I feel stifled at work. Should I quit my job?


Image: The Guardian

I have been in the same company since I graduated from university, doing roughly the same thing for 4 years now. I am not dissatisfied with my salary and job progression, but I have been rather stagnant in my professional development. I am wondering whether I should leave the company to seek new opportunities. But my friends and parents are telling me not to jump ship now, because the economy is not doing well. I feel stifled at work, but I don’t want to be a burden to my parents if I can’t find a job. What should I do?

Hungry For More

Dear Hungry,

Your parents and friends are right – the economy doesn’t look good at this moment, and we may be in recession – albeit technical – once GDP figures come out in a couple of weeks’ time. While experts don’t expect job losses, the fact that when the economy is in negative territory, employers freeze headcount growth, and will seek not to fill a position that has been opened up, unless it is for critical competencies. Hence, it is good to be prudent about jumping ship. Yet, I understand what you are saying, and we will take a more strategic view of your question to come to the right decision.

Intent

At this point in your career, you need to ask yourself what exactly you want out of it. Are you currently traversing that route or do you need to get onto another one? If you can be as specific about your career as possible, you will be able to identify where you need to be now, understanding that a career takes time to build. After having spent four years in a job, you would already know what to expect in starting a career. It is now time to either commit to building what you have started – since you did say you had some job and salary promotions, so it must not be all that bad! - or is it time to choose a new track? At the age of about 26 to 27 years (I am assuming, of course), you are in your prime learning time. You can afford to take some career risks to find out just what you want. Hence, the first thing you need to ask yourself is, “What can I see myself doing over the next 5, 10 and 20 years?” After that, ask, “Is that what I want as my career?” If the answer is yes, then fill in this statement, “What is the best way to ….(fill in your career intent)….”

Constraints

Just as a reminder, a constraint is a necessary condition for a successful decision. If you need to ensure that your siblings are financially taken care of, for example, then whatever you choose to do, you would still have to fulfill this obligation. This cannot be seen as a hindrance to your decision, just as taking care of your elderly parents cannot be seen as a hindrance to your life. These are all constraints, and they help shape our decision. So once you know what you want out of your career, it is time to identify what you need to fulfill, either by obligation or by choice.

When you have completed your constraints, you are ready to line them up with your intent in this manner, writing, “What is the best way to ….(fill in your career intent)…. Provided that I …(add in all your constraints, one per line). Here’s how it might look like:

“What is the best way to become a serial startup founder by 40, provided that I

  • contribute at least $2,000 per month to my family, without fail;

  • find suitable care for ageing parents;

  • meet personal life goals adequately;

  • give back to society by volunteering one month per year”

There is no limit to the number of constraints, and your constraints can be based on concerns that are turned to the positive. What do I mean? Let’s just say that caring for your ageing parent had always been a concern of yours. Hence, this has been turned into a constraint by saying “find suitable care”.

Options

Now that you have structured your decision, it is time to derive options. This is the creative part of the process, and can be quite enjoyable. It is important to not be critical of your options; so long as they are viable, they have a place in your options list. So in this example, you could:

  • join a startup

  • found a startup

  • join a company that is planning to start up a new venture

  • stay where you are and work on the startup on your free time

You should have as many diverse options as possible. Remember, the more, the merrier.

Balancing options with constraints

The final phase of your thinking is to come to a decision. This is when you match your constraints with your options. The option to choose would be the one that best meets all your constraints. Obviously you could do a weighting process, but that sometimes has the tendency of crowding out constraints. Whatever method you choose, you should look to the option that can best meet all, or most of, your constraints.

And once you’re done with that, you have your decision!

Conclusion

So there you are, Hungry, a process to look at your situation more strategically and to make the right decision for your career. It may seem easy but trust me, when it comes to career and other personal decisions, it can be far from it. There will be other emotional baggage that starts to cling onto you. When you find that happening, try to think objectively and if need be, turn them into a constraint. For example, I worked with an entrepreneur once who was afraid of failure. We finally found out that his fear is driven by his perceived lack of industry knowledge. So we turned that into a constraint for him, “Provided that I educate myself of all the industry requirements.” That helped him move away from the emotional weight, and finally launch his entrepreneurial career. He is now extremely successful.

I hope that you can be too.

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