how do I adjust to not being the boss anymore?

A reader writes:

I recently made a transition from being the executive director of a nonprofit and responsible for everything (very stressful) to middle management at a much larger government entity, with better hours, pay, benefits, etc. and I’m no longer in charge. This is a good thing overall and a good step for my career, so this isn’t about concern about my career overall or my place in the world. I’m happy with this decision.

I think most people make the transition up the rungs of management, not the other way around, so there isn’t that much advice out there on how to peel it back and cool your jets. When I was an ED, I was on call all the time — evenings and weekends — I never took a lunch and was constantly thinking about the next step for the organization. Now, I just don’t need to do that and there is an expectation that I will not, as this would really be stepping outside of the bounds of my job and would probably ruffle some feathers. I’m way down in the hierarchy and I’m trying to reframe my thinking from “OMG, this is my problem and needs to be resolved immediately” (which I had as an ED) to “this is my boss’ problem and I should wait to hear what they say and respect their decision.”

I’ve already run into some problems running head first into a problem to fix it, only to realize that there was no expectation that I should, would, or could. I’m finding that my natural inclination is to overstep the boundaries of my new job only because in the past, those things were part of my job. Now they are my boss’ job — or even their boss’s job — or their boss’ boss’ job.

Any tips on how to move from being in charge to being middle management, and letting others be the boss?

Ha, you are living what hiring managers worry about when interviewing someone for a job that would be a step down in responsibility.

But you see it and you’re working to catch it, so you’ll almost certainly be fine.

I think the thing to do is to really lean in to your decreased responsibility. Don’t just accept it, embrace it! Spend some time reflecting on how awesome it is not to be the one carrying everything on your shoulders. Get excited about that. It’s legitimately exciting. After you spend a long time being responsible for everything, it’s liberating as hell not to have to do it anymore. Feel the liberation! Think about all the things you can do with your time now that you’re not taking calls from board members at 10 pm or talking down a major donor from pulling funding or otherwise putting out fires.

Getting yourself legitimately excited about your liberation won’t get you all the way there, but it’ll help lay the groundwork for the mental switch you need to make. After that, can you come up with a list of recent situations where you felt the urge to step in above your pay grade and then spend some time thinking through how you ideally should have handled each one? Walking through each of them — what you wanted to do or did do, and what you should have done — will help reinforce the right habits for next time.

See, too, if there are patterns to the times when your instinct is to rush in. Is it only with big-picture strategy stuff? Is it with internal staff issues? Is it with things that play into a particular strength of yours, or a particular anxiety? Maybe there’s no particular pattern, but if you do realize that you’re much more likely to want to go into guns blazing with X type of thing, you can be deliberate about holding yourself back when X comes up.

And remember, adjustment periods usually don’t last forever. If you focus on actively retraining your brain, you’ll likely get used to your new framework pretty quickly. I wouldn’t be surprised if later this year you’re looking back on this period with some amazement that you didn’t jump at the chance to shed the burden of being the one responsible for it all.

Now, maybe I am projecting to some extent here because good lord I love the freedom! I also loved having the authority to make things in an organization work the way they should, but the freedom from needing to is so much better.

Anyone want to share their own stories of adjusting to having less responsibility?

Read an update to this letter here.

{ 73 comments… read them below }

  1. EEB*

    I’ve never gone from being an ED to a middle-management position, but I have moved from a fairly high-up job with a lot of responsibility at a small nonprofit, to a lower-rung position at a larger organization. The piece I struggled with the most was not being the expert or the go-to person on certain topics. At my old job, everyone had known I was responsible and smart and what my areas of expertise were, so I was the go-to person on a lot of projects. At the new job, I saw other people getting treated that way, but I was an unknown quality, so no one was automatically handing things off to me. The good news was, that came with time! Once I’d been at my new job for a year or so, I’d established myself and my skill set, and I started being the go-to person on projects I care about again, even though I’m still an individual contributor as opposed to someone with a formal leadership role.

    I still wish I had more authority over certain things, like some hiring and training decisions on my team. But I agree with Alison that, on balance, it’s nice to have the freedom sometimes to say “if it doesn’t work out, it’s not my problem.”

    1. TimeTravlR*

      So similar! Once they recognized my skillset, I became the go to. But don’t have to lose sleep over every decision anymore!

    2. Marsupilami*

      I think that is not even necessarily related to your relative positions in the organizations. I did an internal transfer – exactly the same role for a slightly different technical area in a different department – and faced the same issue. While I was the go-to person before, in the new department, no one would ever ask me anything or involve me in discussions outside of my direct tasks. Sometimes people would even forget that I partially took over a colleague’s responsibilities and approach him instead of me…

      That quickly resolved itself (well, partially I was a bit more aggressively enforcing it than I would normally like to) within the first couple of months, though.

    3. BRR*

      “if it doesn’t work out, it’s not my problem.”

      I started a new job last year with less responsibilities and a narrower focus than my previous job. One coworker handles what I used to handle and because we have a great rapport I’ll sometimes say stuff to her like “wow that sounds like a real headache. Well have fun figuring that out bye.” I’ll help her with some stuff but considering I took a salary cut, it’s nice to have some things off my plat.

      1. TardyTardis*

        And…the step down means you get to have a personal life. This bewilders some people who aren’t used to the concept, and I am not joking about that.

  2. TimeTravlR*

    I did something somewhat similar. Went from a supervisory position with a lot of high level responsibility to a non-supervisory (different company and industry) and have learned to love it! They call on my expertise in other things (not the supervisory side) and I can go home and night and turn it off! I have found my niche, and I am loving using my creative side to solve problems, but the ultimate decision is not mine and i am okay with that. Learn to love it, OP!

