Is It Time To Leave The Job?

By Ellis Chase

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Malaise at Work

Having a bad week at work is usually transitory.  Everyone goes through that, of course.  When the bad week extends into several and becomes chronic, or what I call "the feeling sick on Sunday night syndrome", it frequently means time for some sort of change.  It takes, however, some careful thinking to separate out a bad career decision from a bad work environment.  Too many times, I've seen clients and students insist on making a change, either within a field or maybe a radical one.  Many times, a little time and perspective makes them realize that it may be the work setting, not the career choice.

One way of figuring out that difference is to simply write down a list of personal values, i.e., what's important to you at work, and then match it with the attributes of the current job.  Is there a strong correlation?  That should help you figure out whether it's the place or the profession.  Or both.  Somehow, it’s a great idea to visualize and/or write down those thoughts you’ve been ruminating about.  What would the change actually look like?  Writing them frequently provides some perspective and clarity. 

Or, do you frequently think about another specific profession?  That, too, can be a clue.  Please note that does not include opening a b&b in New Hampshire, or a bait and tackle shop in Tahiti.  Those are called “escapes,” and frequently are not realistic.  (I’ve heard the b&b one so many times.  That kind of work is TOUGH, and not nearly the idyll that most people fantasize.) 

This is a conundrum.  It may take some personal assessment, perhaps some formal assessment tools, or, if the ruminating gets you nowhere, maybe some conversations with a trusted friend or colleague.  Maybe a professional career advisor, would help you get a better perspective. 

Should I think about leaving?

Here are some signs that it may be time to move:

When you feel completely stuck, it is probably time to consider either an internal move or a move out.  Of course, there are some who enjoy certainty and repetition of task in the job, and are comfortable with that.  For most, "stuck" is not a good place to be.  Unfortunately, it can also lead to inertia, where you feel paralyzed - and you definitely need to at least take a look at some other options.  This doesn't mean a commitment; it just means an exploration.   

Constant complaining about work is usually another sign that it may be time to consider alternatives, although, unfortunately this can also be a personality trait.  

A difficult relationship with a boss may be a sign that it's time to move.  But it also may reflect the employee's issues, too.  It's important to understand that work environments almost always have some kind of significance in terms of family background.  Early childhood patterns tend to repeat throughout life.  You're always playing out parts of childhood at work and in other life arenas, whether it's a sibling issue (competitiveness?), parental (issues with authority figures?), or parenting (difficulty with subordinates?).  Or, on the other hand, it can be purely about a difficult boss.  For example, the boss with narcissistic personality issues is extremely difficult to work with, because the characteristic of that disorder is that the narcissist is almost never satisfied, requiring inordinate amounts of attention to prop up a fragile personality. That's a tough work situation, and probably a motivation to make a change. 

Be careful about coming to conclusions about industries in decline.  Sometimes it's cyclical (real estate), and sometimes it's a radical change in direction (publishing, music).  Be sure to do considerable research to make that determination and be careful about naysayers, who will say negatives about any profession at any time.  I remember clients hearing negatives (no jobs out there anymore!) about technology during the dot com boom of the late '90's, which was ridiculous.  Of course, those negatives did become real in the early 2000's - but turned out to be part of another, newer, cycle.  

Determine how important work/life balance is to you.  If you value your time off, and you find that you're working regularly on weekends, maybe it's time to think about a change.  Is it part of the industry culture (investment banking and law)?  Or is it cyclical (accounting)?  Be sure to research whether it's industry-wide, or whether it's just your organization.

What does a change entail?

A career change should involve a heavy due diligence before implementation of a search.  This turns the common sequence around a bit.  Instead of making an arbitrary decision because something sounds interesting, as most people do at the beginning of their careers, I strongly urge research and informational networking in perhaps two or three different targets.  This will help to determine whether or not you (1) like what you find out, (2) find that there is an actual market out there, and (3) determine whether or not your skills and experience are appropriate for the target.  What you want is a critical mass of opinion - meaning more than one or two people -  so that you can make your decision, and then begin the mechanics of a search.  By mechanics, I mean the development of marketing materials (resume, pitch, written communications) and then building relationships which will get you to decision makers.  Please note that I'm not emphasizing ads or recruiters here, which, while sometimes useful, are low-odds resources for most job seekers.  

Making the final decision

It is difficult, if not impossible, to make blanket generalizations about entire fields, in terms of what's hot at the moment. Each field has several aspects, and some may have many possibilities, and some not.  For example, current consensus  says that healthcare is a growing market segment for now and for the future.  This is generally true, but does it mean doctors, or nurses, or physical therapists, or pharmacists, or all the other healthcare professions?   Obviously, one statement won't cover them all.  

Finding this out requires the due diligence mentioned above, plus research and reading about the industries you're interested in.  Intelligent career transition requires a great deal of preparation, not just a quick, sometimes arbitrary decision.

I feel strongly that any career decision should involve the notion that the career should fit you - and not the other way around.  It's important to understand your own personal style and values, and figure out whether any career decision suits who you are.  Too many decisions are made out of expediency or as the result of not enough reflection.  Isn't it worth the effort?  

Image Credit: Lloyd Morgan


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