By Marty Nemko
November 21, 2014
IDEAS
Marty Nemko holds a Ph.D. in educational psychology from UC Berkeley and is a career and personal coach.

Should you change jobs? Even make a radical career change? Most articles on the subject offer a checklist or pros-and-cons list. Here I offer a different approach: an internal debate.

Person: I’m sick of my job. I’m ready for something new and there’s too little opportunity here.

Alter ego: But I don’t have the time or energy to look for another job when I’m working 45 hours a week already. It can take months, sometimes longer to find a good job, especially if I try to change careers. And I doubt anyone wants to hire a newbie at anywhere near my salary.

Person: But, God, I don’t want to stay at Western Widget Works, Inc. forever.

Alter ego: No, but I worry that after all that job hunting, I won’t even like my new job or career any better.

Person: I need to remember that I don’t have to take that new job. I just need to take a little time to see if I can find something better. If not, I’ll stay put. I’ll just start networking.

Alter ego: But I hate networking and I’m lousy at it. I just don’t make a good first impression, no matter how much I practice. I’m better off spending the time improving my skills: tech stuff, public speaking.

Person: Okay, maybe I should do that, but that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t be looking for a job. If I don’t want to network, I’ll just answer some on-target ads, one a week.

Alter ego: But if that’s all I do, a year or two from now, I’ll probably still be at Western Widget. Ugh.

Person: So, fine. I’ll apply to three jobs a week.

Alter ego: But every job opening gets so many applications.

Person: I really have to make mine better—Write a cover letter that, point by point, explains how I meet the job’s requirements.

Alter ego: But if I’m changing careers, I won’t be meeting most of the requirements.

Person: Okay, then I’ll include a white paper, like a term paper, on a topic related to the new job that would interest that employer. That will show current chops and interest, and a concrete work sample.

Alter ego: But that will take a ton of time.

Person: No it won’t. A few-page white paper is like one of those papers I wrote in college. One day I knew nothing about the topic and two days later, I knew a lot and cranked out a good paper.I need to stop complaining. It’s better than staying at Western Widget. Right?

Alter ego: Maybe. What if the problem isn’t the job but me? If I’m honest with myself, as I look back on all my jobs, I’ve always struggled.

Person: Do I have to face that I’m not the sharpest tool in the shed?

Alter ego: That may be part of it. I know that I can’t seem to make myself consistently care enough about work. I do my job but I can’t seem to maintain the fire in my belly. I’m not sure I can change that.

Person: So maybe I need to downscale my job aspirations. Up isn’t the only way. I fought my way to be a manager, but maybe I’d be happier and more successful if I did something less demanding.

Alter ego: Am I the poster boy for the Peter Principle, rising to my level of incompetence?

Person: Maybe. I’ve always tried to compete with my high-achieving friends. Isn’t that silly? Maybe by trying to be what I’m not, I’m making myself miserable and ensuring I don’t succeed.

Alter ego: But what should I do?

Person: Maybe I should go back to being an individual contributor or a support person. I’m organized and good at details. Maybe I should go back to being a coordinator, a marketing coordinator. Maybe I should talk with my boss or HR about getting that kind of job at Western Widget?

Alter ego: Actually, I don’t give a crap about marketing widgets.

Person: I need to remember that as long as the widget is worth marketing, it’s worth doing.

Alter ego: Stop with the pious preaching.

Person: How sure am I that I’ll care more about work if I were doing something else? I say I care about gifted kids being ignored in today’s elementary schools but would I really, after a honeymoon period, be that much more motivated to work hard on some job related to that, or will my laziness come along with me wherever I go?

Alter ego: I don’t want to think I’m doomed to mediocrity. I can’t be sure whether I’ll be any happier on behalf of gifted kids but maybe I should try.

Person: That’s probably right. I should volunteer a few hours a week at some school with a lot of bright kids or maybe even for a school district’s director of programs for the gifted. I should do a little networking, make the case that my skills in marketing and being organized and detail oriented would be valuable there. I should apply to jobs anywhere I might be willing to live that excite me. If I get hired, fine. And if not, I’ll feel better for having tried. And who knows? In spending time around those people quite different from those at Western Widget, I may learn about something or about myself that I wouldn’t know if I just kept on keeping on with my same-old routine.

Alter ego: I’ll think about it.

Marty Nemko holds a Ph.D. specializing in education evaluation from U.C. Berkeley and subsequently taught there. He is the author of seven books and an award-winning career coach, writer, speaker and public radio host specializing in career/workplace issues and education reform. His writings and radio programs are archived on www.martynemko.com.

Write to Marty Nemko at mnemko@comcast.net.

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