At what point do you listen to your gut and find something else?
A former colleague called me to ask for some career advice.
He had started a new position two months ago and felt that it wasn’t a good fit for him. His question: “At what point do I listen to my gut and find something else versus sticking it out to discover whether it could become something better?”
My advice to him: listen to your gut. If he wasn’t finding passion in some part of the job, the work he was doing every day, the industry he was in, the team he was working with, what he was learning every day, or some other meaningful aspect of the role, then it’s probably time to start looking.
I based my advice on my early career experience: In my first job after college I knew in the first few months the job wasn’t a good fit for me personally. I realized I never had passion for what I did every day. And because it was a large corporation with thousands of employees, I felt like I wasn’t making much of a difference.
But the 23-year-old in me placed importance on other aspects of the job that in hindsight weren’t truly meaningful: I was good at the job, the pay was decent, and the hours were consistent. I was able to live in Seattle, a city that was exciting to me. And I got to wear a suit, which for some odd reason was important to me at the time.
So, I stayed. Too long.
While I learned a few things and made friends, I didn’t listen to my gut and stayed there over three years.
During that time, I accepted promotions to offices in Sacramento, and eventually Minneapolis. Those promotions kept me engaged just enough, wondering perhaps if the next role, the next city, would offer me some glimmer of passion I knew was missing.
And I rationalized to myself: “I don’t know what else I would do, so I’ll stay in the job.”
That decision, which I revisited almost weekly, was turning me into a depressed robot. I was slowly dying bit by bit.
Eventually, it was an impending reorganization that woke me up from my depression. I could either move to Chicago and keep my job, or take a severance and leave. I had to make a choice.
The decision to quit and return to Seattle turned out to be the first of many decisions to take control of my own destiny.
As I made the decision to quit, I created a mental framework for myself that would guide my decisions about my career. The framework guides me even today.
My personal framework: I want an exciting and stimulating day. I want a flexible lifestyle and financial freedom. I want to control my own destiny, and not be subject to the whims of others. I want variety and to always be learning something new.
This framework is one reason I’ve worked for software startups for years, and eventually founded my own company.
I suggested to my colleague that he start to think about a framework for himself. What did he want for his life and career?
My other advice: become more comfortable with change. The mind seeks comfort. We’re wired to seek the easiest path. And the easiest path often is no change at all. We must actively work against that.
Change is inevitable, so seeking comfort eventually sets people up for a shock, a disruption based on outside forces such as a reorganization or layoff. I learned that we have a choice in how we cope with change. Are we going to resist it and suffer? Or embrace it and have the potential for joy (or at least less suffering).
I told my colleague that the first years of a career are about discovering what drives you. What makes you excited to get up in the morning? This in my opinion is more important than how a short stint looks on a resume.