By Mark Grzeskowiak
In her book, What Next?, Barbara Moses provides readers with a useful checklist to help them decide if it's time to quit. Mixed in with suggestions such as whether we've tried to make changes at work, recognized the "toxicity" of our workplace, and gotten our finances in order, Moses makes an important, if understated, point: We'll know it's time to leave once we "have obtained an outsider's perspective on [our] situation."
The Shake Up
We know where the supplies are at work. And we can count on a fairly standard variety of duties particular to our unit's patients or our department's function, and our coworkers are familiar faces (and they may even be friends). For most people, the workplace also means a regular amount of hours, and so a regular paycheck each week. We don't even think about these things until something in our stable world of employment changes – there are layoffs, or hours are cut, or we're transferred to another unit. Suddenly, we're anxious.
Similarly, if we quit, the familiarity and comfort are gone: Our routine changes, our consistent money source will be cut off, and we lose the regular access to familiar acquaintances and friends. We're displaced, destabilized, and maybe fearful.
This is why someone at a career crossroads needs good, balanced advice. But the main danger in looking for an outsider's perspective is that we'll look for someone who will tell us what we want to hear, not what we need to hear. So to whom do we go – a career counselor, friend, or mentor?
Advice You Trust
Good career counselors will try their best to look at our situation objectively, but that doesn't necessarily mean we'll listen. We may consider their advice to be too generic, too impersonal, too textbook – not enough about us. Or we may think that, whatever they say, they're somehow judging us, rather than just giving advice.
Friends might seem like a good option, but they can't always be counted on to tell us what we need to hear because they don't want to hurt us. That oft-quoted phrase, "keep your friends close, and your enemies closer," isn't just a quaint exercise in cynicism: You can learn a lot about yourself – particularly your flaws – from your enemies. Your friends, on the other hand, are friends – their advice will be biased because they care about you. They may think twice before confronting you with the hard truth about yourself.
Mentors are probably the best option, because they represent the balance between the totally objective career counselor and the biased friend. A mentor will be familiar with your career goals, and will also be someone whose opinion you trust and respect. And a mentor won't be afraid to tell you like it is. Mentors typically appear at those points in our lives when we're in doubt and wondering how to go forward. They're the teachers, professors, or coaches in our youth that had a real impact on us, despite the fact that they were never as close to us as our family or friends.
Seeking out a mentor later in life requires a bit of networking – such as getting in touch with a professional organization or going back to our old alma mater. In fact, many college or university career centers have contact lists of professionals willing to talk with graduates about their career paths.
Of course, after we've found that outsider's perspective, taking action isn't easy. Most of us tend to be a bit like mythical Narcissus, who fell in love with his own reflection in a pond and didn't want to disturb it. Once we've talked to other people and we "know" it's time to quit, unlike Narcissus, we have to find the courage to stick our hand in the water and break up the image. (But that's another article.)