    1. PRJ*

      I’m also a liberated manager who has gone to an hourly position in an adjacent field. I love it so much. There is a great relief in knowing that my success or failure depends on me alone. I also use my manager mindset to help make things better for my boss and coworkers. I’m better at seeing an issue, troubleshooting what will need to be done and if it’s something I can’t fix myself, at least I can communicate more effectively in what else needs to be done. I used to get so frustrated with staff that dumped a problem in my lap and didn’t participate in fixing it. Now I get to be the employee who can will be reliable and proactive.

      1. Lana Kane*

        I’m contemplating a move away from management, and this gives me a good idea of how to answer the inevitable “Sooo…you gonna be ok not being the boss anymore?” question!

    2. Slowing down*

      I moved from a high stress toxic managers job to a low stress team player job and I love it. I focus on remembering what things used to bug me about people I managed and I don’t do those things to do the people who now manage me. I also actively learn and respect the expertise of my team so it is easier to go in with a mind towards collaboration instead of authority. I hope your situation works out as well.

    3. KayDeeAye*

      Another extremely happy liberated manager here! I went from a job where I managed projects (publications) and people (reporters) to one where all I do is manage projects (publications). Other people sometimes write for me, but I don’t have to manage them or do their evaluations or award raises or discipline them. It’s fantastic. I honestly thought I’d miss being a boss, but about a month or so in to the new job, I was like, “Wow. The only person I have to manage is meeeeeee! Woo-hoooooo!” And I’ve never looked back.

  3. Tired of Covid-and People*

    OP, your brain has to be retrained. It is accustomed to the heightened response. Take deep breaths and redirect when you find yourself getting agitated about something that is no longer your responsibility. It may take some time to be comfortable with letting go, but you will get there. Be sure to reward yourself for each success, that help rewire the brain also. Good luck!

  4. PinaColada*

    I agree with the idea of embracing it! And I would say that in order to do so, it will help to develop a hobby or pastime that you deeply enjoy and that you might not have had the bandwidth for if you had stayed in your previous role.

    I think this is especially important since our options to socialize are limited. Its also really challenging for many of us to cultivate work-life balance right now; when we are all working from home and generally locked-down from a lot of options. So if you don’t have another outlet to turn your attention toward, you’re going to find it difficult to turn that part of your brain off.

    Have you always been interested in painting? Maybe you can buy an adult paint-by-numbers kit on Amazon (I recently started doing this and I am obsessed). Do you want to learn a language, or an instrument? Virtual lessons are totally doable. Is there a socially distant sport you can take up (cross country skiing in the northern areas, or if you are south like me, it’s great roller-skating weather!)

    There’s a lot of research that shows that stopping a bad habit is more achievable if you have a good habit to replace it with. Right now, being obsessed with your work may be a bad habit (which used to be a good one, when you were ED!) So you will be more effective in stopping the obsessing if you can replace it with something different to focus on.

    1. Archaeopteryx*

      I agree, the huge advantage of not always being on call and not having ridiculous hours isn’t just that you’ll have downtime, it’s that you now have predictable, secure downtime you can plan ahead for! Revel in it.

    2. Avyncentia*

      I’ll second this! The first thing I did after moving out of management was picking up the violin again and joining an orchestra. It really helped with the transition to have out-of-work obligations.

    3. Smithy*

      This is such a big thing. The combination of general COVID plus the winter has severely curtailed a lot of the aspects of life that would make having more freetime/less professional responsibility just diminished.

      In addition to thinking about a private life pursuit, do things like making sure you’re taking your whole lunch hour at home. And if not to spend the whole time eating, include a short walk, reading a book, etc. Or even just use the whole hour to truly cook yourself more of a meal at lunchtime.

      1. wee beastie*

        I was also going to suggest “get a hobby.” I am also a liberated former team manager and I freakin’ love it. I very quickly went from wanting to solve all the problems to sitting back with a bucket of popcorn like “this ought to be interesting.” One thing I did…for a while I didn’t attend any meetings I didn’t absolutely have to so I wasn’t in a space to get emotionally invested in other people’s challenges, but instead could focus at my desk on my own work. If I was in a meeting, I would consider if my voice was actually needed before ever speaking.
        I also checked in with my own boss a lot to demonstrate to her that I was there at her pleasure. E.g. “I was thinking this situation would require X,Y response, does that work for you?” And i’d do what she asked…so she’d know I take direction well and would respond constructively to any positive or negative feedback.
        And I work at being a nice lateral colleague. Congratulating others when something goes well for them, being friendly and chatty in the office (but not overstaying people who don’t want that). I guess, in general I try to be receptive to other people’s thoughts and behaviors and messages so that I can recognize if they look or seem unhappy. And I try to take good direction well from anyone who delivers it.
        I practice “not my circus, not my monkeys” and “give other people a turn.”

  5. AndersonDarling*

    I worked at a non-profit where roles were fluid and even though I was frontline staff, I ended up with a lot of decision making power and I was running many projects. When I moved into a more traditional role outside of non-profits, it was a hard transition. I was used to taking the lead on anything that I wanted to change, but that was.not.allowed anymore. I had to resolve myself to telling my boss when I saw problems or opportunities for improvement and then let it go.
    Instead of leaping into action, tell your manager about it. They will tell you if they want to address it. Then sit back and enjoy your new freedom from responsibility.
    Oh, and pick up a hobby. It helps if you can redirect some of that overthinking to a project you are doing in your own time.

    1. old curmudgeon*

      One recommendation that I’ve seen Alison make many times is when communicating a problem to one’s manager, it is often better received or more effective if one is also able to suggest a solution or a strategy for managing it. This can be a bit dicey, though, for someone in the OP’s position, because it really risks coming across as being the know-it-all who tries to tell the boss what to do.

      I think I’d practice (while alone, obviously) saying things like “hey, I’ve learned that there is a timing issue emerging with the teapot grant, is that anything you’d like me to be involved in? I encountered a similar issue in another position and am glad to assist with this one if I am needed.” That strikes a balance of sorts between “OMG I must dive into action and fix this immediately” vs. “hey, boss, here’s a problem for ya, bye.”

