Early in my career I had the privilege of being in the employ of The International Business Machine Corporation (IBM). IBM is a rigorous organization. The firm put an emphasis on professional development more so than any other of my experience at that time or since.
Sometimes these efforts fell flat: Our leadership held a meeting at Fairfield University for 100 of us from around the country. They keynote speaker helped us to figure out what color M&M we were… I did not leave this event feeling developed, professionally or otherwise.
On the other hand there was an event in Atlanta where the speaker made a lasting impression on me, and I’m guessing many others in the room. The speaker told us we might not be in the right job, might not be with the right company. Within the IBM of the early 1990’s this was corporate apostasy. We were the chosen, IBM was the ultimate aspiration.
As the speaker went on, the leadership who had brought the speaker in for the meeting started shifting in their seats and looking at each other with reserved concern. His next topic is the part of the talk that has stayed with me all these years:
You might think that you can’t leave because your contribution is so important and your team is counting on you. I want you to go home after this meeting. I want you to fill up a 5 gallon bucket with water. I want you to roll up your sleeve. I want you to make a fist and put your arm into the bucket all the way up to your elbow. Then pull your arm out of the bucket and keep your eyes on the water. As long that hole lasts in the water, that’s how long IBM will remember you after you leave.
By this point in the talk IBM executives were climbing the stage to “thank” the speaker and move on to the next agenda item.
I think there are a few reasons the talk resonated with me. First and foremost, I knew that IBM was not the right fit for me in the long run. As much as I enjoyed many aspects of the work and also many of the great fellow IBM’ers, my personality just did not align well with IBM.
Secondly, I found it fascinating to see a meeting go “off script” at IBM. This just did not happen.
Lastly I liked the honesty of the speaker.
Choosing to stay or leave an organization is a deeply personal, multi-faceted decision. As you develop yourself and your career be honest with yourself about your feelings. Once you are honest about what you are feeling, you can decide what to do about it.