“My Gutsy Story®” Carol Bodensteiner

Carol Bodensteiner

“Giving Up Everything to Find What Matters”

I spent 15 years trying to quit my job. At least that’s what my husband tells me.

He says that in October 1985, on our first date, as we both tried to politely avoid eating more than our fair share of a bubbling square of flaming cheese at the local Greek restaurant, I told him I was thinking about leaving the agency where I’d worked for the past six years. According to him, I didn’t know where I’d go, only that I wouldn’t be working in the public relations business all that much longer.

Truthfully, I don’t remember that conversation. Guess I was too focused on getting my share of the cheese.  Long before anyone pointed out the significance of moving someone’s cheese.

By an accident of circumstances, I’d fallen into a career perfectly suited for me. One where the clients and jobs changed so rapidly there was no time to get bored. One where every day the smart people I worked with challenged me to do my best and solve big problems.  One where the work gave me a huge adrenaline rush.

When my husband and I had that first date, I was on the fast track and working hard to stay there. I’d just been promoted to account supervisor at one of the Midwest’s largest business-to-business advertising and public relations agencies. I’d recently returned from a six-week workshop at our headquarters in New York, where I’d hobnobbed with the up-and-coming leaders of a worldwide agency.

A decade later, I was president of the public relations division, a principal of the firm, with a solid reputation as a client counselor and staff mentor.  My future was bright. I was the go-to person and I had the job I’d always dreamed about.

And, after years of having no time to think of anything but the task at hand, of living with a perpetual headache, I was completely burned out.

But how do you walk away from the top of the heap, when you’re only 51? How do you give up the title, the prestige, the paycheck? What person in their right mind would do that?

I probed my career concerns with colleagues, clients and friends, and the money issues with my husband.

Why keep doing these jobs if they’re unsatisfying? I asked a colleague one day. His answer – Because we’re good at it.  I found his answer equally unsatisfying.

When I posed the same question to the head of the advertising division, his answer – Because our work gives a lot of others good lives – felt more worthy. But still not enough to keep me going.

Perhaps the largest question was at the core of my anxiety: What would people think? Not only was I in the business of managing perception for clients, I’d also spent my own life being what people expected, exceeding what people expected.

One day over lunch, I asked my client, the first female CEO of a major bank, what she’d say if she saw me working as a clerk in a garden supply store (because having some money is actually a necessary thing). She laughed and said, I’d ask if you could get me a job! Apparently I wasn’t the only one wondering if being on top was worth it!

Were the title, the prestige, the paycheck really me? Or was I something else? The more I agonized, the more dissatisfied I became. Finally, I realized I could pick apart the problem forever and get nowhere closer to certainty, not while the job required 120% every day.

I walked into my boss’s office and quit. He countered with a sabbatical. Unbelievably, I agreed.

During the next five months, I spent most of my time talking with my parents about their lives. The more I talked to them, the more I remembered my own childhood and rediscovered the values that shaped me. The stories I wrote during those months were the genesis of a memoir of my childhood published in 2008: Growing Up Country: Memories of an Iowa Farm Girl. The creativity was positively gushing out of me. I felt great!

At the end of the sabbatical, I walked back into my office and three things happened. 1) The gushing stream of ideas stopped as though someone had turned off a faucet.  2) I developed sciatica. 3) I came down with shingles.

But did I walk right back out? No. Even in the face of all that, I continued to work for another year. At last, on May 1, 1999, I left for good. No job. No title. No paycheck. My only certainty was that it was better to do nothing at all than to stay in a job that didn’t nurture my soul.

I’ve never regretted walking away.

A few observations to offer from my experience.

People often say, I wish I could do what you did. I respond, You can. It’s a matter of priorities. My priorities were my time and my health. No amount of money or prestige was an adequate tradeoff.

If you’re satisfied doing what you do, keep on. If you’re dissatisfied, change the job. Or change your attitude. Or leave. It’s more important to be satisfied than to be successful. Or maybe the fact is that if you are satisfied, you will be successful—on your own terms.

The answers to our individual needs are inside us if we listen. I’ve found that to be true with CEOs I’ve counseled. They almost always know what they should do; they just need someone help them reason it out. My answers were inside of me, too. When years of rational thought went unheeded, my body sent me a physical message. Finally I listened.

