose NOT to do.

Sometimes I still wonder if that was huge mistake in this economy, but remember that interview on the following Thursday that I owed myself the chance to be in the running for? I started there a few weeks ago, and I get to see my boys every morning and every evening before the sun goes down.

Thank you, Brene.

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