Quality over Quantity

by John Coupland
(Bromley, Kent, UK)

John Coupland

John Coupland

So there I was, sitting in my dining room with my wife with the first of the bright, warm Spring sunshine of 2009 beaming through our patio windows. Our conversation was an important one. I was talking about leaving my job.

A little over 8 years before, with my extensive experience in, predominantly, retail Head Office functions, I had joined BT Global Services as a Retail Consultant. After 14 years with the same retail company there was no compelling reason to leave as I was very firmly in my 'comfort zone'.

Taking a bold step
However, knowing this was a rare opportunity, I took it up and joined BT. Looking back, it was quite a brave decision to leave my comfortable job. My three children were very young then and, if it all were to go wrong, I would have a lot to lose.

My initial time at BT was a real eye opener and I enjoyed the new challenge immensely. I embarked on Account Management role as, having assessed my skills, I thought that was the obvious option for me. I guess because I was 'brought up' in my career with a change mindset, I adapted to change.

Career success?
Thankfully, it was the right choice as, over the next 6 years, I excelled and struck some fantastic deals for the company, winning awards and getting promoted. I was also earning good money but I knew I had earned it, as I was working hard – and, when I could - playing hard too.

Thankfully, the experience of the recession in the late 80's / early 90's taught my wife and I a few lessons. So, along with enjoying the rewards by travelling extensively, we also saved. Whilst my colleagues were driving flash company cars, I opted out of the company car scheme and took the cash to reduce my mortgage. Yes, they poked fun at my second hand car however, today, I know it was one of the best things I think I ever did.

The credit crunch hits
However, in 2007 things started to change, and quickly. One day, a retired neighbour came to ask me if he should withdraw his funds from Northern Rock Bank as he had heard on the radio that most of its account holders were panicking and doing just that. A reporter named Robert Peston from the BBC was reporting on something called the 'Credit Crunch' on a daily basis.

It was apparent to everyone that the 'good years' were coming to an end. Things at work changed dramatically too. My customers weren't spending the sort of money they used to and opportunities and deals practically dried up. To make matters worse, everything that we all did at BT the previous few years – making it a major player in the Information Communications & Technology (ICT) arena, seemed to go into reverse. Account Directors, like me, were told to pull out of a number of customer bids because there were insufficient margins in some of our propositions.

So the blame game started and the people who were left were getting tetchy, thus adding to a negative working culture. At the same time our targets weren't being reduced to reflect the challenging times. They were being increased! I began to hate the role I once relished.

Time to go?
So, on that Spring day, my wife and I decided enough was enough. She could see that I was so stressed that, after 8 years (6 fantastic ones and 2 very difficult ones) it just wasn't worth it anymore. In June 2009, I took voluntary redundancy.

Looking back, the strange thing is that I wasn't worried anymore. I say strange, as I didn't actually have a plan!(This is not something I would recommend, by the way!)

I took up a part-time opportunity to represent a company as an Independent Executive for a communications and energy company, however the money was a fraction of what I was on.

I guess, for me, I was desperate for a break. I realised that, for nearly 25 years, I never had more than 2-3 weeks maximum off work at any one time. I needed rest, as my body was telling me that anyway.

And the best thing about this is? I discovered something that I had overlooked during my corporate years -

Quality IS better than quantity.

Money was important to me in my corporate life, I guess, due to its competitive nature. But when I was out of that world, I came to realise that actually, most people are sincere and genuinely want to help each other. Money just wasn't up there as a prime reason for existing anymore.

I again applied my skills and, as I was always in customer / supplier facing roles throughout my career, I embarked on business networking as a means of growing my new business and as a profession too.

The penny drops!
The penny has dropped twice for me since that Summer. I am now able to give something back for the benefits I had in my former roles in two main ways: By giving my time & energy to charity and to my business network.

Also, although money is still important, I now see it as 'functional' – there to pay bills and maintain a standard of living that one is comfortable with. However, even as I write this, I am still on a fraction of what I used to earn, however, my eyes have opened up to the value of quality of life.

I'm still learning
I haven't always got things right. One thing I have learned from this experience is don't think you can do everything yourself. Seek professional advice and tap into the experience of others when considering a career change or before embarking on a particular route in business.

I made at least two errors since I left my past world. For a few weeks, I found myself going down a professional path I was uneasy with. I had to do something quickly about it before I wasted more time and - yes, money - and I felt what I believed in and my credibility was at stake.

The other thing I've learned from my experience in career change, is from a quote I discovered from, of all places, Twitter:

"If you want to be incrementally better: Be competitive.
If you want to be exponentially better: Be cooperative".


I endeavour to keep this in mind in my everyday life as, for me, the personal rewards are much better than the financial rewards I used to think that were the most important.

John Coupland is now a Social Media and Business Networking Professional

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Dec 05, 2010
There is life after the corporate rat race!
by: Cherry

Thank you, John. It is so heartening to hear of your bold move to escape from a corporate job that had obviously lost its meaning for you - and to then find yourself in a place that resonates much more with your own deepest values. Quality of life really does matter more than money!

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