Recently, someone asked me how you know when it’s time to move on from an organization (although this could also be from a particular role or type of work). Of course, this is not the type of thing anyone else can tell you. Only you can know. But perhaps it is helpful to read some examples and the questions asked when others have been at this crossroads.
Here are some times when I knew it was time for me to move on:
- I had grown as much as I could within the organization, and I was interested in growth.
- I wasn’t interested in the pathways that existed in my current organization or field (e.g., that’s cool, but I don’t have any interest in becoming a Director of Development or moving into prospect development or digital engagement).
- I gave that type of work a sincere try, but continuing to do that work would have required me to be something I’m not (e.g., I enjoy helping people learn, but classroom instruction is really draining as an introvert and that’s not sustainable as a majority of my job).
- I was no longer interested in learning new things in the field—even if I was still interested in learning other things, whether about a new field or in general.
- I wanted to learn or do things that I wouldn’t have the opportunity to do in my current role (e.g., strategically plan for the organization’s technology use) or at that organization (e.g., work on product development as part of an in-house team).
- The leadership was toxic and not changing any time soon.
- The way the organization operated created a constant clash with my values.
- I was consistently undervalued and disrespected and/or my ability to do the work effectively was systemically undermined.
The last situation is an and/or because sometimes this is how I have been treated as an individual professional, and sometimes this is because the work I do is being systematically under-resourced, overlooked (until there’s a problem and then it’s all my or my team’s fault), and de-prioritized. Often, these two situations tend to overlap, and they are both extremely demoralizing.
While some of those situations could apply to anyone, some of those reasons stem from what’s important to me at work: constant learning, autonomy to accomplish a goal as I see fit, balance of peopling and solo work, etc. You may be looking for different things (e.g., the ability to focus on research, more people interaction than behind a desk time, flexibility as a caregiver, etc.). And of course, what we we’re seeking evolves over time as our lives evolve.
Some of the situations for moving on are downright unhealthy. But others might be things that could be adjusted. Perhaps you work to craft your job a bit differently or discuss growth opportunities with your manager. Maybe you spend some time exploring a different niche within your field of work and how that might enrich your current work. Maybe some things you seek outside of your day job – through a side gig, a volunteer role, or something just for fun. Maybe you realize that it’s not only that you have lost interest in your line of work, but you’ve lost interest in everything and it’s time to find a therapist. (Hopefully that’s not the case, though please get help if you need it! Note that burnout can be caused by lack of control and that can be due to the context of your work.)
The person who asked me was feeling a bit guilty about leaving their teammates behind. That’s natural! It’s a big change for everyone. But on a healthy team, we want what’s best for each other. I trust that if you’re the type of person to worry about that, you’ll do what you can to be a good teammate throughout your departure as well.
So here are some of the questions I’ve asked myself during those times:
- Am I running towards something or away from something?*
- Is moving on the only way to meet my objectives? Or even if it’s not the only way, is it the best way for me?
- If I’m concerned about the impact of my leaving, what can I do to handle that transition in way that I feel good about? Including, how might this open up opportunities for others?
- And if it is indeed time to move on: What will I choose to let go of in order to make space for the things I want next?
Yes, even if you are seeking to leave a negative situation in your current job, moving on still can be about what you are running towards. Maybe you are running towards an organization that puts people first as evidenced by their operational practices. Maybe you’re running towards working with leaders you are excited to learn from. Maybe you’re running towards being able to be authentic at work. Whatever the situation may be, it helps to be clear on what you’re seeking to move on towards so that you can select a next step with that intention.
Does any of this resonate for you? Have you used other approaches to think through the decision to move on or to stay in a job or in a line of work? Drop me a line and let me know!
*This is a question I use often when thinking about big decisions, and it is inspired by the poem, “we are running,” by Lucille Clifton.
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