Making career choices: how to decide between two equally promising routes at work

“Success isn’t a result of spontaneous combustion. You must set yourself on fire.” – Arnold Glasgow

I was recently put in a position at work to decide between two great, and equally promising assignments.  The first was to continue on my current engagement which was a new industry for me.  Although I knew I didn’t enjoy that type of engagement after trying it for a few weeks, I thought maybe it would be a good character building opportunity to toughen up and get the job done.  The other opportunity was in an industry I enjoyed but had been doing for the past year.  Was I pigeonholing myself too early in my career?  Would the other team be mad that I switched out?

I’m naturally a pretty indecisive person (my friends know to never ask where I want to go for dinner) and making this career choice was a stressful one.

I was feeling so anxious about my decision, I did everything possible to try to help me justify my decision.  What can I say?  I’m a career girl and I want to make sure I’m doing the right thing.

Pros and Cons.

I remember being in elementary school and learning about pros and cons and why it’s important to be able to list both sides to a situation.  For an elementary student, this was mind-blowing.  I’ve been a pro/con list maker ever since.  This time was no different.  While out running errands with a friend, I scribbled my list onto the back of my business card (this was the only paper I had in the car).  Laying out the pros and cons took all the thoughts that were circling my head and organized them in a logical way.  This helped me feel less frazzled but I was nowhere near feeling confident in making a decision.

Be honest with yourself.

Sometimes we may know what option we want to choose but we’re afraid to go after it.  I knew I wanted to do the project that I would enjoy.  Nothing makes me happier than being motivated to get up each morning and do what I love.  But I was still afraid to take it.  What if I chose this option and still wasn’t happy?  What would others think if I switched teams?  Will they be mad?  Will I be leaving them in a tough spot to scramble for a replacement?  Isn’t it worse if I stay when my heart’s just not in it?  I knew what I wanted, I just couldn’t say it.  I lied and said I’d be okay either way, but I had a gut feeling that I would regret it if I didn’t follow my heart.

Ask the hard questions.

In relation to the self-honesty, I found a list of helpful questions online that I wrote out answers to.  Legitimate answers, with full honesty, no biases, and no holding back.  These questions got me thinking about how I really felt, what my goals were, what these opportunities would mean to me.  It was a discussion I had with myself to help me understand each option.

  1. Does it motivate you to learn something new?
  2. Does it push you to learn something about yourself?
  3. Does it scare you, just a little?
  4. Does it change the way you evaluate success?
  5. Will it surround you with passionate people?
  6. Does it excite you to talk about it?
  7. Who do you want to be?

Talk to people you trust.

The first thing I did was ask my friends what they thought I should do.  My friends are incredibly smart and really care for me.  I trusted their opinions.  I told them my pros and cons, my concerns and thoughts.  But what I really wanted to know was, putting themselves in my shoes, what they would do and why.  Am I not considering something I should be?  Are my priorities in the right places?  Am I interpreting the facts right?  Though most of my friends told me to follow my passions over feeling obligated to do work I didn’t really enjoy, I felt awful about leaving a team that was counting on me.

It wasn’t until I had a talk with my mentor at work that I felt better about my decision.  He understood how the staffing system worked, he understood the perspective of a manager, he had my best interest in mind.  He told me to do what I enjoyed and don’t worry about the rest.  In fact, it might be better to specialize and actually get good at what I do.  And everyone at the firm is so driven and career oriented, they’d understand why I had to make the choice I did.  Hearing this affirmation was the last piece to the puzzle to make me feel confident about my decision.

In hindsight, I think I was overly dramatic in making my decision but I also think it’s hard to stay level headed when making a career choice that could potentially affect, at the very least, the next year of your life.  I hope this was helpful if you’re at a cross roads right now.


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