Honesty in Career Choices

I have had colleagues who continued to work in their roles (or related roles) after retirement because they loved their jobs and couldn’t quite let go even after retirement age rolled around. Similarly, I have had colleagues who were financially independent and required no salary to maintain themselves, yet kept on working because it gave them structure, social connections and a grounding in reality.

For the rest of us though, the primary reason for us doing our jobs is the reward we receive from it. Primarily, the salary we receive that allows us to pay our bills and live in our homes and save up for a rainy day or holiday. But we have other needs that must be met for us to have healthy job lives, and those needs can often conflict with, or be overshadowed by, the need for us to be rewarded monetarily for our work.

When it comes to those other needs, I would like to run along a couple of the most common ones, and put these in perspective. That way, you can ask yourself whether these needs truly weigh up, and what combination of those needs along with rewards would serve you best to maintain your mental wellbeing.

The Comfortable Fit

Some people “jump ship” every two or three years, others work for a company for decades – even to retirement. This comfort comes from the security of being in a company where you are familiar with the rules, the processes and the mode of speech.

The good: Being in a company for a long time means stability, knowledge and seniority. You can move through the motions with little thought, allowing you to concentrate fully on your job. To those who are newcomers, you have seniority and superiority, and you can help them find their way in what may otherwise be a difficult transition.

The bad: Complacency breeds laziness, and you have to be careful that you don’t start taking those processes for granted. You know them, meaning you are the person most benefited from them not changing. If a process fails or is no longer up to date, you might run the risk of frustrating change and innovation for the sake of your easy job environment.

Inciting Incident: Processes might change and you find yourself having to relearn it, revealing previously unnoticed frustrations at the company or your role. Changes to policies which impact you negatively might mean your comfort fit suddenly becomes a source of anger and regret.

Questions: If you were employed by any other company, would you feel different about it? If you could step into a different job at a different company without having job interviews or having to send a resignation message, would you?

The Great Colleagues

No matter how bad the job is, some people say, I am thankful to have great colleagues and be a part of this team. We all support each other, and we couldn’t manage it without each other. It feels like a betrayal to leave these good people to their own devices, so the team stays together as long as possible.

The Good: Great colleagues means that the day-to-day activities are much lighter. Communication is quick and easy, and you know just who to contact if something is out of order or needs replacement. You feel connected in a strong social environment, and validated in your daily work existence.

The Bad: Great colleagues also hold each other prisoner in a standoff, relying on each other to get the job done, and not allowing each other out to pursue different or greater dreams. The team becomes stagnant, the connections hollow and the interactions ritualized. In the end, you might end up resembling an office comedy.

The Inciting Incident: Someone retires and their replacement shakes the well-maintained social cohesion. Another might leave for a different company, the first to “betray” the team and leave for greener pastures. This usually leads to others leaving in a string of re-evaluations of the social dynamics and what they were really looking for in a job.

Questions: Are your colleagues really great, or might you be romanticizing your job connections so you don’t need to evaluate your job itself? Are you all supporting each other, or simply relying on each other to maintain a broken system? Think about your oldest or most ambitious colleague – what would happen if they left?

The Advancement Opportunity

Sometimes people who have strong ambitions find themselves logically placed to be promoted on into the next step of the hierarchy or management. If you hold out just a little longer, someone who is poised to leave or retire may leave that spot you’ve been hoping for, and you will be able to get that job with your credentials and experience.

The Good: Having ambition is by all means a good thing, and a clear goal is something that is very useful to aim that ambition. It drives your creativity, and until you achieve that job, you will have small pleasure in the anticipation of one day having it.

The Bad: Staring yourself blind on a single promotion can make you obsessed and make you ignore other, better opportunities. And even if the spot becomes free, you still need to apply and be interviewed for it, it will not be a done deal in most cases. It can also lead to you accepting worse circumstances, worse rewards and worse job satisfaction just to prove yourself worthy of that one, uncertain thing.

The Inciting Incident: Rather than being considered for the job, you may be passed over for an external hire because the management decides they need a fresh direction. Or, you are turned down because they now need your skill and experience on the workfloor, as the other experienced person just left the company. The pain may be compounded by the management asking you to “show the new manager how it’s done and support them”.