Though I sometimes groan remembering that I let my boss talk me into that sabbatical, I have to acknowledge what a gift those months ultimately were. During that leave, I had time to spend with family and friends. Time to turn on the faucet and begin to slake my thirst for writing. Time to discover what was really important to me.

Carol Bodensteiner – Bio

Carol Bodensteiner is a writer who finds inspiration in the places, people, culture and history of the Midwest. After a successful career in public relations consulting, she turned to creative writing. She published her memoir GROWING UP COUNTRY in 2008.

Carol Bodensteiner Book Cover

She’s working on her first novel, historical fiction set during World War I.  Carol writes regularly for The Iowan magazine www.iowan.com and blogs about writing, her prairie, gardening, and whatever in life interests her at the moment at www.carolbodensteiner.com.  Carol’s twitter handle is: @CABodensteiner. Join Carol on LinkedIn , and Facebook.

Growing Up Country: Memories of an Iowa Farm Girl is available in paperback and e-book forms from: Amazon

Sonia Marsh Says: I love this phrase, and shall keep it in mind when I speak about “Gutsy Living.”

“It’s more important to be satisfied than to be successful.”

I also agree with you that sometimes we need to “step away” to get things into perspective and back on track in our lives. You did this with your sabbatical, just as my family did by moving to Belize.

***

Do you have a “My Gutsy Story®” you’d like to share?

NOW is the time to submit your “My Gutsy Story®.” Please see guidelines below and contact Sonia Marsh at: sonia@soniamarsh.com for details.

Please read and share our first April 2013 story by David Prosser and our second by Win Charles.

You can find all the information, and our new sponsors on the “My Gutsy Story®” contest page. (VIDEO) Submission guidelines here

Comments (42)

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  1. Sonia Marsh says:

    Carol,

    I love reading about people who have the guts to quit something they do not enjoy doing, and then discover something about themselves. Your statement says it all:
    “It’s more important to be satisfied than to be successful. Or maybe the fact is that if you are satisfied, you will be successful—on your own terms.”
    Thanks for starting the middle of April, with this inspiring story. I hope it motivates those who are thinking about doing something else, to finally “take the plunge.”
    Sonia Marsh recently posted..“My Gutsy Story®” Carol BodensteinerMy Profile

  2. Carol, It takes courage to leave all that security, prestige and a steady paycheck, yet what good are they when you are suffering inside. I can relate. Jobs are a dime a dozen but our sanity and physical well-being are priceless. And look how your gutsiness has paid off! What a great story about what matters the most. Thanks for sharing.
    Kathy
    Kathleen Pooler recently posted..The Face of Alzheimer’s Dementia: A Memoir MomentMy Profile

    • Thanks, Kathy. As I say, I’ve never regretted leaving. That tells me a great deal about the wisdom of the departure! Writing this story also helped me realize one of the core reasons the decision was so hard – I was concerned about how others would view me. Who knew I was so vane!
      Carol Bodensteiner recently posted..Celebrating spring and poetryMy Profile

  3. Thanks for sharing, Carol. Your story validates what has been at the core of my husband’s unease for a few years now, including the sciatica and shingles. It’s not easy, though, when there’s only one breadwinner in the family, which – of course – makes me feel guilty for having been the first one who did ‘drop out of the rat race.’

    But let me not profess to be ungutsy – Sonia might never forgive me – we do have a dream of opting out, and I know when the time is right we’ll know it and act on it. As you so rightly say about the answers being inside of us – we also have all the resources we need to do what we want, we just need to remember it, believe it’s true and act on it.

    • I appreciate the the challenge of being a one breadwinner family, Belinda. In our case, I was the one with the big, steady paycheck. Because my husband had opted out of the rat race earlier, I had an in-house role model for how it could work. And I could see quite clearly what we would have to give up. It is such an individual decision. I wish you and your husband well as you travel this road!
      Carol Bodensteiner recently posted..Celebrating spring and poetryMy Profile

    • Sonia Marsh says:

      Belinda,

      Of course I would never think of you as “ungutsy,”does that word exist? I love it though.
      My husband is also the bread-winner, and I know he wants to get out of the “rat race” once again. As Carol mentions, “My priorities were my time and my health. No amount of money or prestige was an adequate tradeoff.”
      Sonia Marsh recently posted..“My Gutsy Story®” Carol BodensteinerMy Profile

