Australian Government,  Blog post,  Communications professional

Find what you love – lessons from someone who walked away from the APS

I was told I was brave. I was bold. What I felt was scared. Terrified. A little bit stupid. When I left my secure, well-paying public service job and started my own small business I am sure behind my back people were saying “is she crazy?”. I had left behind security, long-service leave (annual leave, personal leave, all of the leaves’), colleagues who supported me and a job I knew inside and out. And that was the problem. I wasn’t being challenged anymore, I found the meetings tedious, I loved my team but found my tolerance for drama was at an all-time low. In short, I wasn’t happy anymore.

I wrote a few weeks ago about how I went back to uni because I realised that I just loved doing communications. Except in my job I wasn’t “doing communications”. I headed up a large team of amazing professionals who were producing great communications, while I was in meetings, dealing with HR issues and managing egos.

A lot of managers are nodding their heads right now. This is what you do as a manager in the public service. I have heard it again and again. You spend so much time in meetings and dealing with problems that you don’t get to do the things you love or the great things about leadership – come up with long-term strategies, mentor junior staff, network with colleagues. I was on a treadmill, and it was the same thing every day. I loved my team and was committed to the organisation but it wasn’t enough anymore.

If you have read these last two paragraphs and gone, yes, yes…. Yes. Then you probably want to keep reading because you are probably in the same place I was.

I started to look around at other public service jobs but they were basically the same, and I was sure in 12 months I would be in the same position. So, I made a “brave” decision and did something that felt right for me. I walked away.

I am not advocating that everyone should take a big risk and chuck it all in. Maybe you don’t need a new job just a new challenge. Perhaps you stay in the same organisation but in a new role. Only you can figure it out. What I am asking you to do is to stop and think about what will make you happy every day? What will it take to make a change if that’s what you need?

“Most of us spend more of our time working than we do with friends and family. When such a massive part of your life is devoted to work, how can you possibly not owe it to yourself to find a vocation that is rewarding?” – Robert Gerrish, Sam Leader & Peter Crocker, Flying Solo.

In case you are thinking about making a big change I thought I would share what I learnt from taking the leap from the APS to my own consultancy. This isn’t groundbreaking stuff, its just my personal reflections on what I didn’t know when I started out (I could write a book about what I didn’t know but I’ll save some of that for future posts).

Back yourself as much as others back you.

I was never sure that I could make it (if I am honest I am still not) but people around me believed in me. I just kept hoping that if they really were my loved ones they would tell me if I was making a monumental mistake, instead they told me I would be great. A woman I really looked up to told me “the next 12 months is going to be really challenging, it’s going to be hard, but I think you can make it.” That was the type of honesty I needed. I just needed to find my own self-confidence. I’m not there yet, but I am definitely on the right path.

Be scared – it makes you better

If you aren’t a little bit scared (not like full on anxiety panic attack), then you won’t be working at your best. That little bit of anxiety helps you to think things through in detail, consider the risks and all of your options. It also allows you to step out of your comfort zone. Being scared gives you to adrenalin to run faster and harder at your goals. If you are comfortable, you will cruise, like I was in my old job. In my new business, I am mildly terrified all of the time, but it makes me determined to do a good job and deliver above expectations.

People are amazing

One thing I did not expect about going out on my own was that I wouldn’t be on my own. There are other people in your industry, in my case consulting, and they want you to succeed as much as you do. I have found a group of consultants who are willing to share their experiences, job ideas, and general support for the newcomer to the market. It is also with the support of past colleagues and friends that I have started to carve out my little niche in Canberra, word of mouth is a wondrous thing. My message is this, reach out to others in your field, and you might just be surprised about who offers you some advice or support (or a job!).

Be Bold!

You don’t have to follow my lead and throw it all in but if you aren’t happy in your job then make a change. Find a new one, approach people, have coffees, get your LinkedIn profile up to date, call a recruitment agent. No one can tell the world you are ready for a change but you. Be bold! Take that leap. It’s scary but not as scary as being still here in 12 month’s time.

Almost six months into my new adventure, people often ask how its all going. It’s a really hard question to answer I have a lot of projects on the go and I feel like I am giving this a good crack in my first year. But its a huge learning curve and there is a lot of self-doubt. I love working from home, in the sun with my two puppies. I love working with a range of people, on topics I often know nothing about. I love the challenge. Ultimately, I have no regrets! My bold decision is paying off.

One Comment

  • Sanjay

    Hi Mel,
    Thanks for your candid post. It really resonated with me. I have also recently started my own little communications agency, eagleeyemedia.com.au. Haven’t chucked my APS job yet.
    Would be great to have a coffee with you sometime.
    All the best and keep in keeping on.
    Cheers,
    Sanjay

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