Someone recently asked me how you know when it’s time for a professional change. We were talking about the twists and turns in my own career, and she asked, “How did you know each choice was best decision and the right time?” The short answer is that I was never fully certain – how could I be, before I moved into a new role and experienced it over time – but on the edge of each change, I was always both excited and afraid. Excitement told me I had a stirring interest in what’s next, and a bit of fear told me it would be a challenge (which was a good thing).
Some choices worked out fantastically well and others were far less than perfect. But all of them taught me something important. That’s the merit of change – it holds lessons the status quo never could. I think that’s why I’m glad for the times I took action, wherever it led.
Most regrets in life are those of inaction. I recently read interviews with Fortune’s 50 Most Powerful Women, and they were asked about the best and worst decisions they’d made in their careers. It was striking that none of them said they regretted a change – Heidi Miller’s regret was staying in one role too long – unless it was a change that wasn’t big enough. That resonates with my own experience. I don’t regret the leaps I made as much as the larger ones I didn’t.
I’m not advocating change for change’s sake. Nor am I a fan of recklessness. But I do believe in bold reflection. So in that spirit, here are a few lessons I’ve learned about doing deep thinking to decide what’s next.
If you’re asking the question, you have an answer.
If you are often asking yourself if it’s time to move on, you know one thing for sure: you are craving change. You have an answer – if not THE answer. Maybe it’s time for a new job. Or maybe your instinct is an urge for a new challenge or different set of colleagues in your current role. Whatever the instinct, don’t ignore it. Pay attention to your persistent questions. Some vital part of you has outgrown your current circumstances, and it is trying to engage you in an important exploration.
At times, I’ve done some mighty mental gymnastics to ignore the nagging questions in the back of my mind. I’ve convinced myself I “need stability” or should “play it safe.” These rational machinations never succeeded in making me satisfied. I found myself more and more drained rather than energized by my work. It was always better to invite the inner conversation and see where it led.
This thinking is hard. Sometimes you’ll need to turn to people around you for guidance. This can be very helpful, especially if those people share principles that have been useful in framing their own thinking. But watch out for overly prescriptive advice based on others’ preconceptions about what is your best career path. Good advisers inform – not dictate – your thinking. Be honest about what feels right for you. They can’t hear your inner voice – the one that might be secretly disappointed with their recommendation. Pay as much attention to your reactions to their advice as to the advice itself. That can tell you a lot about what’s in your heart.
Follow your curiosity.
One great tool in deciding what should be next is to focus on your curiosity rather than your boredom with the status quo. What in your work – or in life – makes you curious? Listen to that impetus and follow that instinct. For example, I’m endlessly curious about people and what makes them tick – which led me to jobs across many different fields. In recent years, I’ve spent much of my free time reading about creativity, psychology and behavioral economics. I could spend all day learning more about these things. That curiosity has guided me to look for roles focused on deeply understanding people and uncovering the implications for product innovation and business challenges. This makes my work endlessly interesting to me, and so I am more productive and successful in what I do.
What sparks your curiosity and what does that say about you? I find this far more useful a question than “What is your burning professional passion?” The wonderful Elizabeth Gilbert puts it this way:
“Passion is a tower of flame, but curiosity is a tiny tap on the shoulder — a little whisper in the ear that says, ‘Hey, that’s kind of interesting…’ Curiosity is therefore a lot easier to reach at at times than full-on passion — and the stakes are lower, easier to manage. The trick is to just follow your small moments of curiosity. It doesn’t take a massive effort. Just turn your head an inch. Pause for a instant. Respond to what has caught your attention. Look into it a bit. Is there something there for you? A piece of information? For me, a lifetime devoted to creativity is nothing but a scavenger hunt — where each successive clue is another tiny little hit of curiosity. Pick each one up, unfold it, see where it leads you next. Small steps. Keep doing that, and I promise you: The curiosity will eventually lead you to the passion.”
I realize not all of us are fortunate enough to have the luxury to decide whether to leave a job. We may be laid off or underemployed and discouraged. If we’re searching in vain, I find curiosity can be a good way to find new avenues to explore beyond the paths that are leading nowhere.
Pay attention to the people.
For me, my colleagues matter above all else. A dream job wouldn’t be a dream job if I had to work with horrible people. If I break down my waking hours during the work week, I spend more time with coworkers than with my family and best friends. So it’s deeply important that I work in an environment that is constructive, with people who bring out my best. Above all, I came to my current job because of how much I liked the culture, my colleagues and leaders. Over the years, I’ve learned the hard way that it’s paramount to focus not only on what is the job but whom it’s with. If you’re thinking about leaving your job, is it the job or your colleagues that have generated your desire for change – and what does that tell you about where to go next?
Run to, not from.
Dissatisfaction with the status quo is a good reason to consider a professional change – but it’s not a reason to take a new job. Focus on running toward an opportunity more than fleeing a current situation. You want to make sure that what’s ahead is better than what you’re longing to leave behind.
One useful tool is to make a list of what you most want in a new role. My list has changed over the years, but at the top is usually an opportunity to stretch myself beyond where I’m comfortable, a leader and colleagues who knock my socks off, and a deep curiosity about the subject matter. Then I force myself to evaluate opportunities against my list. This has caused me to decline some job offers that looked very good on paper, even when I was ready to leave my current role. I was always glad later that I had the patience for the right big thing.
As Sallie Krawcheck says, wait for the fat pitch.
Know what matters most, because it won’t change.
Another reason that list is important is it protects us against future bias. As Ayelet Fishbach wrote in the New York Times yesterday, we tend to embark on job searches with a focus on salaries and titles and forget the everyday, intrinsic factors of “office morale and doing work that is interesting and fun.”
“Why are people fully aware that present benefits are important in their current job, and yet expect not to care about those benefits in the future? … A basic instinct from behavioral science is that people care about the present mainly in the present. They do not really care about it in advance… We fail to recognize that the person we are in the present – the one who values intrinsic benefits – is awfully similar to the person we will be in the future.”
In other words, when considering change, don’t just think of the points of arrival and departure. Take into account the journey ahead, once you accept a new role. Think about whether you will like living it, day by day. Listen carefully to the voice that is wondering if you should try something new. Know that it isn’t simply asking for a switch. It’s seeking the greater experience of what comes after the change is made.
SOURCE: Katya Andresen linkedin article