“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?”
“That depends a good deal on where you want to get to.”
“I don’t much care where –”
“Then it doesn’t matter which way you go.”
(Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland)
I am passionate about people being happy with what they do for a living. We spend far too much time at work (28% of our week on average) to be miserable while doing it. My friends probably think I’m a broken record, but I recommend time and time again to always have an exit strategy. In addition to the powerful feeling you get from knowing you have the freedom to leave, there is another, very important reason to be ready for change.
There is an old saying in business (and I’m not even sure where it came from):
“What is not by definition is by default.”
If you are not defining what you want to do next then, when things get bad, there is a temptation to take whatever presents itself (the default). This might result in something better; more often than not, it results in a different kind of bad. Quite simply: if you do not define a goal to run TOWARD, then you are just running AWAY … blindly.
Defining what you want to do next can be a daunting task, especially if you have been working in one area of business for a long time. However, that is all the more reason to begin doing some research as soon as possible to close that knowledge gap before it becomes an urgent situation.
Here are some things to think about when considering what you want next:
- Where do you thrive?
Begin by listing the things that you like about your current situation. This could include access to training, corporate culture, the personality of your boss, your freedoms, your desk or office, the cafeteria, etc. Determine which items on your list are must-haves for your work happiness and which are just nice-to-haves.
- What are your favorite tasks?
Every job includes things we like to do and things we don’t. If you are looking to pick a new job, it only makes sense to look for one that has more stuff you like (and less of what you don’t). Track everything you do for a week, then mark the things you like and the things you really, really don’t. (It’s ok to have some tasks you are neutral on).
- What are your inherent strengths?
What do people come to you for? What has been mentioned in all your performance reviews? Get a handle on what you do well and how you like to use those talents. If you’re not sure, then consider taking a co-worker to coffee and ask (or your boss — asking for feedback is always good!)This is also a good time to examine your formal education and how you feel about it. It’s ok if you aren’t into it any more (I’m wa-a-a-a-y afield from where I started); but if you still love it, then that should figure into your definition as well.
- What kind of “pond” are you looking for?
Do you find comfort in being a small fish in a bigger pond; or are you looking to be a bigger fish in a smaller pond? If your first instinct is to think bigger is more stable, I will argue that just isn’t so anymore. Make a choice based on the role itself: do you like to be a lone gun (big fish) or do you prefer to collaborate (small fish).I’ve been surprised at the number of job-seekers who have considered leaping to a start-up, lured by the excitement and the perks that seem to be part of that culture. Consider carefully: those perks are often a counter-balance to shoestring budgets, very long hours and chaotically unstructured working environments (no processes, hazy reporting structures, etc.) If uncertainty is not for you, a start-up is a poor choice.This is also when you should ask if you have the chutzpah to do your own thing. Entrepreneurship isn’t for everybody either, and that’s ok.
- Do you have an industry preference?
Some people have no preference for industry; some like where they are; and still others purposely want to get out of their current industry either to grow themselves or to escape the instability of the market. Don’t let history in one industry keep you from considering a future someplace else — this is your ideal job you are designing here.
- What are your actual salary needs?
Repeat after me: “My salary is not an indication of my self-worth.”
You have financial obligations, so know what those are; but the more flexible you can be on the salary, the more options you will have. Think of it this way: what are you willing to pay for the opportunity to do something new that you love?
And that, my friends, is the point. If you are designing your next job from scratch, design something you LOVE. When you find it, you will be happy, your passion will make your employer happy, and your new attitude will make all those around you happy.
Shouldn’t that be the way we ought to go?