      Of course, that depends a lot on the culture of the team, who might see such offers as brown-nosing, and a lot on the relationship you’re building with your boss. But if it fits your agency’s general philosophy, that kind of approach can be an effective compromise.

      1. Smithy*

        Another way to redirect those impulses is to ask yourself “if I was still in charge, what additional information would I want.” And then instead of rushing in to solve the problem, there can be the opportunity to “rush in” to get more information to distill for your boss.

        In that case, you’re not going to your boss to say that “the teapot grant has a timing issue”, but that due to COVID, the teapot grant will need an additional 3-6 months provided lockdown restrictions ease by May 2021. To get the difference, you’re not asking those questions to make a decision but rather to present as full a picture as possible above you.

        When you’re looking at issues that may need to travel up the ladder 2/3 levels – a way to impress from the middle is to make sure you’re painting as accurate a picture as possible so that questions aren’t making the journey back to you.

    2. Teapot Researcher*

      I agree with this – if your boss is accessible and you have this type of relationship, I would start by asking her about issues as they arise to find out if you should be diving in or if they should be handled by someone else.

      I recently moved from a position where I was in charge of all things Teapot (but only had a staff of 2), but now I’m just in charge of Teapot Data (but have a staff of 8). There are other groups that handle Teapot billing, Teapot outreach, Teapot coordination, etc. I definitely have to hold back not to just blunder in and start working on the Teapot issues that come up, but fortunately my manager is very present and I’m able to check in with her before I start swinging too wildly. Similar to old curmudgeon, I let her know about things while offering to take them on if appropriate.

      This strikes a good balance between being useful and pro-active, while helping you find out where the boundaries of your new position lie. Good luck with the new gig!

  6. Green great dragon*

    The other advantage is you have a boss again! Have you asked them how they want to be involved, what you should be taking care of yourself, what you should be kicking up the chain? Sometimes it’s good to have that written down to remind you when you’re tempted to jump in.

    1. BenAdminGeek*

      agree 100%. Naming this to your boss can also help them be aware that you’re aware, and let them know it’s OK to call it out to you. The last thing you want is a boss who’s resentful because they think you’re overstepping on purpose. If you two can work together on retraining yourself here, it’ll work much better.

  7. Fiona the Baby Hippo*

    One thought I had as I read this- I wonder if part of what you’re adjusting to is the room to be wrong some of the time. I imagine as an ED, the pressure is to make the right move always because there’s not a manager above you keeping an eye on things. This isn’t to say people with managers are free to make all kinds of mistakes, of course, but just I wonder if you are still holding yourself to the standards of an ED with expertise/knowledge of a whole organization vs. a “new kid on the block” who still needs to get the lay of the land and is probably doesn’t surprise people when they might need a little help/feedback.

    1. Fiona the Baby Hippo*

      Whoops there’s an errant “is” in that last sentence. should read “vs. a “new kid on the block” who still needs to get the lay of the land and probably doesn’t surprise people when they might need a little help/feedback.”

  8. Storm in a teacup*

    Hi there
    2 years ago I went from being the lead in an acute hospital service to a private sector role where I am an individual contributor.
    The thing I love most is now I’m no longer the boss I am part of a peer group of coworkers and it is so nice to be a part of team. It also really helps that my organisation really values my prior experience and specialist knowledge so I do get pulled into some strategic work where I can really add value. I think that also helps me feel connected and like I am contributing. Getting clear guidance on lines of responsibility with your manager would help – I would just have an honest conversation about it. I’ve previously managed someone in your position and this is what we did and it helped enormously and I really respected her for proactively raising it and bringing some thought to how to proceed

  9. Lynca*

    So I am very much a “problem solver.” One of the things I had to do when I started working was asking myself questions about why I need to solve a problem I was presented with. (Other than that’s just how I’m wired) Sometimes they were legitimately not things I needed to handle and I had to train myself not to impulsively take things on.

    Basically that was my way of being logical and helping to ensure I was not overstepping. I would ask myself things like:

    “Is this an X problem that my office would even handle?”
    “Do I even have all the information to solve this problem?”
    “Is there someone else that has the responsibility to handle this?”
    “Is this something my boss wants me focusing my time on?”

    The answers would generally flag me on anything that I should check in with my boss or others before responding to. And people will expect you to be learning how to respond to these new responsibilities. So you are okay to ask them about it.

    1. mf*

      Me too! I’m a compulsive problem solver. I find it helpful to have a direct conversation with others about: Is this problem something you want my help solving? If not, who do you think is the appropriate person to tackle it?

      It also helps to have an ongoing dialogue with your boss, perhaps in weekly 1:1s, to talk about the issues you see in the business and how you (and/or your team) can help.

    2. Sparrow*

      I’m the same, but I think awareness that you tend to do this goes a long way. With that awareness in the back of my mind, I will clock what I’m doing and be able to pause and think to myself, “Is this my responsibility to fix?”

  10. Hillary*

    Congrats! Once you get used to being able to breathe you’ll love it.

    A couple years ago I went from being the operations leader in a business to the corporate side of things. Same title, better hours and more money, and very different responsibilities. At first it was very hard to not jump in and fix things when that had literally been my job a month before.

    I focused a lot on relationships and learning who does what. For me knowing “that’s so-and-so’s job” was key, especially since that meant I could offer them or their managers help. Usually they don’t want it, but this week I’m coaching a backup on how to resolve things since the normal people are on leave and they’re not frequent enough that the backup was trained. I get to keep my hand in with really weird things that only come up every couple years.

    I also used technology to my advantage. I went with two cell phones so I can enforce better personal boundaries, I don’t open my work laptop during off hours, and so on.

