I was interviewed recently by a friend who is helping start up a new local radio station. She asked me to tell my story about making the leap from the corporate Rat Race to the creative life. While I assured her I was still in mid-leap, she wanted to interview me anyway. Here's Part I of my conversation with her.
Forward Radio (FR): Most of us, at one time or another in our lives, have felt trapped in a job, a marriage or some situation or role that feels suffocating or just not a good fit. Maybe we start to wonder about what is truly meaningful to us, what gives us joy, or what unique gifts we have to offer.
Today, I’m here with MJ Kinman, someone who perhaps like you, found herself unhappy and unfulfilled in a job that she didn’t like. But perhaps unlike most of us, she did something about it and in the process, created her own specialty business that built upon her unique talents and passion. Let’s find out from MJ what she did, how she did it, and what has been the result.
MJ Kinman (MJK): Thank you for having me!
FR: MJ, without naming the company, can you tell us a little about the job you had and for how long you worked there?
MJK: I worked for a large corporation here in Louisville as a technical project manager in the HR Division. My work involved projects like replacing outdated software systems or ensuring that the employees of a company that we bought had a seamless transition of their pay and benefits on their first day of employment with us. And I was with them for about 6 ½ years.
FR: What was it about the job that began wearing you down and making you unhappy?
MJK: That’s a great question, but a tricky question for me to answer. Here’s why. The question implies that the job was the problem. And I’ve come to realize that it’s not the job in and of itself that is really ever the problem; it’s our personal expectations of it that get us into trouble.
I think we often look to our jobs -- like our relationships, right? -- to fulfill our needs. We have an image of what they should be and when they don’t live up to them -- which they never could -- we get frustrated and angry.
I think that happened with me. I expected this job, which for me was kind of a pinnacle of my career, to make me happy. I was making more money than I’d ever made before. I had respect of my colleagues, and I was doing interesting and challenging work.
So people ask, what was the problem?
MJK (continued): In short, I was deeply disappointed in what I saw playing out in my area. Decisions being made based on individual leader’s attempts to gain position and power, co-workers hoarding information to make themselves appear to be indispensable, a lack of leadership and professionalism throughout. But, I realize now that these issues aren’t unique to one company, or one sector. I worked in the non-profit sector as a social worker for many years and saw these same dynamics playing out.
So in short, I was disappointed with my job – due to the high and unrealistic expectations I had for it -- and becoming more and more disengaged with the work. As a result, I began to act more like a project monster than a project manager. That didn’t help at all.
FR: During those years on the job, did you ever attempt to change any of those objectionable routines or relationships in order to resolve some of the issues you were having?
MJK: Well, us Type A, overachiever types think we can make things better, right? So I tried to do my job as best I could. Put in more hours, take on more projects, point out issues that needed to be addressed. That kind of thing.
FR: What was the result?
MJK: Oh, not good! In a large corporation – or in any work situation -- there’s very little one person can do. If my leaders were fighting to find footing, what did I think I could do? It really just resulted in a lot of resentment coming my way for rocking the boat.
FR: Can you recall what incidences occurred or what ideas surfaced that began pointing you in another direction?
MJK: My turning point came – not as a result of any horrible incident or brutal project, but from a change in me – a change that I can only describe as the start of a spiritual journey.
And if I may, I’d like to say right here that everyone’s journey is completely different. If you had told me 10 years ago that I’d be here right now, I’d say, “You’re crazy!” That’s because I thought the big paycheck and the job with the big corporation was the pinnacle. And you could not have dissuaded me then. People have to go through their own learning journeys. There are no shortcuts.
So back to my journey…I started reading things written by and about people who had had spiritually transformative experiences in their lives. People who had had personal encounters with the Spirit, the Divine, God, whatever you wish to call the “All That Is”. And they all had similar things to say about it…that we’re here to learn lessons of love, compassion, forgiveness, and gratitude. That the pursuit of ego-needs like wealth and power and fame meant nothing.
Here’s the deal…I’m a pretty big skeptic. But a part of me said, “Well, what if this is real? What if it’s true that this life is all about sharing love and compassion…and not necessarily gaining status, wealth, and power?”
So I kept reading more and more…and as I did, I began to change. That’s the point here. I began to change. And as I did, the voice in my heart and head became more insistent that I was not in the right place. The thought that I needed to get out as fast as I could became more insistent.
FR: What was going through your head at the time? What emotions and self doubts, if any, were you feeling?
MJK: If you know anything about me, it’s that I’m a big-time planner. My whole life was to be planned. I was a project monster, for heaven’s sake!!
And as this thought kept pressing itself into my awareness, I got very uncomfortable because it didn’t come with a plan. The only “plan” was to leave my job and trust that I’d find out what I was to do later. To trust. To have faith. It was the scariest thought ever. But at the same time it was the “rightest” thought ever (if that’s a word). It made no sense to me at all. I felt as though I was on a high-dive board and faced with the choice to jump or go back down the ladder. And I knew I couldn’t go back.
(End of Part I)