For many reasons I decided to stop having guest writers post on my blog. But when my friend, David Greyson from Dovetail Software presented me with an essay that is directly tied to my last post, it was an easy decision to say yes. (Like all good HR folks, I know when to bend policy, even when it's my own.) I'm back next week with regularly scheduled posts. In the meantime, I present to you the truly last guest post on Welcome To The Occupation. It's a good one. Check it out ...
Unlike Keith Richards, I didn’t pick up a guitar at 13 and know, just know in my bones that I was born to melt faces with liquid cool guitar riffs. I certainly didn’t leave Harvard to start the largest software company in the world because BASIC and COBOL (computer languages) spoke to my soul, ala Mr. William Gates. And by no means was I so physically gifted at sport that I knew as a prepubescent teen that I would run past or dunk over other mere mortals in my chosen competitive realm of domination. No folks, I was just like the other mortals. I had ideas of rewarding professions that I may excel at, but I was far from “chosen one” status.
As a freshman in college it was time to pick a major. I did a self assessment. I had a knack for making friends (still have a big ole pack of them). I loved winning. Technology was interesting, but not the intricate computer coding or engineering stuff. And I was good at convincing people to do what was in my interest. I thought about politics and/or a legal profession, but decided I wasn’t ready for either yet. So, I settled on a very vanilla Marketing degree.
I was going to sell high dollar computer systems and make a fairly handsome living doing so! It wasn’t a crazy pipe dream. This was tangible. I was always terrific at selling while growing up. I went door to door, outselling my lawn mowing competition from age 13-16 and built a 30 yard a week business. I was a top salesman at a huge, high end bicycle store from age 16-22 while I attended high school and college. This was doable.
Right out of college, I was hired by the largest computer company in the world (I’ll let you guess who that is) as an inside sales rep. Step one accomplished! Since selling was my bread and butter and I had visions of grandeur, I soon made top sales rep on a team of 27. I held top dog status the next 3 quarters. I wasn’t exactly bringing in professional athlete money, but I was feeling pretty good about myself when my team got disbanded and I was granted pick of the litter in a vast 900 person inside sales center. I picked software. This was supposed to be the best team and a ticket to getting out in the field, taking me one closer step to my goal. Little did I know that reps NEVER went to the field from the inside sales center. I’m talking talented inside sales reps that were wildly successful but were utterly shunned, never given the opportunity to move outside. It was no different for me and I soon became increasingly frustrated and ultimately left.
I was still quite young/naive, the grass was greener on the other side, and I don’t mean a little greener. I mean neon, glowing green, like the candy grass in Willie Wonka’s chocolate factory. This was my time to start my own business and I gave it a real go over the next 8 months. I wrote a detailed business plan while consulting industry specialists, crossed my t’s and dotted my i’s. Did I get the capital investment? No, I did not.
Next on the list was law school. I was fascinated by law, especially criminal law. I volunteered on the grand jury for 3 months. The grand jury is a collection of 12 relatively law abiding citizens that review a docket twice a week and decide if there’s enough evidence to warrant an indictment. Our concentration was felony cases. Our docket consisted of approx 100 cases per session and I can assure you some of them were quite juicy and some were quite gruesome. Remember, murder, sexual assault, robbery, all fall under felony crime. The detectives and beat cops would share the evidence with us and occasionally defendants would plead their case to us as well.
Well I was hooked. It was fascinating. I was going be a criminal defense attorney. I studied 6 months, night and day for the LSAT (law school entry exam). I was scoring in the upper 80 percentile on full length sample tests. I could ace the reading comprehension sections, but the logic games, oh those evil, evil logic games…! They were ultimately my downfall. I took the test twice and scored in the 50th percentile both times, wiping out my chances at the upper tier schools I applied for. I made the waiting list for a couple, but ultimately not one of them took me.
I was genuinely heartbroken and emotionally drained after working so hard to chase multiple dreams. I had accumulated some debt from all of the admission fees and time away from work, was briefly living back with my parents while studying, was removed from a career path and quite honestly, significantly frustrated and a bit depressed.
Why couldn’t I achieve my dreams if I worked so bloody hard at them? What happened to the old saying, “if you give it all you have, you’ll succeed!”? They don’t tell you in school that there’s a strong possibility that no matter how hard you try, some people’s brains aren’t wired for LSAT logic games. They don’t mention to you that convincing savvy investors to risk 10 cents on a young pup’s unproven business idea typically has about a snowball’s chance in hell.
With my tail between my legs, I went back to doing what I hoped I was still good at. I was a little older and a heck of a lot wiser, or at least a heck of a lot more realistic. I convinced a technology staffing company to give me a shot. It was sales so I figured it out and became fairly successful at it. After a couple years I used it as a springboard to join a software company that brought me on as a lead generator with a path to becoming a sales director. I quickly did well enough to make that sales director role and here I am. I’m certainly more than “back to where I started”, but in a sense, I’m somewhat “back to where I started.” And you know, the grass isn’t greener on the other side this time. I really like my job. I like being pretty good at what I do. I love winning again. I love making new friends out of customers founded on hard work and trust. Selling to HR is fun! I feel very fortunate to have found a great company with intelligent, dedicated people that I can feel proud to be a part of. So when recruiters and ex colleagues call me up and try to steal me, I tell them they’ve got one heck a sell job if I’m to leave Dovetail Software. And you know what else, I don’t really want to be a lawyer anymore.
This is enough for me. It’s satisfying. It’s fulfilling. I can embrace other challenges in life now that I have some career stability. Now when I want to do something really different, I don’t flip the switch on a massive career change, I label that sucker a hobby and treat it as such.
So if you’re contemplating a career change that may significantly set you back, I’m not saying don’t try it. I’m just saying maybe you’re not with the right company or the grass isn’t as green on the other side as it appears. I will say that I’m quite proud of myself for giving it a real go. I didn’t dink around when I made the decisions for change. I really went for it. I FAILED. And being a Leo, failing is like a hot fire poker in the ass, but I learned some painful lessons and I do not aim to emulate them again.
Moral of the story? Sometimes the profession chooses you. Embrace it! Take a casual stroll across the neighbor’s lawn before packing up the farm and moving to another patch of dirt. If you do choose to venture out, GO FOR IT! But don’t be too proud to come back if it doesn’t work out.
David Greyson has been a Sales Director with Dovetail Software for 3 years. An Austin, TX based company, Dovetail offers a comprehensive HR specific Case Management application. David lives in Philadelphia with his wife and dog.