Wednesday, September 14, 2016

That One Time I Downshifted, Took A Paycut, and Felt Pretty Good About It

So, it’s been awhile since I’ve written one of these things.  Much has changed in the last two years.  Life happened and it pulled me away from these type of extra-curricular activities.  However, recent events have caused many changes in the Wilkerson household.  One of the things that I believe is that “truth” is real and it’s objective.  Despite this reality, a person can still cover it up and pretend that it doesn’t exist.  When finally faced with this truth, decisions must be made to deal with it or sweep it under the rug.  I dealt with mine and this is a very short rendition of what has transpired.

Jumping in my time machine, almost 2 years ago, I aggressively followed my own personal desires/ego and took on a new job.  It was a management job, which was a stretch role for me at the time.  However, I knew that once I got in the door, I could learn quickly, figure things out, and perform what was required of me.  I had always been critical of leaders I’ve had in the past and this was an opportunity to try it myself and eat my own dog food.  When I started this job, I was given a team of 4 people.  After 3 months, 3 of them were gone, to no fault of my own.  There were bad decisions made before I joined and I had to play cleanup.  Soon after this exodus, I realized that I was given a pack of sticks and told to build a house.  So I spent the next year building that house of sticks and trying to fortifying it with real material.  And I did that.  I achieved many mini successes and was getting some good traction with my team and making great strides that were getting noticed around the company.

Despite the progress made in the workplace, my wife Mary told me back in January of this year that I should think about the job and how it was affecting our family.  I wasn’t being asked to quit, but I was being asked to evaluate the quality of life (or lack thereof) being offered by the job.  Being the typical guy that I am, I ignored what she asked me to think about.  I said, “Sure, I’ll consider what you’re saying....”  The hours were piling up, but I enjoyed what I was doing and I was getting life from it.  I was in charge of things, making progress, and getting some notoriety from my peers.  We even went to Disney in April for a week and I spent a couple hours each day working, trying to keep on top of things while I was gone.  In my job, I didn’t have the ability to disappear, I had to be available to make sure that things were progressing.  Let’s just say that Mary wasn’t to pleased with my Disney work schedule.

Then, July of this year came around and everything changed, including my outlook on things.  “You are not on top of your stuff.”  That was the phrase that changed everything for me.   A large project that was going on, let’s call it the “Ninja” project, wasn’t going too well.  Things were running behind schedule on the Ninja project and I wasn’t fully aware of all of the issues until later in the game.  My group was working on it and, because I’m the leader, it was on me to figure things out and get the ship back on course.  Also, it wasn’t just the Ninja project that was mentioned.  Previous projects were brought up that apparently weren’t up to expectations of my new immediate leadership who brought in around April.  Before then, I was being commended for handling things with a thin staff.  But now, I was being scolded all of a sudden.  I was pretty much told that if I was getting a rating, it wouldn’t even be a “meeting expectations” which is a basic rating.  My how things changed all of a sudden, huh?  In addition to this new criticism, there was no support or assistance offered.  It was just a stern talking to and a “shape up” style of tone.  Not sure how to classify this brand of leadership, but it’s not one that I react well to.

It was this comment and subsequent conversations afterwards, having a similar tone, that changed my perspective on things.  It cut me down and made me question my abilities.  It made me wonder if I was a bad/ineffective leader.  Among these questions, the biggest thing that it did was make me question my priorities.  I spent so much time at my job, trying to get things done, and focusing on my team that I was neglecting other things that were important.  It was then that I came to terms with and realized my own truths:

  1. I was being a crappy Catholic
  2. I was being a crappy husband
  3. I was being a crappy father

I was neglecting my very reason for working.  The people I were supporting by working were slowly slipping away.  So at that point, I made a decision.  I made a choice.  It wasn’t worth it anymore.  To meet the expectations of what I was being asked to do, I would need to pretty much arrive at the office at 7am and stay until 6pm….every day.  Also, with no end in sight.  So, I no longer had an interest in “being on top of my game.”  

One thing to note is that I’m not immune to hard work.  If the stress was only due to the Ninja project then I could easily hunker down and just get it done.  But I looked at the work coming in the future and the size of the team and something wasn’t adding up.  I asked about this basic math and was told that no more people would be coming my way.  So this puts a huge target on my chest regarding execution.  Sure, I could do that, but what would I be gaining?  In the end, would these extra hours, possible accolades (if any) be helping me personally in my faith journey?  No.  Would this be helping my marriage?  No.  Would this be helping how I raise my children?  No.  So then begs the question, what’s the point?  Not what’s the point of work, I have no hesitation about putting in hard work to support my family.  What’s the point of an endless cycle of work, with a lack of resources in perpetuity?  Is it money?  Sure, we can take a week trip to Disney but the work is still waiting for you when you return.  Also, if you calculate the pay including these hours, it’s not much.  If you look at bear necessities, we’re doing quite well.  We have a roof over our heads, working electricity, running water, clothes on our back, and food in our fridge.  One thing we didn’t have was an attentive and present father/husband. Also, during this difficult time, when I was questioning all these things, my wife sent me a picture of her and the kids at the zoo that was a great reminder that put things in perspective and navigate through this craziness.

(Malia, what are you looking at....and why are you so mad?)

Many times, I’ve heard about people taking breaks from careers.  Taking a “step back”, taking a pay cut, moving to something less hectic.  I didn’t understand it at the time but after some discernment I finally got it.  So I made the decision to look outside my company for another opportunity.  I was willing to take on less responsibility and less pay to get back what I had lost.  I became intentional about finding something else to do to support my family.  Luckily, things moved pretty quickly.  I took about 4 weeks from that point to have a formal offer in hand at a new company.  So I put in my notice and left after 2 weeks.  It was tough to leave behind something I helped build from the ground up.

When I told people I was leaving, many times I was asked about if I was taking on more money at a new job or a promotion.  My comment was, “neither”.  I didn’t take on more money, I’m actually taking a pay cut...a good size one.  I’m not taking on a promotion or more responsibilities, I’m actually taking on less.  I won’t have people to manage any longer, nor would I be in charge of high-level strategy.  This move is for my wife.  This move is for my children.  This is for me to figure out what’s most important.  At the end of the day, I’m just a dude.  I can be replaced.  If I disappeared, my company would still run without a hitch.  They’d still make products and ship them out everyday.  People would still show up.  Leaving was bittersweet.  There were tears, many people attended my lunch, received a gift.  I was told from many people in leadership positions that I did a good job considering the circumstances and wanted me to know that before I left.

So what comes next?  Looking forward to being more present and figuring out how to be a better Catholic, a better husband, and a better father.  Stay tuned….


  1. I love the blog, love the song. Welcome back!

  2. What a wonderful witness. Thank you for sharing this journey of yours.
    Many blessings for you, Mary and the Littles

  3. What a wonderful witness. Thank you for sharing this journey of yours.
    Many blessings for you, Mary and the Littles

  4. It takes a man to really take an action like this which supports your vocation. I don't know you (or your wife), but it seems like you did the right thing, even if it was hard. It makes me want to evaluate my life and see if it's in the right order. Bless you.