    1. Hillary*

      One thing to add to this – your skills will be an advantage. I collaborated closely with my manager and had projects approved and moving months before he’d expected. That energy is completely transferrable as long as you learn your new boundaries.

  11. Rachel*

    I can’t directly relate, but I recently went from a small non-profit where I, as the teapot project manager, did occasional teapot painting and design; to a large government agency where we have a whole team of teapot painters and designers. I had a month or so of accidentally stepping on the teapot painting and design team’s toes, apologized, and then had a period of saying something like “in my former job I would have been responsible for taking care of x, y, and z task; but I think here that belongs with Team x. Is that right?”. Now I mostly have a feel for it and don’t have to ask as often. You’ll get the hang of it if you try, and making a point of asking while you figure it out is a good way to transition. Good luck!

  12. John*

    This blog has a magical way of always addressing whatever professional situation I find myself in.

    I went from management at a midsize organization to a director at a small organization and in both places, I had a lot of decision making power. I am now an individual contributor at a very large company and am having the exact same issue.

    I’ve given it 8 months so I think I’ve waited long enough to realize that I miss leadership (for many reasons other than being the decision maker) and have decided to look for other opportunities. The thing that drives me nuts is that our current processes and strategy are very different than anything I would have implemented and I’ve learned that little change is ever made so it’s time to move on.

  13. ACE*

    This is just so timely! I start a new position in a few weeks where I will be very much a middle manager, whereas currently I’m the only person in charge of basically everything. I honestly took the new position because I am desperately ready to have a boss again after 5 years of having to make every single decision myself. I’m so excited for some structure, but I’m also afraid I will rush to fix everything myself because that’s the mode I’ve been in. I’ll be reading this thread carefully because there is already so much good advice!

  14. Sparkles McFadden*

    After a 30 year career in the private sector (more than half of that as management/project lead), I took an entry level civil service position. I was worried about how much I’d have to retrain my nervous system. While I did have to have a weekly internal dialog with myself (“Not your problem to solve” and “You don’t know how they do things yet so wait for instructions”), I found the transition easier than I thought it would be because I had sooooo much more free time. I could focus on things outside of work and I never took the job home with me. After years of getting phone calls at 3:00 am and dragging my laptop on vacation so I could work “just a couple of hours to make sure everything was OK” this far lighter workload was a relief.

    I admit, I do sometimes miss the level of engagement (and, maybe, control) I had in my old career, but I get over it pretty quickly.

    1. Lavender Gooms*

      This is very much my situation. I transitioned from private industry management to civil service as a supervisor about three months ago. I’m LOVING having my evenings and weekends free again! My brain feels so calm! It’s exactly why I changed jobs, and when I have a moment of “but the money I gave up!” I remind myself how incredible I feel all the time now.

    2. All the Fizzy Water*

      This is my situation as well! Not your problem to solve, indeed. I went from being a legal administrator/Jill-of-all-trades type for nearly a decade to taking a lower level position to get my foot in the door in higher ed HR. It’s taken several years to retrain my brain from old habits I developed to keep the lights on and money coming in. The freedom of disconnecting once work is done has been so rewarding, not to mention I absolutely love higher ed culture and a sense of positivity that was consistently absent through all of my private sector work.

      I do miss being in the loop about goings on outside of my unit, and sometimes I feel like my colleagues don’t quite understand how small businesses operate (or their culture), but the trade off has absolutely been worth it.

  15. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd (ENTP)*

    I’ve been in the less senior version of this (manager back to individual contributor) and what I’ve found most frustrating / most of the gotchas originate from this, is I am quite quick to pick up on management mistakes (either strategic mistakes, or mistakes in handling people-type-situations in the moment): things my actual boss handles badly and I would have been able to handle much better and get a better outcome. I also when I was a manager, had someone reporting to me who had previously been a manager/team lead so have somewhat been on the other side of this.

    (I haven’t explicitly expressed this to my current boss, although I think I am able to ‘influence’ them successfully now to some extent. With previous bosses making management mistakes I was more forthcoming and told them upfront that I disagreed and why, which I doubt was appreciated any more than anyone appreciates being told how to do their job, with a side order of “I told you so”!)

    … The other gotcha, which you touched on (things that you ‘couldn’t or shouldn’t’ intervene in) is I think ultimately there’s a qualitative difference here between “I have to act in the best interests of the organisation” (as an ED) and “I have to get on board with what my boss says even if I don’t personally agree with it” (as a middle manager). I expect there will be a lot of ‘wrong’ decisions, or at least decisions that you disagree with or would have done differently and now you have to just sit by and parrot it as organisational unity..

    Here’s a bit of a sidebar thought: you said most people make the transition up the rungs of management, not the other way around, so there isn’t that much advice out there so I guess you have googled etc this situation and not found much. Could you try searching out how to go from being a business owner / self employed ‘back’ to an employee, as I think in some ways there may be some apply-able advice there since the situations are similar in some ways. I know there are a lot of sources out there about that, as it’s a much more common scenario.

  16. hayling*

    I’ve never been in this situation, but I’m trying to find more balance/perspective at work and not be a workaholic who takes so much personal responsibility for every little thing. I find having a visual reminder on my desk is really helpful. I had a great coworker who used to work in the restaurant industry. She had a phrase “burgers and fries, not saving lives,” meaning that it’s just food, not brain surgery. I made a little piece of art for myself and one for her that has a little hamburger and french fries, and it’s really helpful to have sitting on my desk to give me some perspective. Maybe something like that would help you?

    1. Whynot*

      My mother had a similar phrase for her years in middle management at the phone company: “there will still be dial tone tomorrow.”

      I suspect there are now a couple of generations of folks who’ve got no idea what that means, but she said it helped her to leave problems at the office. Whatever she did or didn’t do, the phone system would still be there.

