Very few us of are one-dimensional. Most of us have a spectrum of skills and interests which can be ordered, emphasized and monetized in different ways at different times. So far, I’ve had seven careers ranging from educator to government worker to journalist, consultant, publicist, Internet entrepreneur, and ad man. Who knows what will be next?
Job change is personal growth. But change needs to be carefully considered and actively chosen. I use three criteria for assessing new opportunities. First, will the new job teach me something new and engage me in ways I haven’t been engaged before? Will it break new territory for me and for the organization I’m joining? This is mostly a logical exercise.
Second, is the chemistry right? Will I fit in, and do I have a realistic chance to succeed? Are these my peeps? This is a visceral judgment that factors in the people, the politics, the place, and the vibe. Third, will I have more skills and experiences to sell and more to show at the end of this job than I do now? This is a mercenary calculation. Will this particular gig open more doors looking forward in return for the door I’m closing behind me? I only move if the answer is “yes.”
My dad, a 40-year Westinghouse executive, never understood the zigs and zags of my career path. A combat medic, he came out of WWII and married for life at home and at work. Security, predictability, and an employer-employee social contract that no longer exists shaped his choices.
I never enjoyed a warm corporate embrace. In fact, I experienced just the opposite. It became clear to me early on that I would take much better care of myself than any large corporation, institution, or business, especially since I had my own ideas and a big mouth.
My first few employers tolerated me but taught me how to play the game by editing my impulses, my words, and the way I expressed myself in different situations. Maybe I matured. Maybe I sold out. But my trek began and continues with a free agent mentality and a hearty risk appetite. For the most part, things have worked out okay.
The key to successfully changing jobs or changing direction is hyper self-awareness. You need to know what makes you tick. Don’t bullshit yourself. You really need to have a clear picture of what you’re genuinely good at, how hard you’re willing to try, what makes you happy, and how you compare to the likely competitors. Mapping yourself to a job opportunity requires self-reflection, tough love, and discipline.
You can’t allow yourself to fantasize about the job or yourself, no matter how awful your current situation is. Make a hardheaded assessment of the tasks, the money, the boss, the firm, and the upside. Then take your own emotional temperature about how the change will affect your finances, your mood, your commute, and your general state of mind. If — and only if — all these things add up, jump!