No one likes performance reviews. At best they are an inconvenience that interrupts your work flow, at worse, they are fear filled and anxiety producing. Performance reviews might determine raises or bonuses, or whether or not you keep your job. They might quantify or qualify your work and help you set goals for the future. Performance reviews may be a source of validation, or a signal that it is time to start job hunting. No matter what they look like, they are almost always imposed by someone else.
I am not one of those people who craves external validation for my work. Indeed, I pride myself on being self-motivated. Why then, would I feel the need to give myself a performance review? In one word, accountability.
I am accountable for my own actions, and the stakes are very high. This is my life at stake. Is there anything more worth my time and attention? I want to live my one life in the best way possible. It is easy to drift along, settle into comfortable routines and exist without a lot of personal reflection. Complacency is not enough for me.
One year ago, I told my department chair that I would not be returning to my job as a professor in the fall. My husband and I planned to sell our house in the country, move to a new city and change the way we lived. I planned to start my own business as a freelance writer.
It may have been just another pipe dream. How could I throw away a perfectly wonderful job at a college I loved and with people I loved? How could I give up the tenure I had worked so hard for in exchange for dubious financial prospects as a “writer”? What about the expensive Ph.D. that I was still paying for?
What if it was all a mistake? Should I go out and find a job immediately, before I lose everything? Changing your life can be scary. If I was not proceeding in the direction I had planned, I needed to redirect my actions or change my plans.
In redesigning my life I had three major goals:
- Get and stay healthy.
- Spend more quality time with my family and friends.
- Continue to find and do work that matters.
We sold our house and moved. It has been six months since I left my job. The new house is painted and the pictures are hung. Though it was apparent fairly quickly that we were on the right path, it was time for a self-check. I needed to be honest, and accountable with myself. Here is what I found:
1. I got a long overdue physical, ditto mammogram and pap. I spent several sessions at the dermatologists working on rosacea that had plagued me for several years. My skin looks fabulous if I do say so myself. I got knee surgery to fix a torn meniscus and my knee pain of almost a year is all but gone. I also scheduled dentist appointments and vet visits for the cats. I gave up Diet Coke and started to eat less processed food. I joined a gym and have been swimming laps four or five days a week.
2. My husband and I have increased our time with family and friends tremendously. We gave up hours of commuting which left time for reunions, lunches, and dinners with people we haven’t seen in years. We’ve spent time attending sporting and cultural events of nieces and nephews. We celebrated our birthdays with family dinners- not so unusual for most people, but rare in our former lives. I got to spend time traveling with my dad to see my sister and daughter in Texas. We have hosted friends in our new home and celebrated both the lives of lost loved ones and new family members.
3. I toyed with the idea of applying for a job. The security of a steady paycheck was very tempting. The nagging voice in my head reminded me that I have always loved to write. If not now, when? I decided to bet on myself and start a freelance writing career. I got the first writing job I applied for. I created a web site and started a blog, and on the eighth post I wrote got picked up by BlogHer as a featured writer. Mover and shaker organizations and the social media directors of several organizations in Madison are following me on Twitter. I am taking it as a sign that I am on my way.
What is the lesson here? My life isn’t perfect, but I am doing everything I said I wanted to do. A former colleague asked me if I had made the right decision in leaving my former job and life. My heart skipped a beat. I have never done anything in my life that feels more right. I am working really hard to make the life I wanted come true. I know that I will need to continually set goals and assess my journey. It’s worth it.
What do you want to do with your life? How are you holding yourself accountable?
I think that deep down, we all know the direction of our true north- the internal compass that guides us to the life we are supposed to be living. After six months of my life redesign journey, my take away for myself and for you is to find your compass, however lost, broken or rusty it may be …and then follow where it leads you.
“It takes courage to grow up and turn out to be who you really are.”