My Career Love Story – When Comfort Ends, Life Begins

November 8, 2012

Editor’s Note: One of the key aspects of LinkedIn’s culture is Transformation: of Career, Company, and World. Our new Transformation series highlights inspiring stories like this one -- J.T. O'Donnell's journey from six-figure job to career coach.

It’s hard to believe 10+ years ago, I was 40 lbs. overweight with high blood pressure. I had a house I was never in, a husband I never saw and friends and family I was completely out of touch with. I still remember finding the note from my assistant on my desk saying, “Call your mom, it’s important.”

It was dated a week old.

Yep. I was a wreck – on the inside. But, on the outside, I was a professional woman in her 30s with a high-powered career, a six-figure income, and running a $30M division of a company. (Here's the story I tell people about that job and George Clooney.) I had perks galore. I was supposed to be happy because I was “successful.” Then it happened…

I Was Her Teacher in Life and I Hated Myself

I got pregnant with my first child. I had every intention of going back to work. I was lucky in that I had amassed some sick and vacation time. So, coupled with maternity leave, I had four months off. In that time, as I snuggled that gorgeous little creature in my arms, I had a huge Ah-ha Moment: I was her teacher in life. She was going to watch me and learn what to do (and what not to do), as a woman. The tears started to come.

Yes, we can all agree hormones had something to do with that.

But still, I was upset.


I realized in spite of the career progression I had worked so hard to achieve, it had come at a cost – I didn’t like myself. What kind of teacher could I be when I didn’t even respect what I was? Yet, I still wasn’t ready to start over. The security and comfort of the job (and the paycheck) kept nagging at my logical side.

It’s funny. I have a journal I kept in those early months. I reread it from time to time to remind myself of how conflicted I was.

Ironically, the decision to walk away didn’t come until…

We’re Merging - You’re in Charge

I was scheduled to return to my job the week after Thanksgiving. While on maternity leave, my employer had been bought. The new employer contacted me at home and asked me to come in the day before Thanksgiving to have a discussion. I remember saying to my husband, “Yippee! They are going to make this decision easy. They are going to lay me off!”

Well, that didn’t happen.

Instead, they let me know they were laying other managers off and I would be in charge of integrating our division with their own. My heart sank. I knew what this would entail. 60 hour weeks full of stress and more self-loathing. I went home and said, “I can’t do it. I can’t be like this in front of our child.” Thank goodness I have a husband who has known his whole life what he wanted to do. He has a level of career satisfaction few ever achieve.

(In case you are wondering, he’s a pilot)

He understood it was time for me to find my career love story too. He said, “Quit. It’s time to find out what you were meant to do.”

FYI – Yes, I know how great he is.

Fast Forward to Today – I’m No Cinderella Story

The journey to creating my own career love story after that day was filled with twists and turns, ups and downs, and a lot of curve balls. But, it landed me here.

In all of it, there’s one thing I can tell you I learned to be true: You won’t get your happy ending until you step out of your comfort zone. Trust me, it’s where life begins.

In the last ten years, I have met and worked with more people than I ever dreamed possible. My mission to change the way Americans approach their careers has been fortified by the incredible relationships I’ve been lucky enough to develop. None of this would have happened if I hadn’t been so afraid of what would result if I didn’t make a change. My career came alive when I let go of the world’s definition of professional success and started pursuing my own. It’s a strange feeling to let go of the addiction of trying impressing others so you can focus on impressing the only person that truly matters – yourself.

Don’t get me wrong. It wasn't a merry, nothing-but-fun process. The doubters made it tough. A lot of people thought I'd gone CRAZY! There were plenty of days I was convinced of it too.  “Let me get this straight J.T., you are leaving your six-figure job to become a career coach?” I even lost friends. Or, should I say, so-called friends. What I gained was my self-respect and a passion for a career that has brought me more joy than you can imagine.

(Seriously, I wish I could bottle it for you.)

And with any luck, I'll be doing it for another 30 years. For me, it was worth it. But it wasn’t easy, and I’ll never tell you it was.

There it is - my career love story.

Now, tell me yours…

Image Credit: Shutterstock