There are few things more consuming in our adult lives than navigating our careers. At a time when possibilities seem endless and we're constantly being told to lean in (and then, sometimes not), how can we tell when we've embarked on a good path toward our calling?
To help demystify the daunting process of career delineation, we spoke with Mike Rosenberg, PhD, assistant professor of strategic management at IESE Business School. Professor Rosenberg regularly advises MBA and Executive MBA students on long-term strategy and scenario planning. He told me there are 4 essential questions to ask yourself when deciding on whether it's time to consider a career change.
01. DO I HAVE A PLAN THAT ALIGNS WITH MY TRUE SELF?
One thing is for sure: If you don't have a plan, you won't fully know where you're heading. Prof. Rosenberg advises, "Have some basis of a plan. The career that's best for you depends on what you want out of life. Do you want to make a lot of money? Then take that junior-associate position, finish medical or law school, and practice those professions. But also realize that the I'm-gonna-do-this-now-and-be-happy-later plan doesn't work."
At the business school Rosenberg regularly gives career advice to women, starting with the question, "What do you want to do?" One woman said, "I just want to be happy. I want to get married. I want to have kids." Whatever your goal is, do that. Accept the support your family can give you, don't be uptight or inflexible, and be realistic about what truly makes you happy.
"There are many women who disappear from the labor force to care for their families and return to do amazing work," Rosenberg says. "I'm not saying it's easy, just that it's possible. Some women who have their children young say they have more energy to care for them. Eventually when you're in your 40s, and your last child enters school . . . you'll still be young and healthy enough to get into a career." On the flip side, he notes, "there are women who spend their early 20s and 30s building their careers, and if they want a family, motherhood hits them like a ton of bricks. Some women stay at home and do part-time work to stay sane. I can't say which is the better plan." It's different for every woman.
Know which is a good plan for you and plan accordingly. If your career can't allow you to become your authentic self, it's impossible to perform and contribute at your best. Being authentic means you can think, act, and innovate in ways that come most naturally to you.
02. DOES MY CURRENT ROLE LEAVE ROOM FOR PROFESSIONAL GROWTH?
Rosenberg quotes Spanish poet Antonio Machado saying, "You make the road by walking on it. If the path is not enjoyable, what's the point of reaching the destination?" The problem, as Rosenberg sees it, "is some people set on a path and they don't get to their destination—then five or ten years have passed and nothing has happened."
Have the bare bones of a career plan, then list viable action items you can take within your role—like volunteering for new projects, stretching yourself to do more, and seeking mentorship from experts in your desired field—things that will allow you to explore your skills and interests without having to leave the path you're on. As Rosenberg wisely notes, "there's a big difference between making a life and making a living." If solutions like these aren't in sight, it's time to move on or risk walking away with a resume that doesn't reflect enough success stories to advance your career.
03. DO I FEEL SUFFICIENTLY REWARDED?
"If you do what is important to you, something you love, some people may not get it, but someone will. If you can help run a business, take creative hours, write, teach, make, manage, and you like doing all this—do it! But also think long term: Do you want to work really hard at something you really don't like, to pay someone else to take care of your children? Ask yourself, "Am I learning a lot? Am I enjoying it? Does this feel like an investment in my career?"
Remember that rewards are not only emotional but also qualitative and quantitative, appearing in various forms such as flexible hours, salary, benefits, professional development, mentorship, promotions, and so on. If you don't feel rewarded for your work, move on to something that will.
04. IS MY WORKPLACE CULTURE TRUSTWORTHY?
Having a workplace culture that is trustworthy directly impacts your ability to perform and advance in your career. Rosenberg notes, "If your current career doesn't understand your values, whether for your family or desire for work/life balance, you probably don't want to be working for them anyway. For certain career paths, you will need to be responsible for recognizing whether the schedule or freedom you want may not be viable for your long-term goals (such as investment bankers with long hours, management consultants who travel a majority of the time, and so on)."
If you can't trust your employers to deliver on their promises now or in the future, or you feel that your rights are not being respected, this is a red flag that your organization may not deserve your talent and contributions.
ASK YOURSELF THESE QUESTIONS and don't be afraid of the answer. Because, after all, the decision to stay or go on your career path is one that has to come from within.