Coming HOME. Why I left my job and went back.
By Laine Himmelmann
In the past five months since returning to my previous job, I’ve received a lot of questions about my occupational u-turn, brief corporate sabbatical, and decision to return home. Some ask if I didn’t like the new company or the people or if I was offered a promotion or if the drive to Rancho was just simply TOO far– but the answer is simple, I returned because my heart had never left.
I started working for Habitat for Humanity in 2010, right out of college. I hadn’t intended to graduate college 32k in debt and work for $14.50 an hour at a nonprofit, but with a B.A. in English during the worst year of the recession, my options were limited. With my B.A. and a smidgen of nonprofit experience from a work-study gig, I spotted a glorified receptionist position advertised on Craigslist, applied, interviewed, and was picked as the second choice candidate. As luck would have it, the first pick never returned the offer call and I was hired.
The first year was rough, I waitressed after work to make rent and minimum payments on my student loans. Getting into affordable housing was never really my calling (I had no personal connection to it and there was nothing particularly sexy about affordable homeownership that I could think of). My plan was just to work, gain experience, and ride out the recession until I could find a corporate job with benefits and a large enough salary that I wouldn’t have to slang pasta at the end of every workday. And ride it out I did – or at least that’s what I thought I was doing.
It happened slowly, as I started meeting and working with the families and volunteers, as I started seeing niches where I could use my worthless major to help in little ways – like generating better communications about what we were doing. Little by little, those efforts developed into a promotion and an entire department. I started to see Habitat for Humanity as more than just a nonprofit devoted to affordable housing, but as a vessel for a community, MY COMMUNITY, to come together to change lives. And then, like all things that start slowly, suddenly it hit me- this was amazing.
Promotions continued, responsibilities increased, the recession faded, and job opportunities started unveiling themselves. Though I had started to love my job, my desire for better benefits and increased pay had not been forgotten. On my five-year anniversary, when an opportunity arose from the largest company in Sacramento, I decided it was a sign, applied, and was hired. Saying goodbye to my Habitat family was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do.
I started the new job with an increased salary and benefits in July of 2015. The company was just as reputable as I’d believed and full of smiling, friendly faces that were welcoming and committed to their jobs. It would have been a dream come true for 2010 college graduate Laine, but five years later, something had changed. As I went to work every morning, I felt empty, like I’d lost a piece of myself. I would wake up dreading my day and feeling like a fraud as I smiled back at my colleague’s sweet friendly faces, all the while wishing I was back in the “trenches” of Habitat with my family.
When I left Habitat, there was a supporter whose simple goodbye I couldn’t get out of my head. He said, “I’m sad to see you leave. You seemed so well suited for what you do.” He was right. My new job, though a great opportunity amidst some truly terrific people, neither utilized my best skills nor touched on the passion that had sprouted and grown in me during my years at Habitat. I knew I couldn’t stay.
After a month had gone by and five evenings of calling Momma Himm in tears, she’d had it with me and said, “Laine, not all of us are meant to be wealthy, but we all deserve to be happy. Call Habitat and go home.”
The next day I attended a home dedication where, like all dedications, I was moved to tears. When I told my boss I wanted to come back she said simply, “Good, we had hoped you’d want to come home.”
Leaving the new job was less comfortable than returning to the old, but I slept at night by telling myself that vacating this position would open up the opportunity for someone who might love this job as much as I loved my old one.
In the end, save one very uncomfortable conversation from a disgruntled Director who proceeded to read me the entire first page of “The Road Less Traveled” before handing me my backside to me on a platter for thirty minutes (fair enough), my departure was fairly painless and accepted with kind understanding. My manager, whom I gave notice to, gave me a hug and some valuable words of wisdom saying, “Only YOU can be an advocate for your happiness and you’ve got to be happy where you work.”
Since coming back to Habitat, my pay and position has remained the same, the hours are longer, the responsibilities larger, but the joy, the JOY has been exponentially sweeter. Life has a funny way of unfolding. Five years ago when I was answering calls and slanging spaghetti while waiting for something better to come along, I never could’ve believed that “something better” was right in front of me and that it would become an integral and precious piece of who I am.
On the first home dedication that I ever attended, I saw a man in tears receive the keys to his family’s new home and say, “This Habitat home is not my dream come true, because I could never have dreamed this BIG.”
There’s something to be said about waking up each morning excited about how you’re going to spend your day and it doesn’t matter if you’re working in a nonprofit or on Wall Street – that feeling is priceless and something that no salary or benefits can compete with.
Five years ago, I could never have dreamed of having a job that brings me so much joy and makes me feel like a value to my community, but little by little, brick by brick, the dream was built inside of me until it became a part of who I am – even if I didn’t realize it until now.
I don’t know what the future holds, but I do know that today, I’m happy and grateful to be home, working for Habitat, and that’s enough for now.
In the words of Momma Himm- I guess not all of us are meant to be wealthy. ☺