There is a well-known concept in the world of sales that is know as “paralysis of choice”. It occurs where consumers or indeed companies become mired in a decision-making process on account of the variety and quality of possibilities.
The very same problem can arise when we are making career path decisions. This can be at the beginning of our careers when we need to establish some initial direction, but I think it is even more common as we come into our mid-career years when a good or bad decision can have far-reaching consequences and there are multiple considerations at play.
I have faced difficult decisions on a few occasions myself and at times found them quite stressful, so I have put together a few thoughts that I hope can make this easier.
I am going to categorize the thinking into three areas of exploration that I will label simply, self-knowledge, logic, and people.
The first, self-knowledge asks the fundamental question, does the path you are considering fit with who you are and more important, does it fit with who you want to be in the future?
Our personalities are not static they evolve – does this role suit the evolution you would like to make? If you think about people that you admire and would like to emulate does this role move you in the right direction.
To explore this question adequately you need to have a good sense of your self-identity. The test that I like best, is to imagine how it will feel explaining this decision some years from now. Can you see yourself talking to a group of students or your children and describing this decision as part of your career journey, and when you do that, is it a decision that you feel good explaining? Are you proud of the decision and does it align with your values and your perception of who you can be and will be.
Logical & Practical
The second area of exploration is the logical and practical – does the new path make sense? You can ask yourself;
- Is it consistent with your career plan and the positions you aspire to take in the future.
- Does it feel like progress – you don’t want a role that you could have done adequately well already some time ago, you need to stretch.
- Is this a role where you can see yourself being successful?By that I mean does it fit with your aptitude and can you see how you can use your abilities to get a win in this role. A challenge is good, we grow through adversity, but a lost cause is not – and it’s good to learn to tell the difference.
- And finally, are you going to be configured well?
Namely do the practicalities of this new existence, the location, the travel burden, the hours, fit with how you want to be living your life at this time? Does it work for you and the people closest to you? Taking on a role that has a bad effect on a family dynamic is often not sustainable beyond a certain period.
The third and last area of exploration is the people with whom you will work and the style of working that is their norm. The people around you every day will have the single biggest influence on whether you will be happy in a position or not, and on how your ability and the quality of your thinking develops.
- Consider the idea that you are the average of the 5 people you spend most time with – do you see that association with these people will stretch you and raise your game.
- You are not looking for best friends but do ask yourself if, in the main, that these people have similar underlying values as you? Is there some sense of connection? Does your conversation with them seem practical, constructive, and content-rich?
- And last, what can you imagine regarding the relationship with your boss – it is very hard to be happy in a role if the dynamic with your boss isn’t good – so take some time to imagine how you will work and communicate with one another and the respective roles you will play.
If you work through these three explorations – self-knowledge, logic, and people – insights will drop out and decisions will be easier.
Whatever the time constraints seem to be, don’t let yourself feel rushed. Realize that these choices are important, and you need to choose, deliberately and wisely.
It can be good to ask for opinions from friends or mentors, especially people who know you well but remember that no one can choose for you, ultimately it must be your call.
And then, when you have made your decision, you must put it behind you and live with it. Only one path is possible – by definition, choice means you must leave the other path behind and the consequence of that one will be forever unknown.
Later you can evaluate and reflect on what you learnt from the decision – but don’t look back or harbor any regrets – choices are key element of any career and if you work through them with this sort of rigor, you will more than likely make the right call.