Why I Turned Down Multiple Corporate Job Offers In the Middle of a Pandemic


I’ve been out of the corporate world for just over a year now.

Just as the world went into lockdown and national economies started hemorrhaging, I made one of my biggest ever life changes. I swapped the safe and comfortable, air-conditioned, swivel chair lifestyle for something else entirely.

It was more a COVID-19 inspired move than a forced exit. I wanted to take the leap and planned to do it a few months down the track, anyway. The pandemic and the uncertainty that came with it just catapulted my plans forward.

Well, kind of.

Funnily enough, global pandemics have a habit of restricting a lady’s options. So, switching lanes (and gears), I veered off course and went in a completely different direction. Different and unexpected, yes, but also the exact right direction for me.

Leaving my career in the dust, I returned to my home country.

I’ll admit, with everything that was unfolding in the world, the comfort of the familiar was tempting. I flirted with the idea of going back to the steady, more than ample income offered by a respectable 9-to-5. Especially when the pressure of (mostly) well-meaning opinions started weighing on me.

Recruiters regularly touch base with me, and occasionally I nibble at the bait, taking a closer look at what’s on offer. I’ve even done the odd interview. But more than anything, those final steps toward secure, office-bound employment served as a reminder that corporate life just isn’t for me. Not now. Not anymore.

I want to be my own boss. I want freedom. I want to create, and I want to do good for others. None of that’s available inside an office cubicle.

Two people standing on grey tiled pavement over the words: Passion Led Us Here
Photo by Ian Schneider on Unsplash

How do you know if it’s right for you?

A year or so before I called it quits on the corporate life for good, I had a couple of health-degrading toxic jobs.

While being in a relentlessly unhealthy work environment is an experience I recommend you leave as soon as you can; I now like to think of these jobs as blessings in disguise. Blessings covered in heart-piercing thorns, absolutely, but blessings nonetheless.

These jobs forced me to take a good hard look at, not only my career trajectory but what I really want from life. And what I expect from those I share it with.

While it may have taken a half-step into another unfulfilling role to gather enough courage to change direction and move towards my dreams, I’m here now. I’m on the road again, and that’s what matters.

Despite being in the foundation-building stage of a new career and life path, the only regret I have is that I didn’t do it sooner. My previous life may have looked nice from a distance to some, but in all honesty, I was depressed, disappointed in humanity, bored, and unsatisfied.

Quitting is for winners

One of the most useful lessons I’ve learned is that a great job for someone else isn’t necessarily a great job for me. And just because I can do something, and do it well, doesn’t mean I should. At times, quitting really is for winners.

From a young age, we’re told what “good” jobs are, so naturally, these are the ones we strive for. We’re told that “smart” people study science and mathematics, and other such things, so we study what we’re capable of — not what lights us up.

Huge mistake.

Take it from someone who spent seven years living someone else’s idea of a good life.

I wasted seven precious years. I refuse to live another seven minutes being miserable or trying to be someone I’m not.

I just don’t care anymore.

The people who judge you for no longer having a particular career will judge and criticize you no matter what. Honestly, they probably already were — you just didn’t know it.

We spend roughly 30% of our lives at work, spend that time wisely.

Say it after me: Values, values, values

Whether it be in business or a corporate career, value misalignment is the ultimate deal-breaker for me. And it’s a tough one to spot.

When you’re applying for and interviewing for a job, the process is, understandably, focused on you: Whether you meet the mark; whether you are a good fit for the team. But because of this, you receive very little information about what you can expect once you’ve signed the contract, so it’s difficult to know what it’s really like working there.

But while it’s hard to gauge, it’s not impossible. The hands-down, most reliable sign I get (and have been guilty of ignoring) is the little niggly feeling some people set off. The one telling you that something isn’t quite right. You’re not sure what it is, but it’s there and it makes you question what you’re hearing. This feeling could pop up in the interview process; possibly at the end when you’re asking questions and the responses are ingenuine, a little snarky, or too good to be true.

Don’t ignore it.

If you’re getting warning cues from someone who’s giving you their
well-rehearsed elevator pitch, then it’s likely just the tip of the ice-burg. Remember, once you sign the contract, you’ll be reporting to that person — they’ll be in a position of power. Don’t give away your power lightly.

And if your interviewer has moved up the ranks in that organization, they’re likely a good reflection of its overall culture. Expect more of the same.

To help you establish a deeper understanding of the workplace you’re considering, ask questions. Lots of them.

  • Ask what they consider a quality employee looks like.
  • Ask what they expect your performance will look like in six months and if there’s training or mentoring available to help you get there.
  • Ask if they’re looking for someone who can hit the ground running and who works fairly independently, or if it’s a more collaborative environment.
  • Ask how they deal with staff concerns and their approach to managing and correcting staff.
  • Ask specifics about the culture, including staff retention rates: What roles did their recently departed staff take up? Are they internal appointments or did they leave the organization? How long had they been in the role/organization?
  • Ask if there is a wide range of ethnicities, age groups, and levels of ability represented in the organization? How diverse is the leadership team?

The other great way to gain insight about an organization is through current or former employees. See if there’s anyone you know of who will share their experiences.

In some sectors, you can expect much of the same across the board. People move from one organization to another. So if you’ve experienced the work culture of one organization, you can be fairly confident it will be similar in another.

Accolades mean nothing

Raving performance reviews, letters thanking you for your dedication and service, pay raises, and promotions feel great at the moment. They can also be a good indicator of your performance, letting you know that you’re meeting your employer’s expectations — that’s important. But, just like wealth, you can’t take others’ opinions with you to your grave. So don’t live for it.

If the positive reinforcement from your workplace or the people in your life is all that’s keeping you there, is that enough?

I know it’s not for me.

Photo by Hưng Nguyễn on Unsplash

What is life really about?

Over the last two or three years, I’ve realized that my life is about so much more than me and how I rate amongst my peers.

I’ve spent years focusing on my career and I’ve traveled too. Some of it was fun. Some of it was rewarding. I’m grateful for all of it. But looking back on those experiences, none of it ended up meaning much to me.

I’ve always known that I wanted to good in the world. It’s the reason I was first drawn to my previous career. It’s the reason I do most things in life. But I’ve only recently realized how front-and-center, focused, and all-consuming it needs to be for me.

At times, I’ve set out with my core beliefs and values leading the way, only to be distracted by ambition and people-pleasing. I now know that I want my passions, talents, and purpose to collide with anything and everything I do.

Final thoughts

We’re all different, so while helping others may be my guiding light, yours could be something completely different. That’s okay. Being the best in your field may be important to you. Maybe making a lot of money, or breaking barriers and being the first to do something gets you out of bed in the morning. Whatever it is, I encourage you to steer your career path toward your values.

At every juncture, honestly consider: Why am I doing this? Who am I doing it for? Does it still make sense to carry on in this direction, or is it time to consider something new?

If you stay true to your values and course-correct when needed, no matter how many pivots you make in life, I’m certain you’ll come out the other end having journeyed an imperfect but extraordinary life.

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