      1. Quiet Liberal*

        I love both of these! I left management to work for a competitor in an hourly position doing what I was doing before, just without the manager responsibilities. It was very hard at first to not worry about how things were being managed in the office. It took me about a year before I calmed down and realized those weren’t my worries anymore and that I wouldn’t be held responsible for management errors. It is liberating as hell. Like others said, doing this freed up a whole lot of time in my life. I can generally leave work at work, now.

  17. JBPL*

    I made a similar leap this year- from director-level managing a full organization and everything that goes with it, to an individual contributor in an adjacent organization. The money was better, the hours were regular, and the work-life balance was very appealing.

    The simple, practical thing that has helped me out when I feel like I should be jumping in and solving a problem is to keep my mouth shut first– a lot of times in my old position, I had to solve problems out loud in the moment as they were brought up. Now, when a problem is brought up, I listen first- always. Then I ask what our next steps should be. Usually the answer is either “do you have a way to help solve this?” or “I’m going to do X to solve this” which tells me whether it’s my place to contribute or not. I also lean into my scheduled hours, which has become a wonderful thing. No more am I on call 24/7. I am willing to pick up the phone after hours very infrequently but I don’t even check my emails on the weekend anymore, because it’s not my job to always be available.

    Another thing that I’m working on (and admittedly, this is a process) is remembering that part of giving up the responsibility for all the decisions in an organization means that sometimes you’ll disagree with the decisions that get made, or the process, or whatever. I’m still working on being okay with that, especially when I see efficiencies that are being ignored or practices that are alienating our clients, etc. Bringing up a possible solution or advocating for change in a positive way is one thing, but not forcing the issue after you brought it up feels really important during this type of transition.

  18. James*

    My job used to be much more variable. One week I’d be the field team lead, in charge of 15 people and answerable only to the project manager; the next week I’d be Field Grunt #743, hired to do routine sampling and to keep any opinions to myself.

    While I love being the one making the decisions and bearing the responsibility, I also learned to enjoy being just a grunt. It’s nice to have a very limited, clearly-defined set of tasks. For one thing–and this can be significant–it gives you the opportunity to focus on other areas of your life. The boss needs to live and breath the work more than the line workers do. I give up evenings and weekends for work, and am constantly reading up on ways to improve my job (thus me coming here). The line workers usually know their job, and are able to leave it at work more effectively, allowing them to enjoy more family time, hobbies, volunteer opportunities, and the like.

    I’m not saying it’s this way for everyone. But that’s my experience, and my advice: Take this as an opportunity to focus more on other aspects of your life.

  19. I Love Llamas*

    Wow, I can relate to what OP is experiencing. I went from being a long-time entrepreneur to a middle manager in a mid-size company as a subject matter expert. They had never had anyone in my role, so we were all figuring out my job. I quickly realized that I needed people to tell me explicitly to stay in my lane, so I made it clear to my boss and coworker to tell me. Directly. Once they realized it would never “hurt my feelings”, we got along great. We laugh about it now, but it took me almost a year to settle into my role. I would suggest you talk to your boss about this and see how they want to handle it. You have a great reason to have the conversation since you are still new to the job and that conversation will let your boss know you are receptive to all types of feedback. I LOVE having my nights and weekends to myself. I don’t take anything for granted these days and appreciate all that this job gives me.

  20. MMMMmmmmmmmMMM*

    I found what helped me was discussing the issue with my boss and then following up with, “do you want me to take care of it?” That way, the boss knows, and you’ve got your marching orders. Once you get back into the swing of /not/ taking care of things, you could stop asking.

  21. jael*

    I retired from an executive job and then took a managerial and then a nonsupervisory position within completely different organizations. Strange as it seemed, it felt at first as though I wasn’t using all my skills and I was a little disoriented. But I was still able to assist coworkers, more as a peer than as a manager. I like the suggestions of hobbies/activities–art/puzzles/music/sports/language–providing a different focus. Humor, laughing with, not at coworkers, is a great connector. And it helped me to see that my time of great influence was over–it was time for someone else to pick up the mantle and for me to be a team contributor. It was a time of new learning. It takes time to get over old habits, but it does get better. You’ll get into the new groove!

  22. ThisLibrarianIsTired*

    I hope to be in this situation someday. I told myself I would never take another management position where I’m juggling multiple people/departments and yet here I am, managing multiple departments (I did it because I love working in one of the departments and the money was good, so I thought it would be a good balance…). But after reading this, now I’m worried I won’t be hired for the “step down” positions I’d rather have. Will they think something is wrong with me? I guess that’s something one should include in a cover letter. But I can absolutely see how this would be a difficult adjustment. One of the things I like about my job is the ability to make decisions and actually make change happen. I worry I’ll miss that. But I think it’s a good tradeoff and that’s a risk I’m willing to take! Good luck, OP. I think Alison has given some good advice.

  23. drpuma*

    OP you mention transitioning to this job for the change in hours. As Alison mentions, lean in to the difference, and it may help for you to even point out in your mind, “yep! this is the shift in hours and busyness I wanted. it still feels weird because I’m not used to it yet.” I transitioned from leadership in a startup to more evenly-paced corporate a few years ago and I still sometimes have to remind myself to reset my behavior. I bet there are other differences as well that you can remind yourself you picked and just need to get used to.

    Something else that’s helpful for me is to stop and ask myself, “who am I comparing myself to?” If you’re WFH for now it’s likely a lot more challenging than in an office, but maybe you could reach out to some other folks at your level for casual 1:1 conversations. Find one or two people who succeed at your or a similar role to model your responsiveness off of; that way, you can stop asking yourself “What would ED-me do in this situation?” and transition to thinking about “How would Penelope or Horace handle this?” I do things like that, for example, when I’m not sure if it’s “okay” to log off for the day. I check who else is still online and if a couple of folks I respect have already shut their computers, I know I’ll be okay.

