Welcome to the debut of my new Idealist Careers column! My articles focus on the “big questions” that come up when you’re thinking about transitioning to the nonprofit sector or social impact space… but that you may never have been comfortable asking out loud! These vignettes will tell the stories of job seekers like you and give you a glimpse into their worries and concerns, while revealing at-the-moment advice and insights you can use today. Today’s question:
My family thinks I’m crazy to be thinking about leaving a stable job in a successful company for something new and unknown. What can I say to them?
Why is it sometimes easier to take risks early on in our careers? We might have some fears but don’t feel as though we have as much to lose. Once you’ve established yourself in a field, you know how much you worked to get where you are. You rightfully think about things like your retirement package or education for your children. The fear of losing what you’ve gained is powerful.
Your family members have that fear too. The need is to identify what can assist you in discovering a new path. That understanding makes it more likely you’ll create a lasting shift. It also gives you something to say that is easier for your family to understand when you are talking to them about your next career move.
Does that mean you have to have a Powerpoint with a ten point plan before discussing the change you want to make? No way! Often we get caught up in a big dramatic idea of what a change might look like instead of staying with the reality. It’s easy for our family to do the same. Let’s look at one example.
Maria is in her early 30s and she’s built a successful career in Management Consulting. She has worked hard for her success, and the salary that comes with it.
Yet she has this nagging feeling that something’s not quite right. She finds herself articulating this as wanting to give back or find more meaning in her work. She doesn’t know what that would look like.
As it builds, Maria casually brings up this sense of dissatisfaction to her mother. She talks about “wanting to quit my job and maybe doing something at a non-profit for awhile”. Her mother has a quick and concerned reaction. “You’re thinking of leaving the job you’ve worked so hard for? And you don’t even know what you would do?? That really sounds crazy.”
Maria finds herself spinning inside that her mother “doesn’t get it”. But she’s shared only one side of the puzzle – her current feelings of dissatisfaction and uncertainty in her next steps. Right now, it’s the only piece she has.
That other piece of the puzzle is discovering what to do about this sense of dissatisfaction. It’s the fun part and at the same time the piece that can cause so much fear and stop her from taking any action at all. If she had a clear approach, one that didn’t jeopardize her current work, it would make her mother feel much more comfortable.
It would make her much more comfortable too. And much more likely to take action.
You see, when we focus on the dramatic moment (Maria often imagines herself going into her boss’s office and announcing “I quit”), without a sense of what happens afterwards, it creates fear. That fear keeps us from taking any action at all.
After Maria thinks about it for a while, she realizes she can expose herself to nonprofit work by taking some straightforward steps. For example, what if she started doing a little volunteer work at the local homeless shelter. Or taking on a non-profit client at her consulting firm? Or helping out a friend who wanted to start a new organization?
These are experiences that won’t require a radical change to her current work arrangement. And when she talks about these plans with her mother, they’re less likely to raise concerns.
They will also help Maria in her job search:
Easy to follow through
A small project or short-term volunteer opportunity is much easier to follow-through on. While quitting her job might be tempting, it can provoke other complications that could make her life more difficult- not having employer-sponsored health insurance, running out of savings, having to adjust to a new routine, etc.
Opportunity for exploration
These types of experiences will give her more impressions of the path she might ultimately take. If she takes the time and care to reflect on each of these new experiences, she’ll get even more benefits. She can “test out” what other careers she might enjoy, and there’s less risk than there would be if she had quit her job.
When she’s ready to quit her current position, if that’s what ends up being right, she’ll be confident in her next step.
….And she’ll know exactly what to say to her mother.