Difficult Choices, Worthwhile Decision

Karim Ermina

“We are our choices.”—
Jean-Paul Satre

I have been fortunate to have spent the last 10 years at the San Luis Obispo Chamber of Commerce, first as director of governmental affairs and then as CEO for the last seven years.

The chamber has been my home on every level. It is where I have focused my energies to shape the place I live, to learn from remarkable people, to be inspired by those very different from me, to make sense of the world when it has seemed senseless, to draw strength through personal challenges, and to find community each day.

While my decision to leave was not one I made lightly, it also was not a struggle. That’s because my choice is rooted in where I want to go, not in why I may want to leave. My hope is to have more time with my 12-year-old daughter in this next stage of her life.

There is a tremendous amount of data around the amount of time we spend with our families. Most label undistracted time at under 40 minutes a day. That’s less than the typical meeting, one of many, in any given work day. And in our lifetimes, the vast majority of our time with our children is banked before the age of 18.

Decision-Making Rules

In considering the choice to leave a job I love, I relied on a few of my decision-making rules, including:

1) Envision the best-case scenario—and resist the natural inclination to consider what may go wrong.

2) Avoid asking for direct advice—focus on decision-making frameworks instead of the biased validation from those close to us. That doesn’t mean that support networks aren’t important; utilize them instead as sounding boards.

3) Pay close attention to your physical reaction—are you tensing up when you consider the alternatives or do you feel like the decision is resonating and you feel physical relief?

4) Embrace your fears—there is so much power in identifying a fear and then continuing to thoughtfully proceed. Risk taking is part of self-improvement.

Ultimately, my choice to put her at the top of my priorities list—and to eventually find work that supports that goal—was relatively easy.

Encouragement and Inspiration

The conversations that my departure have opened up with my colleagues, our members and my community have been a great gift. So many people have shared their deeply personal experiences with me.

I have heard tales of regret—from mothers, fathers and adult children; these moments have regularly been accompanied with tears, which underscore how difficult or out of reach my choice is. I have regularly been met with disbelief (“why are you really leaving?”) and astonishment (“you are really leaving without knowing what’s next?”).

But more often than not, I have heard a lot of encouragement. I have been regaled with cherished memories, smiling faces and words of wisdom. These have propelled me as I take this personal leap.

And I’ve even heard that my choice is seen as an inspiration—something that gives permission to others to consider. I think the idea of someone choosing to leave a job they love—when it is going well—is not something that is regularly visible. It’s not a story we tell.

I hope that changes. As a woman passionate about supporting other women and girls to find their place and their voice, I believe mine is just another story of a working mom, retold.

And in my story, I believe that as I leave my chamber home, I will still have a place. I’ll be the one cheering loudly on the sidelines.

Ermina Karim is the president and CEO of San Luis Obispo Chamber of Commerce.