What I found most admirable about Sheryle’s story was her bravery by the mere act of letting go. It’s hard to come to terms with the hard truth that something isn’t working, even when, in theory, it’s perfect. She had a great job, and because she was good at it, she easily made her way to the top of the totem pole. And yet, amidst her success she elected change, to move forward toward something she couldn’t yet articulate. “I just knew something was missing.” We all have to sway with the events and circumstances of our lives, but to spontaneously change course when you already have a favorable breeze, that takes … something. As a fresh, young professional still navigating corporate culture and the big, bad, already intimidating business world (so, essentially, as fresh meat) I had a talk with Sheryle Gillihan, Director of Partnerships at CauseLabs, to find out what that ‘something’ was.
Frances – So, I guess my most obvious question would be … why did you do it? What was your ‘aha!’ moment that made you leave your job?
Sheryle – It’s a pretty big deal—isn’t it?—when you’re established in your career and you reach executive level… I just wasn’t happy. Not that I wasn’t good at my job, and not that I didn’t love what I was doing. But I would come home at night and just feel like I wasn’t accomplishing anything in the world. I was speaking to my husband one day, and he kind of turned on a light bulb for me when he said, “You’re just so angry all the time, and that’s not you. I mean, the little things will set you off. You’re just not as carefree as you used to be.” And that was when I realized that maybe I’m not in the right field of work, even though I’m really good at this.
Frances – When you finally made that break and later joined CauseLabs, was it just all downhill from there?
Sheryle – Well, no. I probably spent that entire first year just finding my purpose. I enjoyed what I did. I was really glad I was working for an organization that was very cause-oriented, but I was still searching for my path. I really spent that first year searching for how I would help best. Where do I have strengths? What really makes me happy? What sorts of projects just really hit home for me and make me want to sit down and cry because I’m so happy that I’m helping these people?
Frances – And have you answered those questions in your work now with CauseLabs?
Sheryle – Working at CauseLabs allows me to be a strategist and to plug myself into problems and innovate on programs that empower people. My greatest goal is to empower people, to work to help teams in organizations. That’s what I do, and it’s pretty much my dream job. I’m glad that I made the change.
Frances – What advice, then, would you have for people who are looking to make a career change, as well as people, like myself, who are just starting out in their careers?
Sheryle – Well, for anyone who wants to do this, it’s definitely a leap of faith, but you have to figure out how you’re going to serve people the way that you want to serve them. I’m not saying that everybody has to make a major career shift in order to find happiness in their lives or purpose in their jobs, but you need to find purpose in the work that you do.
Leaving our conversation, I felt relief, of all emotions. Not because we’d ended our conversation, but because I felt the pressure lifted off my shoulders by the comfort of her words. I’m reminded of a previous employer’s words at the same time: “to change is the hardest thing you can ask someone to do because you’re asking them to change the status quo”. It’s okay to admit that something isn’t working, and more still, when it takes time to remedy. But if we are to spend the majority of our lives at work, then it’s alright to try for something better.
This interview was originally posted on imperative.com and purposeeconomy.com in March 2014 in preparation for the release of the book The Purpose Economy by Aaron Hurst. Many thanks to @FrancesNguyen for capturing my story with her many talents.