My best career mistake: quitting my job for love

March 12, 2015, 6:14 PM UTC
Courtesy of David Reese

The Leadership Insider network is an online community where the most thoughtful and influential people in business contribute answers to timely questions about careers and leadership. Today’s answer to the question “What’s the best mistake you ever made?” is written by David Reese, vice president of people and culture at Medallia.

Love makes us do stupid things.

Like moving to Las Vegas to start a job in hospitality at the height of the 2008 financial crisis. Having just finished my MBA, I had a great job in a great city (New York). Everything was great — except my significant other lived 2,500 miles away.

There are very few bad things to say about long distance relationships that haven’t already been said. And they can be even worse when you’re young, unmarried, and pressured by friends and family to put yourself first, to focus on your career, and future success. The volume of advice the Internet gives you when you type “move for love” into Google should be an indication that there are many folks in the world who consider doing so a mistake.

Well, you can say I made that ‘mistake.’ In 2008, I moved to Las Vegas for love. But that’s not the half of it. From a career perspective, it became the perfect storm: not only was I leaving a job I loved, but I was also landing another (at Caesars Palace Hotel and Casino) in a city whose focus is hospitality – at a time when the global travel and leisure industry was getting ravaged by the financial crisis. With life savings and retirement funds gambled away in the crisis, folks weren’t interested in literal gambling and the rest of the amusements of Vegas. Casinos were radically downsizing — if not closing their doors for good.

I had questioned my career move and even floated the possibility with my significant other that we both move back to New York.

I’m glad we didn’t. These were the best mistakes I ever made. Because of big changes brought on by the housing market crash, Vegas needed to change how its economy worked. Old approaches weren’t sustainable, and leaders at organizations across the city were being forced to try new things, to be open to new ideas and ways of doing business. I greatly benefited from this. As a young post-MBA, I was a cheap investment with big dreams and new practices, and as a result, I ended up getting to do things that were well beyond my experience level.

This started at Caesars with a wonderful leader and mentor. The crisis had forced the company — a collection of properties in Las Vegas — to rethink its leadership structure. The result? In a matter of months, I went from a corporate role (in succession planning and talent development) to leading human resources for thousands of employees — and then tens of thousands. I was also asked to partner with operators and employees to completely reimagine how Caesar’s employees deliver great customer experiences, and therefore getting loads of access to the business, the legacy, and spirit that made Caesar’s iconic brands sing.

This rapid ascent would have been unthinkable just a few years before — and in most other industries. Had I not moved to Vegas and stayed in my old great job, it would have taken me (and potentially my team) a great amount of time to gain the experiences, responsibilities and shared successes we were able to accumulate so quickly. I was taught valuable lessons by employees at all levels, all with a variety of experiences, who saw that we cared and gave us the trust and support that is required to drive change.

While others were running away from the fire, I ran toward it. Somehow, I didn’t get burned. Some might argue that hindsight is 20/20. And while I’ll give them that, I do think there are two pieces of wisdom hidden behind why my initial mistake became a longer-term success. First, I’d say that crises creates opportunities by shaking up old ways of thinking and doing things differently. Doors might close, but they also open for people who might not have the traditional prerequisite experience for a given role or career. Next time you smell smoke, think twice before running the other direction.

My second piece of advice? Well, if you promise not to roll your eyes, then I’d say my experience is proof that you should always follow your heart.

Read all answers to the Leadership Insider question: What’s the best mistake you ever made?

From rags to riches: What one CEO learned from his biggest mistake by Ryan Smith, CEO and founder of Qualtrics.

Does the perfect employee really exist? by Ryan Harwood, CEO of PureWow.

Confessions of a startup founder: What I learned from my $5K mistake by Sunil Rajaraman, Co-Founder,

How to fail (wisely) by David DeWolf, CEO and President of 3Pillar Global.

How to make the most of your mistakes by Tough Mudder CEO Will Dean

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