In a brainstorming session, my new team member, Julie Watts, suggested that knowing when to move on is essential to career satisfaction. We struggled to identify clear signs of when it’s time to let go. I realized this is only something I’ve ever recognized in retrospect. It reminded me of a comment one of my mentors made when I told her I had accepted another position: “I’m glad you’ve finally given yourself permission to move on.” I seem to know that I’ve stayed too long when I’m relieved to have left, but hindsight seems ineffective. There is always a reason to stick it out a little longer. We rationalize ourselves into career purgatory. To give ourselves permission to move on, we must let go of the excuses we use to avoid facing the frightening uncertainty of change. We impose limitations to justify our cowardice, which just prolongs our suffering. When we strip away the excuses, most of us feel compelled to act.
The most common excuse seems to be financial. We create extensive lists of obligations and detailed budgets to prove we can’t afford to be happy. Compensation is, and should be, a significant consideration, but we tend to weigh our current salary against our hypothetical unemployed income. If we are honest with ourselves, there are other ways of getting by. We may need to work more than one job, adjust our lifestyles, or pursue similarly paying positions more aggressively. Short-term discomfort could produce long-term satisfaction. I don’t generally advocate walking away from a decent wage and healthy benefits, but financial excuses shouldn’t prevent us from developing new career opportunities. Employers are actually more attracted to employed candidates. Rather than thinking about ends and beginning, we should focus on transitioning.
For me, an even greater excuse is my sense of loyalty. Keeping my options open almost feels like cheating, and things were so great in the beginning. I am sincerely grateful to every one of my employers but chances are that if one isn’t happy, the other isn’t either. Employers may be slow to pull the trigger for all the same reasons devised by employees. Both sides hold out, hoping for the return of happier times, but that isn’t healthy for either. We grow and change throughout our lives and so should our careers. What I wanted from a job at 19 is vastly different than what I need now. I’m hesitant to give up on anything for fear I might disappoint someone or have to admit failure. That fear is irrational. The greater betrayal is in making another responsible for my misery. Unhappy employees are disengaged and less effective, which makes for bad business. It is hard for any employer to lose a good employee, but I prefer it to retaining a bad one.