  24. LDF*

    It’s not the same, but I had some similar issues when I switched from an IC on Team X to an IC on Team Y. If I saw a problem with X I still had an urge to dig into it and do something about it, but it was firmly Someone Else’s Job now. What helped was separating myself as much as I could from seeing X problems in the first place. You probably can’t do that to the same extent when it’s in your org but at a higher level, but if there are channels/disro lists/threads/etc you can leave or mute, I definitely suggest doing that, at least for a while.

  25. Traveling Nerd*

    I had a similar problem recently — but thankfully work from home actually saved my butt! I put a post-it note on my monitor that said “Is this your problem to solve?” That constant reminder was enough to reset my habits.

  26. The Man, Becky Lynch*

    Practice saying “Not my circus, not my monkeys.” to yourself when you get that inclination to jump in or start worrying about things that are now outside of your realm. Also “That’s above my paygrade” works too, to train your mind to turn itself off when it starts whirling.

    I took a step back years ago and it took plenty of practice to just keep my nose out of it. It would get my attention and internally, you learn to adjust.

    I went back into senior leadership after awhile and it doesn’t take an adjustment period to remember how to take on the responsibility. But it sure does take awhile to remember to step back and disengage.

    1. LadyByTheLake*

      I agree with this so much. I went from being a high level executive decision-maker and stress-owner at a huge company to being an outside consultant. “Not my circus, not my monkeys” has had to be my mantra. Once I’ve given my advice and support, it really IS someone else’s problem. Also, as others have said, reminding myself that if someone has made a decision that I would not have made, so long as I have explained my reasoning and have provided my advice, it just isn’t my call — even if I vehemently disagree. “Let it go, let it go” has also had to be a constant mantra.

      Also, when it goes wrong resist the urge to say “I told you so.” Possibly the most critical life skill.

    2. another, another librarian*

      I say that, or a version of that, to my best friend daily and it has really been a game changer for both of us.

  27. Jay*

    I’m an MD. Five years ago, I was completely and totally burned out at a leadership position (the kind with lots of responsibility and not much authority…ugh) and took almost two years off from full-time work. I had the luxury of doing some free-lance consulting and tending to my health. Then I went looking for a part-time job because I missed clinical work. I found a great organization and they really wanted me full-time. By this time, my husband was pretty burned out at his toxic non-profit job, so I took the full-time clinical position and we swapped. It was such a relief. All I had to do was see my patients and write my notes. I remembered how much I actually love patient care. Since I do home visits and only went to the office twice a month pre-COVID, I managed to keep my head down and simply remain unaware of whatever was going on at higher levels.

    After about six months, I offered to do some education because I missed teaching. I managed to keep clear boundaries around it by making sure it was instead of clinical work, not in addition to. Then a leadership position opened up in another state and they made noises about me applying. No. Then a leadership position opened up in our market and a bunch of my colleagues asked me to apply. No. By this time I was finding it harder to maintain ignorance and did get frustrated watching people do things I believed I could do better. My husband kept reminding me about the tradeoffs – most of my weekends free. Most of my evenings free. No one calling me at 6:00 AM to complain about somebody else. The reminders helped a lot.

    This month I started a lower-level leadership position managing the rollout of an initiative in my area of interest. There’s no one else in my market who can do this and it’s a company priority, so I was able to negotiate a decent amount of release time. We’ll see how it goes.

    tl;dr: ignorance can be bliss, and the benefits far, far, far, outweigh the costs. It would have been much harder for me if I’d gone straight from my toxic leadership job for this – the decompression helped.

  28. Seeking Second Childhood*

    I have an analogous situation. I was the senior member of our teapot-painting department and even management came to me for decisions. When a management spot opened, I was asked to apply and turned down the opportunity. (Largely because I did not want to manage friends, and largely because I knew I didn’t have enough management background for our quickly changing company.)
    The person hired is an experienced manager, but not one with teapot-painting experience. I consider it my role to spot problems and forward them to my manager for THEIR decision. I email a summary with details a newcomer won’t know: Current issue, past history of similar issues causing financial loss or project delays, hopefully two or 3 possible solutions, and if nothing else the key players/departments.
    Sometimes I get a call to explain why it’s a problem — but less now that my manager is getting familiar with teapot-painting minutia. I’ve also been brought into decision meetings. In many ways I’m getting on-the-job management training at last. And being able to do this without managing people who I’ve been socializing with outside of work? It’s rather liberating.

  29. Anon Fed*

    I’m about to be in the same boat- I’ve been the head of a pretty complex organization for the past 5 years. As a hyper-responsible person, I’ve felt like I was supposed to know about every single little detail and be able to solve problems on the fly (of course delegating most of the problems- but it was still up to me to figure out who to delegate what to). Although I genuinely love the subject, and care about the people, it’s gotten to be way too much- I’ve put on a lot of weight and needed significant help to get healthy sleep, etc. I also feel mentally fried.
    Within a couple of months I’m moving to a lower stress position (same hours, same pay– I’m in the Federal Gov’t). I felt guilty that I won’t be ‘using my skills’ or ‘going as hard’ as I do now. My mentor told me that it’s OK to step back for a bit and get a breather, bless him. I am now envisioning a world where I don’t wake up at 2 am, thinking about the tasks that await me in the office. I CAN’T WAIT.

  30. CanuckGal*

    This was me! I wasn’t ED level but was part of the senior management team at a client-service based company and ran one of our larger, more profitable accounts. I had also been with the company for almost 10 years so was a trusted resource so it wasn’t uncommon for me to receive a 911 call for help. I eventually left the 50-100 person company to go corporate side (where I would BE the client) at an organization with over 30K+ employees. Where previously I was a people manager, I was now an individual contributor. What a change!

    It took me a full year to reset my brain and not try to solve the problems of the world at the new job. I often found myself blurring the lines and crossing boundaries. I never stepped on anyone’s toes, but I would often end up with a heavier workload or get things confused because I kept taking on problems that weren’t mine to solve.

