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17 January 2019
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"A man can stand anything except..."

25 November 2013

"…a succession of ordinary days." That's a quote from Goethe, and one that seems apt at the moment as my days are anything but ordinary, for which I am very grateful.

Five years ago I walked out on a well-paid job with a business that was part of a global group. I had perks to go with the pay and was doing very nicely when I set off one March morning to meet my boss at The Institute of Directors in Pall Mall for my annual review.

On the train to London I busied myself with other thoughts for I had already thought long and hard about what I wanted to cover at our meeting - although resignation there and then was not on my agenda at all.

While I was well paid and making a contribution, I was not happy in my job. I had broken into the ranks of senior management in my mid-thirties in a corporate strategic role, but had been able to quickly return to operational duties where I derived more pleasure and job satisfaction. I'd been in the operational arena for more than fifteen years when a change in the company had seen me move into another strategic role and now, another six years on, I was increasingly frustrated by what I was being asked to do. It wasn’t that it was boring, or that it wasn’t important, nor was it that I struggled to achieve anything for the results were there, but it wasn’t what I enjoyed doing.

The days for me had become just ordinary. There was variety, because one day I might drive to Newcastle and back, while on another I'd spend my time working at home with the cats for company.

Looking back at my diaries from those years reminds me that I touched on projects that involved PFI schools and hospital schemes, working on contractual matters in French, looking at building a large industrial site in Malaysia, helping one large financial institution move its HQ and another to move into the 20th century as well as helping a national institution make a major operational change to name just a few. But variety does not make things special, nor do results, because results were what I was being paid to deliver.

In none of those projects was I really at the centre, making the decisions. Rather, I was one member of the team contributing my knowledge and experience. While those thing had value for the organisation, for me there was one thing lacking – I was no longer the one responsible for the decisions.

Over lunch that day, my boss and I discussed how I'd done the year before and what was planned for me in the year ahead. But I didn’t want to have another year of ordinary days, and so by turning that down I effectively resigned.

A quick call to the HR Director sealed my position and I was on gardening leave before I left the IoD. Walking across Trafalgar Square on my way back to catch the tube, I was ten feet off the pavement. It was only then that I started to realise just how much I'd been frustrated by my position.

Since setting out as a brain for hire I have "gone plural" as they say, and every day is extraordinary as I keep finding thinks to inspire and delight me. But more importantly, every decision I have to make now is mine and mine alone. I stand or fall on my own merits without the constraints or benefits of a corporation around me. It may be hard, but anything worthwhile should be hard won – and that’s something I can stand.

John Bowen is an FM consultant