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Career crossroads

What are the most common reasons for professionals to change jobs? Usually: unresolved negative incident, family-related move, or unsolicited recruitment. All of these are externally influenced circumstances; in other words, externally triggered as opposed to internally triggered. But these are, usually, not within one's direct sphere of influence, thus limited influence on improving or maintaining job satisfaction. Arguably, a better approach at managing one's job satisfaction is via personal monitoring of career crossroads signs.

"If a man is unhappy in his work, he is unhappy." (Patrick Morley, "The Man in the Mirror") This quote applies to both male and female professionals. And yet many professionals arrive at career crossroads without knowing it. The opportunity to make a career move does not always present itself. At the same time, just because there is no "obvious" opportunity does not mean it is a bad idea to make a career move either.

As the saying goes, "a map is only useful if you know where you are and where you want to go" (assuming you also have the right map). So what are the signposts that can help you identify where you are and where you need to be in your career journey? The following talks about some personal signposts; they may be different from one person to another, but these are a good start.

Being proud at the end of every working day

Getting paid appropriately to the level of contribution is crucial, but all else being equal, pride counts a lot. At the end of the day, every day, is there conscience that the work done is well deserving of the pay? Is it something that has been done in the best possible way with the available knowledge at the time? Is it something that will stand up to the scrutiny of the next generation? If the answer is no, then maybe it is time to move on.

Having magnitude of attitude in check

Some people push all the wrong buttons from time to time, while some others push the wrong button all the time. This is not to say that wrong buttons justify bad attitude in the workplace. Attitude is the fine line that separates professionalism and barbarism. It sets apart a decision maker from a bully.

Negativity tears down the team, whereas positive attitude redirects the team's energy to build up and strengthen the team. So when the reserve for positive attitude runs low and replenishment cannot keep pace, then maybe it is time to move on.

Working in a way that lets life to be enjoyed

All too often, work interferes with personal life outside work. Being late for something because an important meeting ran over, or dinner plan with friends need to be missed due to a business trip, or having to receive a work phone call during vacation because an urgent decision cannot wait, etc, etc. This is understandable and sometimes is just a "small price" compared to the alternative repercussions.

But once it starts reducing the joy in personal life, then it is time to check. Is this happening on regular basis or just haphazardly? If regular, how long has this been going on? Is there any path forward to resolve it soon? If the analysis yields unfavourable observation, then is it worth the personal sacrifice? If no, then maybe it is time to move on.

Knowing that learning will not stop

Decision makers are by nature "knowledge workers" who thrives at processing and using relevant knowledge to make decisions. And decision making is done always within the context of competitive landscape which itself changes all the time. Lifelong learning is more than a privilege, it is a necessity.

Ongoing learning is the key to adaptability. Without learning, one's decision making ability will become dull. "Even if you are on the right track, you will get run over if you just sit there." So when the learning slows down or stops completely, then maybe it is time to move on.

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Change can be uncomfortable

A career change, especially when family may be affected, is even more uncomfortable. However, if you know where you are and you are not where you want to be, then ask the question, "Am I looking at a career crossroads?" If yes, maybe it is time to move on, even if it is uncomfortable. Life is too short to be in the wrong place at the wrong time and not do anything about it.

Life is a journey. And "a journey of a thousand li starts with a single step." (Lao Tzu)

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February 2010

Topic: Work Life Balance