    The thing is – if you can strike the right balance, you will quickly learn that those instincts and ability to see the bigger picture will make you a senior thought leader in your new company. Typically the problem is the other way around – people want to do what’s in their job descriptions and don’t really understand how it connects. You already have that skill, and now you need to lean in and trust where others can support and help.

    I had a few mantras I would repeat to myself – “not my circus; not my monkeys” was a big one! I also had to over-correct in some areas in order to make sure I was staying in my lane in the best of ways.

    Give yourself some time, but you WILL get there! And you’ll be an amazing contributor as a result of your experience!

  31. annalisakarenina*

    I also did the same thing: Went from department head at a small (dysfunctional) company, to a mid-high level individual contributor at a large, global corporation. While there is still latitude to solve my own problems, nothing showstopping is on my plate and I love it. Also when I’m off, I’m off. Allison is right: lean in to it, friend!

  32. Petty Editor*

    For me it was a little introspection and some cognitive behavioral therapy – the latter to recognize stress response patterns from the old job and break them, and the former for realizing that my old job (as bad as it was) absolutely fed my emotional and mental needs in a major way. It was satisfying to be needed, it was a rush to figure out a solution – as the boss people depended on me and I was pumped when I solved production problems or found a way to make our work outshine our competitors and reward my direct reports. So in the new job – better benefits, pay, hours, a step up into a Fortune 100 company doing critically-needed work for underserved populations – I was in your situation, too, OP. But my stress response remained, and my ego wasn’t being fed like it was. So DBT to break stress habits, and I had to find other projects and places to find my self worth. I finally got into local art shows, wrote a pitch novel, started a garden, did all the honey-do’s in my new house, read the books I’d never had time for, picked up some crafts I loved and missed doing… then COVID hit, and I was really grateful to have passion projects (and the excellent response and support from my current employer). So break the stress habit, and find another passion of five to pour yourself into and derive self-worth from. The rewards are so much better!

  33. daen*

    I took a management position, realized quickly (in about two months, plus/minus a bit) that this was not the place to me, and was able to transfer back to my old position. In the meantime, though, one of my coworkers has been promoted to supervisor over that my old/new job.
    We talked about this when I came back, both that I’m going need to get used to not stepping up immediately when I see there’s a problem, and that I will need to learn to see her as my boss instead of my peer. I am noticing that I sometimes step in and prompt her about things, or take the lead in updating my coworkers when it’s not strictly my responsibility. However, I’ve only been back three weeks, so…
    It’s a process, I’m saying.

  34. Wishing for a step down*

    I’m a new director (just about to hit one year) and this describes my day dreams. I long for the days when not everything was my issue to solve.

  35. Eclecticism is a Virtue*

    I didn’t go through anything like that, but I was a supervisor in a department that seasonally had hundreds of employees (call center). There were about a half dozen supervisors who reported to the manager, but two of us were informally more like assistant managers. Things changed and I left the department, but stayed in the company, and moved to a department where I was one of a handful of employees under the lone supervisor.

    That supervisor has since left, I’m still there in the second department, and I have influence but not authority (no promotions, but I’m fine with that, I don’t care so much about moving up any longer). For me, to get through the same thing, yeah, a lot of it was like Alison said, embracing that it’s not my responsibility. It’s very much a change in mindset–yes, as an ED everything is your responsibility, but you have the authority to change things and you have embraced the responsibility and the authority. But at mid-level, you get to say, “Oh, something is wrong in a different department? That’s too bad” and then go back to your work. Not to suggest you shouldn’t care, but you don’t need to fix it, you don’t need to stay up all night figuring out how to resolve it to everyone’s satisfaction. You did your time as an ED, now let someone else figure out how to put out all the fires simultaneously. Just worry about the occasional flare-up that happens within your purview.

  36. Allypopx*

    I know this is hard and takes time, but learn to love it.

    There’s a fire? Laugh. Not my problem!

    It’ll feel callous it’ll feel wrong – but having those kind of conversations (in your head, please, for the love of god not out loud) will help the weight lift right off your shoulders. It’s a way of approaching your new role with intention.

  37. Manana*

    One thought would be to frame your reactions as though you were one of your old reports. What were your preferred reactions from your reports in situations like this? What ways did they show they trusted your leadership and that you would get a handle on things before passing responsibilities or tasks to them? Which reports’ behaviors were disruptive to your flow and which were useful? Some of this could be helped by stopping yourself before jumping in to assess: will my involvement be helpful, or will it be undermining to my boss’ expertise and role?

  38. irritable vowel*

    This is a long time ago now, but when I made my first major career move it was from being a big fish in a small pond to being a medium-sized fish in a big pond. It took some time to get used to not being able to make decisions more or less unilaterally, because I was now in the middle of a hierarchy. But as Alison said, I tried to focus on the good stuff, like having the freedom to take an actual lunch break, or take a day off without feeling like I was majorly inconveniencing others. And it ultimately resulted in more opportunity. Thinking about it now, it was like pruning a plant that’s growing only in one direction – cutting it back lets it grow outward in multiple directions from its base.

  39. Princess Trachea-Aurelia Belaroth*

    Might it be helpful, in the short term and in the heat of the moment, to harness your previous mindset to define your role? Like, come up with an internal character named like Dave. Dave has your current job description (or maybe Dave is someone who worked for you at your previous place and had a similar role to what you have now, if you need a more concrete example). If you were still the director, would you want Dave tackling the thing you’re about to try? Or would you want Dave to tell his boss and leave it to the chain of command? That way you’re not in the mindset of “I could/should do this,” but rather, “Is this Dave’s responsibility?” This way you can transition from being the you who was a director to the you who is in Dave’s position, while still processing your director compulsions. And then eventually you’ll get used to not acting on them, and instead considering them first.

