The Cliff Edge of Career Decisions

by | Coaching, Industry, MDM Blog

I’ve been reflecting on many of the conversations I’ve had with friends, clients and ex-colleagues recently, and so many of these discussions end up in the area of ‘career ambiguity’. Many in my tribe are ruminating on making a change in their career, and their thoughts are going around and around in circles.

The decision to make a career change seems like a huge cliff they need to jump off.

They move close to the edge, peek over, freak out, then swiftly shuffle back again. A couple of weeks later they may get a bit closer to the edge, look over, see something else that scares them and shuffle back again.  What they see over that cliff varies, but here’s some of the most common thoughts that have been shared with me:

  • the crisis of confidence (am I really as good as I think I am?)
  • the question of relevance (are my skills up to date?)
  • the comparison curse (so many other marketers/accountants/HR professionals can do these jobs better than me)
  • the concern of ageism (will they think I’m too old now I’m over 50?)
  • the worry of moving away from what’s comfortable (will I still get the flexibility and autonomy in a new role?)
  • rumination on what’s next (should I continue in sales, or follow my passion and become a chef?)
  • the fear of the finding out the grass is not greener (ending up in a place with more politics and no work buddies)
  • the golden handcuffs (I’m paid so well here, I’m not sure I’ll get the same remuneration and rewards in another business)
  • the feeling of overwhelm associated with the actual process of making a career change (I’ll have to update my resume, LinkedIn, network with people, and sell myself in interviews)

It feels overwhelming, exhausting, not to mention confusing and scary. The outcome; very few actually take real steps to make a tangible change, even when they know it’s time to go.

A few months back I was out to dinner with a close friend who was struggling with a career decision, she reflected back to me that I’d make two really brave decisions in my career. I thought for a moment and had to ask her what they were. She took me back about five years…. I’d been in a senior HR role, part of an executive team, in a business I loved, working in a positive culture that I’d helped to shape.

One day, I quit.

I chose to walk away with no guarantee of another role at the same level and no idea what I’d do next. Seeing this through her eyes; super brave, I’d jumped off that cliff.

The second time was last year when I chose to leave another corporate role working in an area that I’m passionate about (culture, engagement and leadership development) to start my own business. Again, no guarantee of success, income, interesting gigs; just a decision and a conversation, and I was gone four weeks later.

So, to the outside world, these decisions look brave and maybe even rash. But to me, they were considered, thought out, planned, and very much necessary.

Behind both of these seemingly ‘brave career decisions’ sat a number of driving forces. First and foremost, the need to feel like I’m adding value; if I’m not, there is absolutely no point in coming to work every day. Secondly, to know I was valued; I want to work where my skills, expertise, and knowledge are respected, called upon and appreciated. Finally, and most importantly, a need to protect my mental health; I realised that the constant negativity of others was starting to impact my own thoughts, behaviour, and mood. All of these reasons combined, in both instances, made it clear to me it was time to move on.

The moral of this story is that everyone’s situation is unique, so what may seem brave and look like jumping off a career cliff to others, may seem totally reasonable and necessary to you. Only you know what makes you tick, and you’ll know when it’s the right time to make a decision to move on.

What you can do in the meantime, is slow the rumination. Use this time more effectively to start planning, gathering information, boosting your confidence, gaining new skills and preparing yourself for the fact that change is inevitable. Rather than seeing this career transition as a HUGE decision with so many obstacles in the way, begin by taking baby steps.  Here’s a few ideas:

  • Do some deliberate work to get clarity on what you want to do next. This could mean writing a list of what you don’t want in a role (this is often clear to us when we are fed-up!). Follow this by writing a list of non-negotiables; what you absolutely need to have in that next role.
  • Make a conscious effort to start talking to your network of friends, colleagues, ex-colleagues, family, and random LinkedIn connections. The purpose of these conversations isn’t purely about finding a new job – it’s about understanding what’s happening outside of your company and industry, getting other perspectives on the market and whether it’s a good time to make a change, discovering how others have found their job search, ascertaining which recruiters may be able to assist you, researching the best conferences or seminars to attend to stay up to date in your field. Talking to others regularly, opens up so many doors to information, connections and potential opportunities.
  • Help yourself get unstuck with the parts of the process you find most daunting. Get advice on career steps, engage a coach to work with you on structured career reflection and planning, hire someone to help revamp your resume, LinkedIn profile or practice your interviewing skills. Rather than procrastinating on it, actively seek help with the parts of the change process you find most challenging or mundane.

Taking these small proactive steps will start to build your confidence, and help you realise that the leap is not that big. With the right support the transition can be so much easier. Rather than jumping off a cliff, you’re jumping on the first stepping stone of many that lead you on a new path. Hopefully, at the end of that path, the grass is greener. But if not, who’s to say you can’t keep jumping on a few more stepping stones until you find the right garden for you?

Siân is a university-educated coaching psychologist with eighteen years’ experience in Human Resources and Organisational Development roles across the industrial, manufacturing and FMCG sectors. She is an experienced facilitator and coach, applying evidence-based practices based on applied psychology.