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Knowing when to walk away

September 22, 2011

“You got to know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em

Know when to walk away, know when to run.”

I am that person: at the end of a party, when the DJ plays The Gambler, I know all the words and sing them at the top of my lungs.

And just as Kenny Rogers says, ‘in his final words, I found an ace that I could keep’: knowing when to walk away is a hard lesson to learn.

Whether it’s a job, a relationship or a party, there are always situations where you think, ‘I probably hung on for too long’.

But there are also plenty of times where we probably should hold ’em, but we fold instead. Maybe it’s the crotchety old lady in me, but I reckon this happens in the workplace too many times.

I’d argue that leaving a job in the first six months is generally a bad idea. Of course there are exceptions – if you’re being bullied, if the work is vastly different to what you were told … whatever, there are certainly times when it makes sense.

But there are also plenty of situations where things get better and people get better – but you need to let them play out.

Maybe you have a manager who is new to managing people; they will need some time to grow with you, until they take off their training wheels.

Or perhaps the crazy, steep learning curve that’s freaking you out is just that: a curve. It will level out after a while. Your baptism of fire will be over. And all of a sudden you’ll think, ‘oh right, I kinda know what I’m doing now’.

That certainly happened to me. When I started in corporate PR, I honestly had no idea what it was. I was an Arts graduate; I’d never picked up the business section of the newspaper; I’m not sure I’d ever seen a media release!

My first manager was in that training wheels category –  overpaid, long on ego and short on sense. Which is not to say he was a bad person – he wasn’t – but he wasn’t the best teacher for a fragile young thing like me. But I stuck it out, because I was learning fast, I was super keen, and well, it was a job! That paid money!

He left after six months, and that’s when my genuine mentor took over. I don’t think Viv would mind me saying that while she’s one of the best PR practitioners in the country, she’s not the most patient of teachers. And she was from the old school of editing – tons of red pen and lots of re-writing.

There were times when I’d end up in tears thinking how crap I was. Times when I wondered what I was doing in this gig. But for all the lows, there were plenty of highs. Media events that worked, journalists I built great friendships with, articles that ran on the front page, promotions when I continued to grow.

The Overachiever’s Dilemma

PR attracts high achievers – kids who top the class all their lives and gather Distinctions at uni like trophies. I know, I’m one of them.

So when you’re out of your depth or told you’re not very good, it’s a real shock.

But not being good now doesn’t mean you’ll never be good. (Maybe you’re really not in the right role, but a good manager should be honest about that with you).

Most times though, you just need to suck it up a little longer. Give it a year at least; not only will it give you time to learn, it looks a lot better on your CV.

Of course, there are also things you can do to improve your situation. Communicate with your manager – or their manager – early on. Don’t whinge – be specific about what’s bothering you and what practical steps might solve it.

Find a sympathetic ear – probably someone on a similar level – who can provide perspective and objectivity. And of course, with whom you can have the occasional bitch.

And if you do want to leave, you need an exit strategy (not a rash decision). It’s always easier to find a job when you have a job.

Sorry, this is a bit of a long one. But I think it’s important. Like relationships, jobs have their rough patches. That doesn’t mean they aren’t worth the effort, and there’s always a lesson or two in there somewhere.

Related posts:

There are only 3 things you need to know

What does success look like?


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  1. The Discomfort Zone « Getting Past PR

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