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Questions: What would really happen if you got it? And what if it became permanently unavailable? Are you losing a lot of rewards and job satisfaction now just to get a reward later? And if you get it, will the cumulative sacrifices you made be compensated by what you achieve? Look around Linkedin – are there any other fresh exciting jobs that seem appealing and that might offer the reward you seek?

The Bonus

Your company turns out a special bonus based on company results, your personal results, or other measureable statistics. You have achieved that bonus year-on-year, and as a result have not looked for other roles, or may have even turned down a number that did not offer similar rewards.

The Good: Achieving this bonus validates your work while offering a financial incentive. It means you have more financial freedoms, can save more, do more fun things, and be more resilient in case of unforseen circumstances. In addition, all year you have that bonus and its associated metrics as a tangible goal to work towards, focusing your efforts.

The Bad: Rather than seeing the bonus as something extra, you may have become reliant on it. Subconsciously you have taken a performance-related reward into your standard remuneration. Every job opportunity now has its base salary compared to your salary plus the bonus, meaning they all seem to award much less for the job.

The Inciting Incident: Most likely you have not achieved the target this year, and you did not receive the bonus. With this, the value of your job is revealed without the extra incentive attached. Otherwise, the company might have come into financial trouble, and the management announces that the bonuses will not be paid out, or come with much higher goals than before. This snaps you back into a state where you regard this reward as extra, rather than standard.

Questions: What have you been using the bonus for all these years? Have you saved them up (making you financially secure) or have you invested them in personal time or goods (increasing your value or happiness)? What would your life look like if you never had that bonus again? Could you manage, or would you need to adjust your standard of life downward? If you did, would you remain happy in your current job, or would it make you think again about accepting another job offer?

The Lost Cause

You might have had a dream once, probably while you were a student, about the job you’d really like to do. You didn’t get it, but you landed your current job and that is fine too. You might have had a career path once, but you feel you are lost right now, and don’t know if you still have the opportunity to hunt after a career after all these years. You feel lost, but you might be able to think some more while doing your current job, or something might come along that catches your eye.

The Good: You obviously reflect a lot on yourself, so you are fully aware that what you are doing right now is not what you’d have wanted. Likely you have a good sense of your skills and have found a path that allows you to take part in the job market. While you might feel lost, you are stable – both financially and job wise. Remember that this is by all means never a bad thing, at all.

The Bad: Over the years you’ve lost sight of what you really wanted from a job, and got lured off your career path by opportunities or big rewards. You may be reflecting too harshly about yourself, downplaying your skills and talents, playing up the time spent outside of your career path or even age as reasons not to hire you. You may have been subconsciously belittling and dismantling yourself for the sake of accepting your job reality, rather than confronting it and finding another job.

The Inciting Incident: Juniors you may have been tutoring are advancing at a rapid rate, one of them might suddenly be your own manager! A family member or friend might be talking about their career moves, moving you to think about what happened to your own. Funerals, marriages and births often spark a bout of self-reflection that might come with regret and “might-have-beens”.

Questions: What makes you believe that your experience and talent would not be appreciated by another company or in another role? Rather than seeing where you left your career path, can you see any opportunities to jump back in the queue ahead and slip back in at a much higher position? If your career wants and needs have changed in the meantime, why not simply make a new career path, including your newly acquired skills and experience as well?

The Conclusion

At some point in our jobs or career lives, we evaluate where we are and what we want. We may choose to change our carreers or stay based on emotion and inertia just as much as logical thought and personal choice. Because it is a big step to make radical changes, sometimes we would need more encouragement than we get, or we might reason ourselves out of change to stay in a comfortable, safe position.

None of these reasons to stay in a job are intrinsically bad – they are value statements on what are the most valuable aspects of your job and give insight into what keeps you in a job or might chase you off.

Even if you answer these questions in such a way that you decide not to change your jobs, an honest evaluation of your options and current job life – without some of the big blockers – may give you a better judgement of where you are in your career and why your current job may make you happy or not.

Only evaluating yourself and deciding honestly what you need to be valued, rewarded and happy will overcome the inertia of remaining in one role or company over switching to another.

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