  4. Well written, important and heroic post. Why heroic? Because in these days of economical challenge, even back in 1999, it isn’t all that easy to walk away but you put your life, your body’s intuitive voice above all else, and that I applaud. It’s a brave person who can fall off that cliff, just do it, and see where they land; most of us stay in our thinking over it, the resistance to change until…
    So happy I stopped by to read this and can’t wait for your historical fiction novel to hit the stands. I’m in line. Paulette

  5. Thank you, Paulette. I blush at “heroic.” As you can tell, I was in the thinking it over stage for a very long time! So glad I took that big step off the cliff edge.
    Carol Bodensteiner recently posted..Celebrating spring and poetryMy Profile

  6. Carol, I strongly relate to your observation that you spent your life being what people expected, exceeding what people expected. Yes! Been there, done that, do not want a replay.

    “It’s more important to be satisfied than to be successful.”

    My reframe of that statement is that being satisfied IS true success. Why settle for less when satisfaction is an option? Obviously, the reason is that some of us are slow learners, not readily recognizing our dissatisfaction.

    Bravo for you, and may that river of words continue to gush forth.
    Sharon Lippincott recently posted..Red Ink: Threat or Transfusion?My Profile

    • I think many of us buy into the idea that success is the money or title or office or car or how people view us or whatever. And can’t believe that being satisfied is enough. Beyond that, I think many of us are pushing so hard for “success,” that we wouldn’t recognize satisfaction if it hit us in the face! Thanks for the reinforcement, Sharon.
      Carol Bodensteiner recently posted..Celebrating spring and poetryMy Profile

      • Sonia Marsh says:

        Carol,

        I read such an interesting blog post with over 160 comments by a young woman who is a travel blogger. She compares the US to the rest of the developed world. It’s called, “What are we working so hard for?..We’ve been taught from a young age that what we really need is STUFF. A nice car, a nice phone, a nice designer handbag. I really want to write a post about this and you’ve inspired me with your story today.
        Sonia Marsh recently posted..“My Gutsy Story®” Carol BodensteinerMy Profile

        • It is an interesting topic, Sonia. We were talking about this very thing at my book club last night. The book was “The Year We Left Home,” and one of the questions was “What is happiness?” We in the U.S. are certainly conditioned to think it’s stuff we acquire. What about watching the sunset? Reading a book? Spending them with family and friends? Somehow we don’t view this as equally valuable.
          Carol Bodensteiner recently posted..Celebrating spring and poetryMy Profile

  7. An excellent story Carol. It takes courage to do what you did, even if you finally knew it was going to be best for you. I’m so glad you found the balance your life so obviously needed and it sounds like your family gave you the support you needed.
    It’s good that your time in the P.R. Agency equipped you to play with words and write the first book and the time off from the agency gave you the impetus to write it. I hope you go from strength to strength from here on in.
    David Prosser recently posted..Our GoodbyeMy Profile

  8. Thank you, David. I’ve come to think of most things not as good or bad, but simply as different. My health is certainly better in my new life and I LOVE that! And my public relations background was wonderful preparation for marketing my books. I am very lucky in that regard.
    Carol Bodensteiner recently posted..Celebrating spring and poetryMy Profile

  9. Julie Schoettmer says:

    I remember those days …

  10. ladyfi says:

    It certainly takes courage to leave a job that has all the trappings of success!
    ladyfi recently posted..Finding rainbowsMy Profile

  11. Hi Carol, you’re certainly NOT nuts. There’s something very special about being content with what you have. This is something missing in the ratrace society we live in. Of course it’s hard to step away from something you’re good at and worry about what others will think.

    You’re leaving a legacy, something concrete in the form of your memoir and novels that will inspire many more people. I’ve read Growing Up Country and in it, you successfully captured a slice of life and allowed others who came from different experiences to live a part of it. I’m confident your historical novel will be just as immersing and inspiring.
    Rachelle Ayala (@AyalaRachelle) recently posted..Vera Custodio Cooks: Pancit BihonMy Profile

    • Thanks for the vote of confidence and for reading my memoir, Rachelle. It has touched me deeply to hear from readers who felt my memoir captured the essence of their lives. Encouraging others to write down their everyday stories or share their memories with family members has become a passion of mine.
      Carol Bodensteiner recently posted..Celebrating spring and poetryMy Profile

