There is a saying in business: innovate or die. It means that companies can’t keep doing the same thing and expect to keep winning. They have to look at what’s going on around them and anticipate changing needs. Remember Blockbuster? That little laminated membership card isn’t getting you any movie rentals today. Now those guys should have taken a sabbatical.
I’ve been working in consumer insights and innovation since I graduated college. I’ve worked for the same company for nine years. I get a familiar reaction when I tell people that — a millennial at the same company for nine years *gasp*. Yes, I’m basically a unicorn.
Now I’m not saying my career was dying. I was innovating on my skills sets. My experiences were diverse and interesting. It all looked pretty good on paper. But my passion for the job started to wilt. I had gotten too comfortable. I fell into a routine and needed something to disrupt it.
Find a new path or take a pitstop?
There are a lot of things to love about my company and the work. Even through times of frustration, I knew I had it pretty good. But I was burnt out. Like Ross and Rachel, I too needed a break. I debated new career routes, self-employment, contract work, something that would end the routine. But I’m a researcher and an over-analyzer. I couldn’t convince myself to dive into anything.
Defining the right problem
That’s when I decided to take a sabbatical from my job. I requested an eight week leave of absence and started to plan how to spend those precious days off. There was the option to travel non-stop and cross things off my bucket list. I could live responsibility-free on the beach for two months. Or I could be more intentional. I could use those 56 days to innovate myself. Hacker Paradise helped me do that.
The key to meaningful innovation is to define the right problem. Blockbuster saw themselves as a well-oiled machine. Even after Netflix approached them for a merger, they didn’t second guess their efficient business model. They were asking near-sighted questions like how do we get more people to hold Blockbuster cards? Meanwhile, Netflix was asking themselves how do we disrupt Blockbuster?
My month in Lisbon with Hacker Paradise helped me to see that I wasn’t defining my own problem right either. I thought my question was what do I want from my career? That was too narrow though. I really needed to ask how can I get excited about starting my day every day?
The disrupter becomes the disrupted
My experience in Lisbon showed me I don’t need a new job to reinvent myself. I need a new approach to how I measure my days and successes. For years I tried to separate my workday from my ‘real life.’ My goal was to leave at 5:00 pm and get into the fun part. I always hated the term work-life balance and hated, even more, the idea that technology would allow us to blur the lines even further. That meant work would seep into my personal life. I learned from my fellow HP-ers (Hacker Paradise participants) it should actually be the other way around.
While I didn’t accomplish every single goal I set for my time off (there are several very nice beaches and castles in Lisbon and I was on sabbatical afterall), my trip was a success. The freelancers in the community taught me to organize my day based on projects. My 8-5 job is one project but I can have others with equal importance and still dedicate time to accomplishing all of them. I also learned that I like the security and structure of working in an office with a team. And I was refreshed by how excited I still get talking about my job.
After just four weeks with Hacker Paradise, I realized that I didn’t need to change my 8-5 job. I need to iterate on my own business model. I don’t derive value just through what I create for my company but by spending time on things that I personally value too.
So as my sabbatical ends and I prepare to go back to work on Monday, it feels like resolution time. I resolve to live more like an HP-er all the time. I will:
- Continually step back from my day to day work and ask, are we solving the right problem?
- Work on my side hustles with the importance of my full-time job.
- Bring more of my ‘real life’ to my work life.
- Recognize what my skills and time are worth and not be afraid to make sure others see their value.
- …And I will convince my full-time employer than I can work remotely for a month every once in a while!