Is it time to leave?

Malaise at Work 
Having a bad week at work is usually transitory. Everyone goes through that. When the bad week extends into several and becomes chronic, or what I call "the feeling sick on Sunday night syndrome," it may mean it’s time for some sort of change.  

It takes, however, some careful thinking to separate out a bad career decision from a bad work environment. Too often I've seen clients and students insist on making a change, either within a field or maybe something more radical. But with a little time and perspective, they realize that the problem may be the work setting, not the career choice.

Write it down
One way to figure out the difference is simply to draw up a list of personal values, i.e., what's important to you at work, and then match it with the attributes of the current job. Is there a strong correlation? That should help you understand whether it's the place or the profession. Or both. What would the change actually look like? Writing it down often provides some perspective and clarity.  

Escape from reality is not a career path
Do you frequently think about another specific profession? That, too, can be a clue. (Please note I’m not talking about your dream of opening a B&B in New Hampshire or a bait and tackle shop in Tahiti. Those are called “escapes.” Often from reality. The truth is that kind of work is TOUGH, and not nearly the idyll that most people fantasize.)  

Get another perspective
You may need some help figuring out this conundrum. It may take some personal assessment, perhaps some formal assessment tools, or some conversations with a trusted friend or colleague. Maybe a professional career advisor can help you get a better perspective.  

When should I think about leaving?
Here are some signs that it may be time to move:

  • If you feel completely stuck, it is probably time to consider either an internal move or a move out.

Of course, there are some who enjoy certainty and repetition and are comfortable with that. For most, though, "stuck" is not a good place to be. Unfortunately, it can also lead to inertia--you start to feel paralyzed. If that happens, then you definitely need to at least take a look at some other options. This doesn't mean a commitment; it just means an exploration.   

  • Constant complaining about work may mean it’s time to consider alternatives. It could also be a personality trait--you’ll have to be honest with yourself here.   
  • A difficult relationship with a boss may signal the need to move. Unless it reflects your own issues, too.  

It's important to understand that work environments almost always have some kind of significance in terms of family background. Early childhood patterns tend to repeat throughout life. You're always playing out parts of childhood at work and in other life arenas, whether it's a sibling issue (competitiveness?), parental (problems with authority figures?), or parenting (difficulty with subordinates?). 

On the other hand, it can be purely about a difficult boss. For example, a narcissistic boss can be extremely difficult to work with, because, characteristic of that disorder, the narcissist is almost never satisfied. He/she requires inordinate amounts of attention to prop up a fragile personality. That's a tough work situation, and probably a motivation to make a change.  

  • ·The prospects for advancement in your field look grim.

If you do make a decision based on this, you need to be careful before coming to conclusions about industries in decline. 

Sometimes it's cyclical (real estate), and sometimes it's a radical change in direction (publishing, music). Be sure to do considerable research to make that determination and be careful about naysayers, who will offer negatives about any profession at any time.  

I remember clients hearing negatives (no jobs out there anymore!) about technology during the dotcom boom of the late '90's, which was ridiculous. Of course, those negatives did become real in the early 2000's--but turned out to be part of another, newer, cycle.  

  •   The balance between work and life is way off.  

If you value your time off, and you find you're working regularly on weekends, maybe it's time to think about a change. Is it part of the industry culture (investment banking and law)? Or is it cyclical (accounting)? Be sure to research whether it's industry-wide, or whether it's just your organization.

What does a change entail?
Now that you know it’s time to leave, you need to know that a career change should involve a heavy due diligence before implementing a search. This turns the common sequence around a bit. Instead of making an arbitrary decision because something sounds interesting, as most people do at the beginning of their careers, I strongly urge research and informational networking in perhaps two or three different targets.  

This will help to determine whether or not you 
(1) like what you find out, 
(2) find that there is an actual market out there, and 
(3) determine whether your skills and experience are appropriate for the target.  

What you want is a critical mass of opinion--meaning more than one or two people-- so that you can make your decision, and then begin the mechanics of a search. By mechanics, I mean the development of marketing materials (resume, pitch, written communications) and then building relationships which will get you to decision makers.  

Please note that I'm not emphasizing ads or recruiters here, which, while sometimes useful, are low-odds resources for most job seekers.  

Making the final decision
It is difficult, if not impossible, to make blanket generalizations about entire fields, in terms of what's hot at the moment. For example, current consensus says that healthcare is a growing market segment for now and for the future. This is generally true, but does that refer to doctors or nurses or physical therapists or pharmacists or all the other healthcare professions? Obviously, one statement can’t cover them all.  

Finding out what it means requires the due diligence mentioned above, plus research and reading about the industries you're interested in. Intelligent career transition requires a great deal of preparation, not just a quick, sometimes arbitrary decision.

I feel strongly that any career decision should involve the notion that the career should fit you--and not the other way around. It's important to understand your own personal style and values, and figure out whether any career decision suits who you are. Too many decisions are made out of expediency or as the result of not enough reflection. It’s never easy, but isn't it worth the effort to do it right?  

To find answers to your questions on job search and career transition, get your copy of In Search of the Fun-Forever Job: Career Strategies that Work