  12. Hi Carol,
    I have great respect for what you have done. I left a 20-year career behind to sail around the world. It was career suicide. And I left my income, security, home, identity, and a 20-year relationship…all to make my dream come true.
    And I wouldn’t trade that decision for anything.
    All the best,
    Larry Jacobson
    Author of, The Boy Behind the Gate
    Larry Jacobson recently posted..Departure Day… December 7, 2001My Profile

  13. Carol, I know the feeling you described upon the return from your sabbatical. I felt the same thing when I returned from a 3-month sabbatical. During that time, I felt a renewed energy and refreshment of thought I hadn’t felt since college. Inside that 3 months we spent together, my husband talked to me several times about early retirement (he’s 9 years older and had already retired). Afraid of losing that security of a longstanding position with a major law firm, I was reluctant until I walked back in that office that first day after sabbatical. And not to mention, believe it or not, the returning sciatica! Within the next four months (had to wait through 12/15 to get bonuses, retirement contributions, etc.), I walked out of there with a smile on my face, never to look back! The money and position was never worth it; I just thought it was.

    So glad you had the guts to do this sooner than I did. If I’d moved more quickly, I’d have my memoir finished by now. 🙂
    Sherrey Meyer recently posted..The Heart and Craft of Writing Compelling Description by Sharon M. LippincottMy Profile

    • Very funny (yeah, right, “funny”!) that we had the same physical reaction to stress! Isn’t it amazing what we’ll take because we’ve been convinced of the worth of money and position? I’m glad you followed your dream into writing, Sherrey. Your memoir was only biding its time, waiting for you to be ready.
      Carol Bodensteiner recently posted..Celebrating spring and poetryMy Profile

  14. What a great story. Actually the sabbatical was the best thing that could have happened to you because it gave you a point reference. You knew you had the security of going back to work. You could float and experience this new life. When you finally did quit, you weren’t starting over completely.

    • Thank you, Cathy. In retrospect, the sabbatical was a perfect idea. It let me dip my toe in the writing water and see that I’d enjoy that. My employer might have gotten me back, so they lost nothing with the offer. I’ve talked with others since about trying for a sabbatical.
      Carol Bodensteiner recently posted..Celebrating spring and poetryMy Profile

  15. […] so many of us have: to leave our cubicle job and follow something we’re passionate about. Carol Bodensteiner did that as […]

  16. I actually had a Supervisor that made me read “Who Stole My Cheese” to prevent me from becoming burned-out! I quit my job in September, and haven’t regretted it yet! If you’d like to read my story, it’s on my blog: http://aleshiaclarke.blogspot.com/2013/04/photo-credit-aleshia-clarke-normal-0.html. Thanks for sharing your story with us.

  17. Alicia D says:

    I appreciate your story. I have a similar story- I left the benefits and security of corporte america, but have found what is important to me and am connecting with writing more than I’d ever had time to.

  18. […] Please read and share our April 2013 stories by David Prosser, Win Charles, and Carol Bodensteiner. […]

  19. Barbara says:

    I’m so glad I came to read all the stories from April. Hard to choose only one. Your story reminded me of my husband’s 35 years in corporate america. He ended his career with lymphoma, which almost killed him. His body was definitely telling him something!

    I’m glad you got out and can enjoy really living.
    b
    Barbara recently posted..Why I Won’t Be Visiting the George W. Bush LibraryMy Profile

  20. Jennifer says:

    I particularly enjoyed this phrase:

    Perhaps the largest question was at the core of my anxiety: What would people think? Not only was I in the business of managing perception for clients, I’d also spent my own life being what people expected, exceeding what people expected.

  21. Penelope J says:

    A gutsy decision to leave a career in full swing, but it seems like your body was telling you what your mind was slow to accept. Sciatica and shingles! The economic security issue often holds us back from making this decision especially if we are the breadwinner in the family. What joy we find in the freedom of a simpler existence where we can develop our talents in the direction we want rather than in a demanding, stressful career. Without that hiatus precious memories would have not been preserved in your book.
    Penelope J recently posted..Never Give Up on Your DreamMy Profile

  22. […] on your books and awards. Three authors who submitted stories about following their passion are: Carol Bodensteiner, Larry Jacobson and Lois Joy Hofmann. […]

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