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career serving two masters

Jobs and careers are similar to romantic relationships in many ways.  Our jobs (in essence our companies) are where we spend the majority of our time each day.  We forge bonds, friendships, and sometimes rivalries with colleagues, we learn to compromise between the work we love doing and the work we hate, and it is a constant force in which parts of our lives revolve around.

Like a relationship, it’s often very hard to tell when it’s time to move on, and whether you go on your own accord or you’re forced out, they can also be very hard to get over as you try to secure a new role, or even as you transition into a new position.

I remember an instance with a former boss who loved her job very much, was extremely good at it, and extremely effective and successful in her role, decided it was time to resign.   It came as a shock to many people, however, the company was in transition, and she said to me that she could stay on but it would not be in the best interest of the company or the employees.  That true change would only occur for the company if she left and that was the only way left she had to affect change.

Now, she was not, by any means, stating that she was holding the company back, quite the contrary.  Bu, she knew instinctively that with the new direction of the company and additional leadership, that she needed to leave in order for the rest of the organization to see the impact she’d helped build in order for the company to move forward and make better decisions over the long term.  Staying would have meant curbing her leadership and watching others attempt to carry on her success without knowing how to build it on their own.

It was an important lesson for me and one that I often carried with me into the interview process.  When asked in an interview how long I saw myself working for an organization, I would find myself responding something along the lines of, “As long as my being in my position continues to serve both the company and myself.”

We often think of leaving a company as a selfish decision, however, when we find ourselves no longer learning, no longer happy, or our goals have changed and they’re no longer in line with what we’re doing, aside from making ourselves miserable, we are not performing at our best.  When we’re not performing our best, we’re not serving ourselves or the company.

In the same way you might face decisions of counseling, divorce, or working through arguments to compromise on a solution to build a better path ahead with a partner, your career can be a tough road to walk when you’re trying to identify if you should leave a position or a company, or if instead, there is something that you can work on about yourself or with a manager to improve the situation. In either case, it’s about making the best decision for yourself and taking action. In the words of Andy Warhol,“They always say time changes things, but you actually have to change them yourself.”

“They always say time changes things, but you actually have to change them yourself.”

The flip side to leaving a job is transitioning to a job hunt and then a new position.  Depending on the reasons you left the position, you can continue to carry the weight of the experience with you for days, weeks, sometimes even years.  Many job seekers who’ve been laid off or remain unemployed for long amounts of time carry that stigma with them into the job interview unknowingly, which in-turn can create a cycle of bad interview performance and remaining unemployed.

I’ve also encountered many people who after securing a new job—even one that they may love—might take a year or two to really start blossoming and feeling like themselves again after a particularly bad or life-consuming job.  We carry our baggage with us whether we realize it or not.

No matter where you are at in your career (or a relationship), it can be important to take stock on a regular basis of how you’re feeling, what you’re doing, and whether the role you’re in is still serving you and the company.  If the answer to either of those questions is no, being proactive about identifying the issues could save you months or years of struggle (and in some cases therapy) in advance.

Taking regular stock can also help you guide your own career in figuring out where you can make improvements, re-identifying and aligning yourself with your goals (as these can shift over time), and allow you to make a positive impact on your work.  After all, change doesn’t always have to spur from the negative; it can stem from positive desires as well.

The hardest part of all of it all is knowing when to change course. There is never a perfect time to quit a job, take a promotion, go back to school, or make a big move in a new direction.  You have to learn to trust yourself enough to know that you’re making the best decision for you at that moment in your life and never regret the decisions you’ve made.  Because each decision is going to lead you closer to where you’re supposed to be, and we’ll all get there in our own time.

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