Career Decisions: Renewal and the Power of Choosing to Stay

green shootsSometimes, almost leaving makes you appreciate what you have even more.

Just recently, I had an opportunity to consider a new role in another organization. The process of working through the decision to stay or go personally and with my family required a fairly exhaustive analysis and a good deal of introspection.

We decided to stay.

In the aftermath of taking what was a fairly emotional family decision I have felt a sense of renewal and clarity at work. I am more encouraged about our prospects, recommitted to several ambitious goals and find that many things that had been irritating me don’t bother me as much. Or at least I’m more patient with them. Why? 

This sense of renewal strikes me as emerging from several related themes; the act of really considering the entirety of what your current situation provides, the simple fact of being wanted, the emotional value of choice, and (at least for me) a revisiting of why I took my job in the first place and recommitment to original goals.

First, things get stale and grass can seem greener…

…or “why do we fall out of love with our situation, even if nothing’s really ‘wrong’?”

Many of us get tired and run down in our current roles. We work long and hard. Nothing gets easier in an ever more competitive environment. We also get really familiar with our organization and role, particularly the day-to-day frustrations of bureaucracy. This can make the grass seem greener in other pastures. So we sometimes fall out of love with our existing situation even if it’s “fine”.

Even in a great situation, things can get repetitive and settle into a pattern.  When we start something it’s bright and shiny, like early romantic dating. Both of us are charming and funny when we click. None of our jokes have worn thin yet. No annoying habits have become unbearable. Everything is fresh.

Then we become very familiar. Things get a little mundane, perhaps stale. We can start to question whether things can be as exciting as they were at first.

I think this is normal for almost everyone. So why does an external opportunity play a potential role in making us more excited about where we are?

The impact of really thinking it through

In my own case, I really appreciate my current job but I was feeling burned out last Fall. While I was generally happy, I was open to at least a discussion when approached with a very attractive opportunity. (Which came through my network without me seeking…a whole other topic well covered here.)

Since deciding to stay, I’ve felt refreshed despite a heavy workload and seemingly more than the normal number of frustrations. I am convinced that part of the improved mood is the simple act of considering a tangible alternative, weighing the options and then pro-actively committing to staying. In essence, I looked at my situation as thought it were “new”.

For each of us the context is different, but the categories of consideration aren’t that different. To varying degrees, most of us value:  the nature of our work, quality of opportunities, a sense of meaning from work, the people we do our work with, compensation, quality of life (broadly defined) etc.

In some ways, this is the inverse of a post I wrote several years ago on whether it’s time to go.

The simple fact of a deadline and a concrete choice forces you to engage all these considerations. Perhaps components of which you don’t fully associate with your job.

For example, my oldest child has struggled to find his fit in the right school and program. We found a perfect program and were fortunate enough to get him in last year. This year went really well. A move would have left him in 3 schools in 3 years and with no options in the new city tailored to his needs. This weighed in heavily in the decision.

Another piece of this was the power of working things through with my wife Michele. As there was a potential move, this was not just an “are you happy in your current gig?” question. It affected our life in its totality. So we had to work through every angle of a move.

So maybe part of the feel good afterglow is deciding not just that your job is a good fit, but that your life works for you too. At least that was the case for me.

Being wanted

To be blunt, it’s nice to be wanted.

It is a net positive to your sense of self to be sought after in almost any way professionally. There is an incredibly seductive element to being recruited. Someone has sought you out. They tell you very kind and complimentary things about why they want you and then they offer you something presumably enticing or you wouldn’t have even discussed it with them. Nothing about this is unpleasant…

Sometimes you also find out about your current leadership.

My boss is a longtime mentor and friend who gave me the space to explore, essentially adhering to the same “build a team that’s excited to be there” philosophy I myself espouse. We had several thoughtful conversations throughout my process and he was able to relate his experience in a similar situation all the way down to school hunting for kids. His encouragement and allowing me space made a big difference.

Similarly, our Dean was very positive when I let her know I had an offer. We had a good conversation and she was (and has always been) very clear about her support for my team and our goals. I left my conversations with current leadership feeling very positive.

Caveat 1: Be careful with your current leadership. In some environments, even having this discussion can be very counter-productive. I strongly believed mine would be fine based on accumulated trust. But this can be an employment ending or affecting conversation if handled poorly or poorly positioned.

Caveat 2: If you’ve already made up your mind, don’t draw it out by haggling with your current employer insincerely just for the sake of it. Negotiating anything insincerely leads to bad will. If you’re gone, go. No hard feelings.

The power of choice

Choice is a powerful motivator. People who have options often feel a strong sense of purpose and commitment. I’ve always observed to colleagues and students that it’s important to teams that team members WANT to be on the team. If we feel trapped, it’s hard to feel super excited.

We also tend to have a stronger sense of ownership over our own pro-active commitments. If forced into something, we tend to meet minimum expectations as opposed to exceeding and innovating. It becomes a motivation and mind-share question.

Nothing had changed in 2 years

For me, there was a sense of purpose in my decision to take my current role. I wrote about it several years ago here. The motivation portion was really about needing to find out what we could do as a program. We have made tremendous progress, but the work feels less than half done.

A pivotal point in my decision making process last time was triggered by my good friend Veena, having listened to me waffle over dinner and drinks asking a simple question; “Why did you apply?” I answered with a long list of things I thought I could help improve and how important it was for me to try. She then asked a second question; “Has anything changed since you applied?” I said, no. She then said something to the effect of (paraphrased), “well if I thought I could have an impact and it was exciting, I don’t see how I could say no.” Well then…

And really nothing has changed since then other than we’ve actually built some momentum, I have more gray hair and maybe I had gotten a little frustrated.

So in the end…

I feel renewed and excited. We have several insanely ambitious goals in front of us and where I could have potentially felt put upon, I’m instead enthusiastic. Game on!

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