Ever since I quit my corporate job back in 2013, I’ve been questioning the ‘9 to 5’ and everything that comes with it. I started to coach people on escaping the 9 to 5; I wrote a book on Leaving the Corporate 9 to 5; and I’ve been building my personal brand around redefining what ‘success’ looks like outside of the 9 to 5. And yet I’ve always been reluctant to demonise the ‘corporate 9 to 5’. I really enjoyed my work, earned a generous salary, and had so many opportunities open up to me because of my time in a leading multinational. For me, my big ‘why’ is not around getting people to quit their jobs. Rather it’s about coming up with your personal definition of success – whatever that looks like for you. And, more recently, I’ve come to wonder about something: what happens when the problem is you (not the job)?
Escaping the 9 to 5
First of all, there are many reasons why people want to, or need to, ‘escape the 9 to 5’. I always talk about two sets of reasons here. The ‘push’ reasons are pushing you out of that world: the toxic work culture, a disconnect with your values, your ‘bad’ boss, the long commute, poor work-life balance, and so on. Then there are the ‘pull’ reasons that are pulling you towards something different: more freedom and autonomy, more flexibility as to when and where you do your work, and more fulfilment when it comes to the work that you’re doing. And, in my experience, these goals of freedom, flexibility and fulfilment are best achieved when you design and build your own business.
The lines have been a little blurred over the course of the pandemic, however, as working from home became the norm and, as we come out the other end, companies begin to consider hybrid working practices and start to offer much more flexible working (- some of them, at least!).
Above all, my thinking has evolved as I’ve worked with more and more clients over the past few years. I’ve seen how a lot of these high achievers end up recreating in their business the very things that they were trying to escape from in their jobs. I even had one client say that she was the worst boss she had ever had!!
This leads me to my controversial suggestion: maybe it’s not the job that’s the problem, it’s actually you.
When the problem is you – not the job
I’ve written before about how I’ve diagnosed myself with ‘good girl syndrome‘. Thanks to my upbringing and education, I look for others to tell me the correct answer and crave external validation. I’ve also written about the ‘curse of the high achiever‘, someone with an innate drive to perform, who equates achievement with hard work (which I know resonated with a lot of you).
Now, yes, there is a certain culture, a tone set by senior management, as to how you manage your time and energy, whether you’re expected to pick up calls and emails outside of your working hours, and how much your wellbeing and family needs are taken into account. It’s hard to set boundaries when no one respects them, or when doing so will have a negative impact on your career prospects. However, it really does come down to you: your habits, your mindset, and your choices (which, ultimately, can of course include quitting your job).
In my first junior role, the team all came in early in the morning and it was deemed unprofessional to arrive ‘late’. In my next role, everyone came in mid-morning but worked late into the night and of course leaving early was frowned upon. When I was promoted into my final role, I had the autonomy and, more importantly, the intentionality and the confidence to focus on the right priorities. I worked to deliver the big projects and get results, while not stressing about what other people thought about when I was clocking in and clocking out.
Working late, being ‘always on’, never saying no… these are all learned behaviours. That means, unfortunately, that we will take them with us even as we, on paper, ‘quit the 9 to 5’. It also means that we have an opportunity to unlearn those behaviours.
An empowering thought
While recognising the problem within yourself rather than in your job or employer seems at first a little depressing, in fact, it’s good news. It means that you can take personal responsibility for your own decisions, for your wellbeing. This puts you back in the driving seat. You can change your mindset, your habits, your behaviours – and you can do so within the structure of the ‘9 to 5’, or outside of it.
You are responsible for being clear on your priorities.
It’s up to you to identify and communicate your boundaries.
You have the power and the opportunity to say ‘no’.
And, yes, you do have the option to quit your job and go elsewhere, to a different employer or to do your own thing. But then you still have to take responsibility for behaving differently in the new job, or designing your own business in a different way.
Taking small steps
So what can you do with this new power that you now have? Well, you can start by identifying your ‘big rocks’, the most important priorities in your life. You can choose to put your own health and wellbeing first, along with the needs and wants of your family (whatever that family looks like). You can set clear boundaries and start saying ‘no’. Start by making small changes in your current job, or business. Otherwise, even if you leave, you’ll bring with you the very things that are causing you issues today.