    Maybe this would help. Or maybe this would make it worse. I dunno, I’m not a psychologist.

  40. Payroll Lady*

    I did this when my daughter started High School. I was a manager and a mid-size company that was sold to a competitor, but I was one of the last to leave. (Everyone had to be paid!!) After a few months off, I went back as a temp in a very large public company. Many times it was hard to step back and not just takeover an issue that came up. I finally got to the point that I would go file in the warehouse to remind myself I was no longer a “boss”. The work/life at the time was perfect and I was able to see all my daughter’s soccer games and make sure she was ok. (Suffers from sever anxiety and would only take the bus to the games if she saw my car behind it). Once she was out of school, I decided to go back to either a one person dept or manager since I was happy where I was. I got a one person dept for a smallish construction company. That was almost 8 years ago, the company has tripled since I started and I now have an assistant. No plans of ever leaving! I know you hate this term Alison but I did find my dream job!!!

  41. Ashleyetc*

    I am in nearly this exact position. What’s been causing me stress, however, is going from being someone with deep institutional memory to someone who is a complete neophyte. It’s hard to trust my judgement when there are so many “known unknowns” and probably more than a few “unknown unknowns”. Humbling!

  42. The Other Dawn*

    I’ve gone through this, too, and it was really hard.

    I worked at a startup bank from the day it opened until the day it closed, which was about 12 years. By the end I was the Jill-of-all-trades and did pretty much everything except accounting and loan underwriting. I was a department head, but also informally oversaw another department. I participated in board meetings. I was the one who fixed a dead computer. I was the one who knew where the bodies were buried, or had the obscure piece of knowledge no one knew or remembered. And so on. I gained so much knowledge and experience over the years, which was great, but I was so burned out from having my hands in almost everything. I also felt very scattered, because I couldn’t ever really truly focus on one thing from start to finish. When the bank closed in 2013, I was incredibly relieved.

    I took a few months off to manage some personal things and then took a job at another bank. It had no managerial responsibility at all and had only one area to focus on, which is what I thought I wanted. It didn’t take long to realize I was so incredibly bored and I really missed having the authority to make decisions, steer the department the way I thought it should go, and being the go-to person. I felt useless, too. Eventually I came to appreciate that I could leave work at work. I could work my 40 hours and that’s it. I could go home at 5 pm and not think about the job at all. I put my energy into creating an audit program for certain things or teaching others what I knew about the core system we used since it was the one we had at the previous bank and I knew it inside and out.

    I ended up leaving in less than a year. Much of it had to do with the fact that I couldn’t stand my boss, the job itself just wasn’t a good fit (too narrow a focus), and morale was terrible throughout much of the company; however, I also missed being a manager. I’m now managing a department at another bank, but what’s nice is I can actually focus on this one area and not be pulled in a million directions. I get involved with certain things outside my area, but I’m not putting out fires all over the place like I did previously.

  43. Faith the twilight slayer*

    Are you my old boss, who is now a co-worker? This letter is blowing my mind! I have come back to an organization that I left a couple years ago and am now in a different role that I am absolutely loving! I feel like one of the “Friday feel-good stories”! I have also had to adjust my mentality – I no longer am expected to just “stay until things are done” and have actually been told more than once I am not to exceed my hours in any circumstances whatsoever. I also don’t have to solve any problems (though I do have to find and fix them, and make sure they don’t happen anymore), because the buck doesn’t stop with me. I only worry about my role, and making sure I get my responsibilities taken care of, rather than worrying about if others will get their stuff to me on time and who I am going to have to chase this week or month. Also, this is the most positive environment ever, even under pressure of deadlines (I work in accounting).


    It’s also a bit odd. I bring issues to my boss and she doesn’t get all up in my face about it. Other people miss their deadlines, and it’s somehow not my fault I didn’t magically get stuff done anyway. Everyone smiles, almost all the time. I get to work with people who aren’t actively trying to get me fired simply because I know more than they do. I work with people who are smart enough to keep me on my toes and treat me like OF COURSE I already know how to do my job, so they just let me do it and answer any policy questions if I have them. Other people are held accountable for their work, and I don’t have to babysit. I do have to coordinate, but guess what? People get stuff to me ahead of deadlines instead of making me beg for it. I can’t begin to express how happy I am that I’m not wearing my shoulders as earrings because I’m so stressed out all the time.

    So, enjoy it! You’re still a valuable member of a team, just in a different role. Remember to relax and tell yourself “I don’t have to fix everything”. Relish in the knowledge that you can turn off the day when you go home, as long as you’re doing what you need to do. And if you are my boss-now-teammate, I am so happy to be working with people who are smarter than me again

  44. MereLynne*

    I JUST did this a year ago – for much of the same reasons (benefits being a big one). I left a career of 35 years, where for 33 of those years, I was the Director. I am now – seriously – the lowest person in the company I joined. It IS an adjustment – but not being on call and ready to act 24/7, no working evenings or weekends, and getting an actual lunch break! – well, the adjustment will happen fairly quickly. There will still be things that will come up and you’ll want desperately to step in (and, there will be times, when you ARE the person in the room with the skill and expertise to save time and headaches….but, breathe and remind yourself that it is NO longer your job or responsibility). Take a moment – a good time to do that is during that lunch break you are taking now – and realize that the lack of stress and actual FREE TIME (now that you no longer need to worry about things after hours), plus actually sleeping at night – are worth it. Hang in there, it DOES get so much better/easier. Congrats!

  45. Chuggs McGee*

    A little late to the party, but I too dream of leaving my manager/supervisor role behind and being an individual contributor again. Or at most, being a team lead – providing technical oversight, but not having to worry about evaluations, counselings, ensuring there’s adequate coverage, etc… I am glad I am not the only feeling burned out by the idea of managing, rather than energized!

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