When it comes to your career, this question can be simultaneously the most exciting and the most terrifying question to consider. It’s easy - and understandable! - to feel overwhelmed by trying to figure out your best next step. As I coach people through their career considerations, there are five foundational principles I encourage career explorers to take into account:
Don’t confuse what you can do with what you want to do. If I had a dollar for every time I heard a client (or myself, in a previous lifetime!) say, “Well, I could do that…” or “I could make that work…” This is a dangerous framework. I’d be willing to bet most of you reading this COULD do a whole heck of a lot. The trick is to consider your current or future positions using the lens of what you might actually want to do. This question sometimes trips people up because they may not actually know the answer to that question. Rather than leaning into the sometimes-challenging work of finding that out, they either don’t start at all or they default to “could”. Others get tripped up because they don’t feel like they deserve to be able to ask that question in the first place. Either way, it’s critical to explore this so you can find a position that will not only bring you career success but satisfaction as well.
Just because it’s not bad doesn’t mean it’s good. This is another common roadblock to a successful next step. We often confuse the absence of something being awful as the same thing as it being good. I hate to break it to you, but those are not synonymous! Don’t stay in or go to something that’s “not bad”. Intentionally move towards something that’s good, or dare I say- great!
Work for the type of supervisor you want to be. Who you work for (your immediate supervisor) will be the most critical for your success and happiness. I’ve worked for plenty of people over the course of my career who taught me a lot about what NOT to do in leadership. But none of those helped me grow as much as the few supervisors I had who embodied the type of leader I wanted to become.
Your title will become your headline for the next job you take. It’s easy to get narrow vision when we’re evaluating career moves. As you look at either staying in your current position or possibly saying yes to a new adventure, consider the fact that whatever title you have will be the next headline for wherever you go. “Company X hires Nicole Lance, former _____________, to lead their new division!” Make sure that whatever you say yes to is something that you will be proud to have on your resume and will also reflect well on you in your next venture.
Nothing is as permanent as it feels. This can work both ways, good and bad, so be judicious when considering this principle. Make sure you are prioritizing your needs accordingly. Build and maintain relationships with the long-term picture in mind.
Your job should support your life, not drain it from you. No explanation needed on this. Be real with yourself when you are considering whether or not this is what’s happening for you.
As you consider whether you should stay or if it might be time to go, I recommend exploring the following questions in-depth and with a brutally honest lens. If you have a career coach or a mentor, these are illuminating questions to explore with someone else to offer perspective:
Is fear factoring into my decision-making anywhere?
If so, consider asking: Is this truly a valid consideration I should be paying attention to?
If I stay, what’s left for me to learn or to achieve?
If I go, what will I be able to learn or achieve?
Am I in or will I be going to a supportive environment?
How do I know?
When I consider the options before me, what clues does my body give me?
Note: If you struggle with this, try moving into space where you can be quiet, exhale deeply, then mindfully inhale and exhale three times. Close your eyes, and consider the first option you have before you. Picture yourself taking action with this option and try to visualize what it might be like to make the decision you’re considering. Then, pay attention to what happens throughout your body. Do your shoulders relax? Do you feel a churning in your gut? Does your chest get tight? Does something feel lighter or is there a tingle of excitement?
Where am I “shoulding” myself or allowing what I “should” do to drive my decision instead of what I really want to do?
If you stayed in your current position doing your current work under your current circumstances and were still doing that a year from now, would the “future you” look back and be disappointed you didn’t leave?
As with any large decision, there are significant factors and potential consequences to be considered. While there’s no specific roadmap or a linear progression into decision-making around whether or not you stay or go, the above principles and reflection questions will help you gain some clarity around what might be your next best option.
PS - Try to enjoy this exploration along the way! While it might feel heavy or like work at times to figure out what you want to do, ultimately this is the work that will lead you to greater satisfaction in your career. That’s a good thing!
If you're looking for intimate guidance on your career planning, I offer one-on-one coaching to help you reach your next level. Learn more here.
Nicole Lance is a women’s leadership development expert, facilitator, executive coach, speaker, strategic planner, and promoter of self-care. She is passionately committed to helping organizations and individuals succeed in reaching - and reaching beyond - their goals.