Talking to a friend over the weekend, I found myself saying that it’s almost easier to plan a career change when you’re already working at a job/in a career that you can tolerate. I think the thought struck me because it flies in the face of the common practice of “taking the leap”, “cutting the cord”, or any other number of metaphors for leaving your current job so you can focus on your next step. Now before going any further its important to say that this approach can work for some people. In fact, there are probably some individuals for whom the only way to make a drastic change is to take drastic action. But my guess is that this is the minority. For the rest of us, leaving our current job in order to clear some space for a career change actually stacks the deck against us. The trouble being that when you NEED to find A JOB, it can be hard to get enough space to choose a suitable CAREER.
The trouble being that when you NEED to find A JOB, it can be hard to get enough space to choose a suitable CAREER.
Anecdotally, it seems that there are several reasons for this. First, you put yourself at the mercy of your basic needs (like money for bills) when in fact you are trying to serve your higher order needs (like your personal values). Second, you have removed what was likely one of the strongest motivators for your career change, that is, your current job.
So let’s get into this.
What do I mean when I say you place yourself at the mercy of your most basic needs? Simply this: once we have left a job (even a crummy job) most of us only have a finite period of time before we need to be bring in income again. Now if we have prepared beforehand, that period might be a bit longer. But long or short, once the income from our former job stops, a small clock starts counting down in the back of our heads.
And this adds pressure to your decision.
And in the midst of this pressure it becomes harder and harder to focus on the longer term consequences of our next career decision. The wisdom of a career choice reveals itself over time. By the first week on a new job we can tell if we can manage the work, or if we’ll be able to survive on the paycheck. But it takes longer (sometimes much longer) to assess whether or not a new career is fulfilling. And it can be even harder to focus on the personal values that might make a career fulfilling when we only have 2 more months before we ABSOLUTELY HAVE TO HAVE A PAYCHECK (emphasis mine).
But it takes longer (sometimes much longer) to assess whether or not a new career is fulfilling.
Secondly, leaving your current job often robs you of the strongest source of motivation to find your next career. How do we decide to change careers? Often it is the gradual accretion of small discontents and irritation with our current job. If we have worked in the same industry for awhile, we may start to notice that these problems were the same at the last job (in the same industry) as well.
And so, we start to contemplate a change.
And once we start to think about a change, these irritations do more than just irritate us, they begin to give us energy to find “something else”. Perhaps you start to explore other options, or perhaps not, but as long as your remain at your current job, you are building motivation. Its paradoxical in a sense, but one way to make sure we make a good career change is to stay as near as possible to the aspects of our current career we would like to avoid. Once the real experience of confronting these problems stops, we won’t be motivated in the same way to move forward. We can drift. At least, we can drift until our savings run out (see above).
That’s it in a nutshell. There are certainly challenges to navigating a career change while working full time (to be addressed in a future post), but the dangers of leaving too soon are all too real.
Questions? Let’s talk–