How I Took a Step Back to Move My Career Forward

I remember the day I graduated from Culinary school as clearly as the day I went back to college for HR.

Considering the two were less than five years apart, I remember feeling like I had to consistently reassure myself that this was the right move.

Did I give it my all? Am I giving up? What will people think, that I couldn’t cut it? 

I kept asking myself these questions when I decided to leave the food industry and move into HR. All of my classmates were working their way through the ranks, taking over restaurants or opening their own. I wasn’t jealous, I was happy for them.

They are good, solid chefs and I wish them worlds of success. But I couldn’t help facing my own self-doubt when I realized I wasn’t jealous. I didn’t want any of the things they we’re working so hard to achieve. I just wanted to know how to cook and I wanted to do well at my job.

I remember taking a look around on the day I decided it wasn’t for me. If you know me at all, you know once I decide something isn’t for me, I generally run like the buildings on fire. For those who are curious, this is not the best approach.

I quit my job, and with no plan decided to hit a reset button on my career. This is also why I encourage clients to make a lateral move. 

Hitting the reset button was the hard way to get things done; in retrospect, I should have planned my journey first.

I worked random retail jobs for the first year or so while taking online and evening classes. I should also mention that I had quite an addiction to work. No matter where I was, I had to try to be the best I can (and sometimes more than humanly possible). Although it sounds like I am tooting away at my own horn, I will tell you this is a gift and a curse.

Employers benefit if they are mutually set up to be addicted to their employees and take steps towards employee satisfaction. Otherwise, I would work so hard that my fire would burn out within 1-2 years of working at a place (sometimes even 6 months) and I would have to look for something new. I have since learned to manage my workaholic tendencies. However, this quality did resonate with employers need for consistently available employees, and I found myself receiving promotions or increased responsibilities.

(I also want to mention, just because there is a promotion, doesn’t mean you have to take it. Not all promotions are good or lucrative for you and your career.)

After nearly two years in the retail industry, I realized office experience would be crucial to my success (and my resume), and once again took a step back. I began working as a receptionist to gain office experience. If you have ever transitioned from food service or retail to office work, you may know exactly what I am going to say next.

It was a big fat piece of cake. 

You see, when you reset your career, you don’t lose all of the skills you have developed. As we’ve mentioned before, many of those skills are transferable and relevant to other career paths. Coming from a career where the two hardest things to find we’re good cooks and time, you can imagine that sitting at a desk and waiting for a phone to ring became nearly impossible.

I worked my way through the company rather quickly, primarily due to my willingness to allow my workaholic tendencies to take over and high turnover rates within the company. This is also the job that taught me it doesn’t pay to be a workaholic.

I advise my clients against it. I advise my friends against it. I advise my family against it.

I was always tired, stressed and worried about things that I had no business worrying about. It did, however, offer my first opportunity to work in HR. I made the opportunity into the stepping stone I needed.

I realized that I had reached the pinnacle of my career with the organization in regard to HR and began to pursue new opportunities. The only issue that I consistently ran it to was the lack of complete HR degree, which I was actively pursuing. I had managed many teams throughout my career at this point but did not have more than five years experience in the HR field. I also was still over a year away from completing my degree, even with a full-time course load. 

So I did it again. I reset my career and applied for internships

The most repeated question I came across during my many phone and face-to-face interviews was, “You were in an HR management role, why an internship?”

It was hard not to do some serious contemplation after being asked this question repeatedly, but I knew what I wanted to accomplish, and that’s what I told them. “An internship would allow me the opportunity to focus on the foundational HR methodologies and practices in a real-world environment, and will help me become a better HR business partner in the future,” was my response. And it’s true.

I’m fortunate enough now to have a boss that understands my career path and adjusts my workload, projects and learning experiences accordingly. I’m able to bring my previous experiences and skills to the table, and in return they are teaching me more in-depth knowledge of HR practices.

It can be difficult in some situations. For example, I may say something with confidence in a meeting with people outside of our small department, and quickly realize the people around the table have only seen intern attached to my name. I do feel the innate need to explain myself and detailed work history, but have learned not to say anything at all. 

But it’s all worth it.

I have learned more in the past three months than I have in the past five years. More about myself than anything. About my worth and value to any organization, regardless of how many times I push the reset button.