A year ago I faced a major career decision. A new opportunity arose that would allow me to have a high level of autonomy and creativity. Taking it, however, would mean leaving a job I enjoyed, re-focusing on a different type of work, and facing a substantial learning curve. I was so torn that I almost missed the window to apply. I had a big choice to make, and it wasn’t going to be easy—and I write a career advice column!
One of the biggest doubts that gnaws at a decision maker’s peace of mind is worry about making a mistake. What if I take this new job and regret it? What if I’m not prepared enough to move up? What if I strike out on my own and fail? Just how, exactly, can you tell if you’re about to make a wrong move? Like many things in your professional life, there’s no black and white when it comes to making a bold career-changing pivot. But the following three questions may help you work through your concerns before you give your two weeks’ notice.
1. Do You Have a Sense of Foreboding?
Do you feel a tiny lingering sense of dread when you think about the new opportunity? Maybe your potential boss minimized some of your accomplishments in the interview, making you wonder if your work simply isn’t valued. Or maybe you met the team you would work with, and they were polite, but seemed a bit tightly-wound, making you wonder what they’re like under a tough deadline, or if that’s the status quo for the department.
Think you would just walk away if you encountered red flags like these? Don’t kid yourself—there are plenty of reasons we ignore warning bells, like a bigger paycheck, higher status, or the opportunity to live in a great location. But, if you see these signs, you shouldn’t overlook them simply because you want to make more money. A nagging unease or feeling of discomfort could be a sign that you’re not ready or that it’s not the best option.
Look, it’s inevitable that a career change is going to create some anxiety. (If it doesn’t, check your pulse!) You don’t need to automatically turn down a great offer if you’re feeling nervous, but you should try to determine if it’s more than just butterflies. Ask yourself, “Am I uncomfortable about something that’s happened in this process, or am I just nervous at the thought of change?” If you’re just anxious, you’ll notice a sense of excitement mingled with that nervousness. If that’s not the case, think back through the process, and try to identify the red flag so that you can address it.
Let’s consider the potential boss who minimized your accomplishments. You’re not sure what that means about the type of person he is day-to-day, ergo, you need to ask some questions about his management style and how accomplishments are recognized within the department and the company. This might happen at a second interview, as a follow-up to the initial interview, or as part of the discussions that take place if you’re offered the position. You might be pleasantly surprised and relieved by what you discover, or you might realize that nagging unease was the sign of a more serious issue and you just saved yourself the headache of walking into a nightmare. Whatever you do, don’t ignore those lingering concerns.
2. Are You Feeling Desperate?
Early in my career I was working in a temporary position, and I was desperate to secure employment before the term ended. Partway through a promising interview, things shifted from strictly professional to personal. Instead of asking about my experience, my interviewer began talking to me like she might talk to a friend, sharing too much information for having known one another a grand total of 30 minutes. When offered the position, I ignored the warning signs that she may have poor boundaries and be a micromanager and instead accepted the offer, breathing a sigh of relief that I had a job lined up. I later kicked myself for my rash decision.
I don’t know that buying myself some time would’ve led to a different outcome, but that’s part of the problem—I didn’t even give myself a chance to explore other options. While you certainly need to be realistic when considering your situation and your options, viewing your situation through the lens of panic isn’t any more helpful than viewing it with rose-colored glasses.
Neither is akin to making a strategic move. If you’re in a crummy situation and you hate your job or your boss, and you get a chance to move onward and upward, then you should probably go for it. Just make sure you’re approaching the decision with a clear head so you can determine if the new opportunity actually offers something better (for example, will you be reporting to the same manager? Who will you be working closely with?), or if it just seems that way in the moment.
If you can’t find that clear head space on your own, talk to someone. When you feel panicky, it’s incredibly difficult to maintain perspective. Someone on the outside, someone who doesn’t have your emotional attachment to the situation, can often be of enormous help. A trusted friend, mentor, career coach, or a counselor can help you recognize and sort through your options. You may be surprised at the choices in front of you when you calm down enough to think rationally.
3. Are You Trying to Spite Someone?
We’ve all worked with or for a terrible human who looked down her insecure nose at us, belittling our work, our achievements, or even disparaged us on a personal level. You’re not the only one who’s dreamed of getting an incredible opportunity to rub in that colleague’s smug face. But, c’mon now, that’s obviously a terrible reason to actually make a career move. If you let her drive your decision, you’re giving her control, and it’s unlikely that the decision is truly what’s best for you and your professional trajectory.
You’ve got to know when to cash in when the right opportunity arises. Know your worth, so you can be on the lookout for a company that recognizes and rewards hard work and ambition. When the right thing comes along, you can jump on it and sail off to bigger and better places along your career path.
While you might wish that condescending co-worker would fall off the face of the earth, this line of thought isn’t particularly helpful. As I mentioned previously, perspective is critical to your sanity in a difficult situation. Ask yourself this: “What type of adult treats others poorly?” Certainly not a secure and healthy person. When you can see the insecure person behind the negative behavior, it may help you keep your sense of calm and realize it’s not worth the energy. If you can remain secure and productive in your role, you’ll ultimately have more control, and eventually new doors will open for you, giving you the chance to evaluate your options objectively.
Here’s a final nugget to bear in mind when wrestling with a major career decision: There’s really no right or wrong move. If there’s an obvious benefit or drawback, then the “right” path will be easy to see. If you’re wrestling with a choice, you likely have two comparable options, which means you can’t really make a mistake. Well, besides letting fear dictate how you move forward.
When I finally submitted my application for the position mentioned in the introduction to this piece, I called my mentor and said, “I decided to quit being afraid; I went for it.” When offered the position, I took the plunge. Is my job perfect? Of course not, because perfection doesn’t exist. Do I wonder what would’ve happened if I stayed where I was? Sure, sometimes. Would I do anything differently if I could go back? Absolutely not. My move’s opened innumerable doors and led to immeasurable personal growth.
What’s next? I have no idea, but I’ve got more experience, education, and relationships to take with me when it’s time to start figuring it out.