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Ilene A. Serlin Ph.D.

Transitions: From Corporate Employee to Entrepreneur

Is breaking up really all that hard?

Transitions: From Corporate Employee to Entrepreneur

In my office on Union Street I see many successful people who are struggling with how to find meaning and value in their work. Some long for more creativity and freedom, and this piece is from one who records his successful transition:

Is breaking up really all that hard?

I just got out of a four-and-one-half year relationship.

It was a pretty good one overall. It kept me grounded, opened some really interesting new horizons, even challenged me sometimes. I was exposed to new ideas and some very cool new people (a few might keep in touch).

It had it's moments, though. I was bored—a lot. I was sometimes jealous of how this particular "partner" treated others, showed favoritism, and unfairly bestowed what might be akin to affection. Sometimes there were miscommunications and arguments. Sometimes we were just not on the same page as to what we wanted out of the relationship, and sometimes it was just a petty spat that went away the next morning.

For a while, we saw each other every day. Later on, it became more of a long-distance relationship, but we invented some pretty interesting ways to keep it alive and vibrant. The ups and downs were pretty much the same in both cases, so I'd conclude the that the long-distance thing worked pretty well, mostly.

Though I often wondered where it was all going. I knew it wasn't a life-long deal (my "partner" might have tried to make be believe it was, but neither of us ever thought it would be). I didn’t expect it to last more than two, maybe three, years, so the four-and-one-half was a nice bonus; or looked at differently, me hanging around too long when I knew I needed to get out.

Overall, I'm glad I got into it, I'm glad I spent the time, and I'm glad I'm out of it. We ended up wanting very different things out of the relationship, and once we both understood that, we were able to find a way to end it.

And it ended exactly the way I expected. No drama, no name calling or blame. Just a nice-to-know-you-and-best-of-luck conversation exactly when, where and how I expected it.

Does this sound like a pretty typical story of a good relationship that is not quite "the one?" I think it does, and it pretty much felt like it the entire time. There's a bit of information I left out, though, that you'll need to know to understand the point of this story:

My "partner" in this relationship was not a person (current political posturing aside). Nor was it a pet.

It was a company. A Fortune 500 company at that. And I was an employee.

I have come to believe that, even though corporations are not actually people, many if not most of the aspects of how people relate to corporations (and how corporations relate to one another) are very much like the way people relate to other people.

I've spent the bulk of my 25 year career working on managing and improving the relationships between corporations and between corporations and their customers, partners, employees and various other constituencies.

When I look over that experience, I find the very same things that make personal relationships work (or fail): shared values, shared outlook, open and honest communication, managing expectations, understanding and meeting one another's needs, going above and beyond every so often, and a mutual commitment to making it work well.

As an employee of this large corporation, I had hopes and dreams for where my career there might lead. I had expectations of how I would be treated and rewarded. I had moments where the corporation was the best thing ever invented on the planet, and moment where I was certain they'd be out of business any day.

I've thought the same about most companies I've done business with, and will bet you have, too. When was the last time you decided you really, really hated your iPhone? Or couldn't wait to talk with your airline's (or cable provider's) customer service agents?

I can go on with the parallels, but I think I've made my point.

With so many people (by some estimates, as much as 16% of the US workforce) out of work, and so many more under-employed or just dissatisfied with their work, I have to ask the question: are you getting what you need from your relationship with your employer? Is the relationship a good one? Can it be improved (and how)? Or should you walk away from it (or will your employer)?

And if you (or your employer) decide to walk away, how will you handle the breakup? I can't answer that question for you anymore than I can suggest how to handle breaking up with your last boy/girlfriend, but I can suggest that you remember that it will be emotionally challenging and how well you handle it will help determine how soon you recover and move on.

Maybe the more important question is how to make sure you and your next employer are getting what you both need from the relationship. Interviewing is like a whirlwind relationship in many ways—not just that it happens quickly and it's important to put your best self forward, but there's a dance that we all expect and learning how you and your partner (read: potential employer) dance together will he advance the relationship. And as we know, a good relationship starts with open and honest communication.

And when the interview process doesn't work out, if you're like many of my friends, you're left asking why. Knowing why can help, but while there may be a good reason, it's often more of an impression. It's more like asking after a break up "I love you, why don't you love me?"

So when I go on my next interview, I will be figuring out how to develop a good, strong, long-term relationship with the employer, and I'll be making sure that the employer is one with which I want to enter a relationship. I encourage you to do the same.

After all, do you really want to be "that girl/guy" who says yes to anyone who asks?

Your turn: when you last left a company or job (whether by your choice or theirs) did it feel a bit like a breakup? Did it take some adjustment to find the right next job? Tell us your story!

The author of this piece, Jeff Weinberger, can be reached at: http://posterous.jeffweinberger.com

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About the Author

Ilene Serlin, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist and the founder and director of Union Street Health Associates and the Arts Medicine Program at California Pacific Medical Center.