‘Quitting is leading too.’

Dedication: To those who feel 'stuck'...

‘Quitting is leading too’ is a thought-provoking Nelson Mandela quote that lends itself to my journey to early retirement from the United Nations (UN) in Vienna, Austria in November 2022 at the age of 55.

Throughout 2023, there have been many expressions of shock about my early retirement. Apparently, it came out of the blue for many colleagues but if truth be known, my exit was a carefully well executed and thought through plan, almost similar to the projects I have successfully managed over the years in my professional career. The intention to retire was my silent journey that spoke so loud to those who wanted to hear.

So ‘why did you quit so early’ was the most popular question and quite a valid one too. ‘It was time to go’ was my answer.

Did something happen at work? ‘Nothing happened. It was time to go’

‘You are still young’ and I would say ‘I know’.

In all honesty, I took a comfortable yet bold decision that was best for me. With a solid 30+ year career, my last work environment was no longer the best fit for me professionally and culturally.

As a criminologist, I have a great interest in understanding human behaviour – criminal or otherwise. So, people’s reactions to my early retirement left me intrigued and curious about perceptions and quite colourful imaginations.

In reality, the main reason for going on early retirement in 2022 was not as complicated as people imagined or reimagined. It was actually pretty simple. It was time to move on and make more meaningful and long-term impact elsewhere. I arrived at that decision after a couple of years of discussions with a career coach, a life coach, seeking financial advice but important to me were the conversations with my family and close friends. I had and have no regret with the decision to move onto a different space.

For many, being in a ‘comfort zone’ personally or professionally means change can be uncomfortable but to me change can also be about growth. My focus had gradually started shifting to initiatives that positively impact the lives of children and youth. I had already volunteered as a Mentor for young women located across the world and I am still a strong advocate for the empowerment of children and youth.

So, 2023 so far has been a time to reset, rethink, reposition for a newer sense of purpose. It has been quite the transition but one that has been so powerfully positive. I am taking time for ‘Me’. As I embark on a journey to embrace my new growth, I am still the same person, just with a different mindset.

If I call myself a Leader, a Visionary, which I do, then “Quitting is leading too.” I have proceeded onto another lane. I am not retired from a life of service to others and ‘I am not what happens to me. I am what I choose to become’- Carl Gustav Jung.

The ‘service to others’ is still a work in progress. Be inspired.

Photo credit: Images provided by the storyteller.

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Margaret Akullo

A Criminologist with three decades of professional experience in the criminal justice sector. Actively champions gender and racial equality and is a strong advocate for ethical leadership, diversity in leadership positions and the empowerment of youth. For over a decade worked with the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and successfully led the delivery of projects/programmes in more than 20 countries across four continents-Africa, Asia, Europe and Latin America. Other experience includes two decades of work on child protection with two law enforcement agencies and two non-governmental organisations in London (UK) - the Metropolitan Police Service, the UK National Crime Agency, Shelter Homeless charity and AFRUCA NGO. A published author with solid experience in strategic communications. Previously a volunteer Mentor with Zahara's Dream empowering young women across the world to build positive change. Currenlty retired from the United Nations and resides in the UK and Austria.