Every career is a work in progress —forever.
Whether we switch jobs every year or stay at the same company for decades, we grapple with the results of our career decisions on a daily basis.
That can get overwhelming.
Since I’m relatively pleased with how my career has evolved, I often get asked by others for career advice. People constantly wonder whether they should stick with their job, leave for a new one, or switch career paths entirely.
There’s no one-size-fits-all answer to these questions, but I’ve noticed six recurring suggestions I share with them.
1. Move toward something, not away from something.
Too often career moves are treated as escape plans.
A job you once loved (or maybe never loved) becomes unbearable, so you desperately look for a way out.
If your current situation is bad enough, just about any other job seems like a great career move.
This is a dangerous way to run your career.
Your career should be dictated by movement toward something you want — not away from something you don’t.
While your current status may need a change, it’s important not to let that cloud your judgment as you plot your next move — or else you’ll likely wind up in a similar situation.
Rather than jump at the first escape opportunity you find, consider what you actually want more of (or less of) in your next position and seek out opportunities that provide that.
2. Look for better, not perfect.
It’s easy to get frustrated when job hunting because you can’t find and/or don’t know what you want.
But the root cause of this is often that you’re looking for the perfect opportunity.
There is no “perfect” job for you and there never will be. Stop looking for a unicorn.
Instead, identify specific characteristics of a job that would be “better” than your current position and suddenly a lot more intriguing opportunities will surface.
If you focus on making a series of career moves that lead to situations that are better than the last, you’ll wind up in a good place.
3. Pursue what you do when you don’t have to do it.
When it comes to shifting careers into a new field, the cliche advice is to follow your passion.
That advice often confuses and frustrates people who don’t know their true passions or don’t see how those passions connect to a career.
Here’s a different way to think about it.
How do you spend your time when you’re not working? What’s the “work” you voluntarily do, without needing the lure of money to motivate you to do it?
With that in mind, consider how that thing could be monetized and/or translated into a skill you could get paid for. How does it provide value to others and who does it provide that value to?
Seek career opportunities that can lead you in that direction.
An example from my own life: Years ago I started a comedy blog and spent hours each day working on with nobody paying me to do so. At some point I realized there had to be a way to shift my career in a direction that could align with what I was doing in my free time, and I landed a job as a blogger for a startup comedy website.
That gig evolved into a social media and digital marketing role, which ultimately set me on the path to run digital media for the Oscars and eventually become the digital marketing consultant I am today.
My entire career path evolved out of a conscious decision to shift my career in the direction of the thing I voluntarily spent time on.
Had somebody asked me at the time what my passion was, I doubt I would have said blogging, and I certainly wouldn’t have said social media or digital marketing.
But had they asked me what I did with my spare time, blogging definitely would have been mentioned.
Pursuing that which enjoyed doing — as opposed to that which I thought was a passion — led directly to opportunities and a successful career path I enjoy.
4. Chase learning.
She who learns the most, succeeds the most.
When analyzing job opportunities, the most important thing to consider is how much you will be able to learn from a potential position. It’s more important than the money, benefits, and company culture combined.
Go after jobs that will push you and expand your boundaries, teach you and enable you to develop new skills, and broaden your relationships and network.
Besides making your work more engaging, the ability to learn a lot in a job is crucial because no matter what the job is you likely won’t be there forever.
When you take a job in which you can learn, you ensure you will generate value for yourself that will benefit you throughout the rest of your career.
5. Don’t base decisions on money.
The financial elements of a career move matter, but they shouldn’t be the sole driver of your decision.
In my experience, anybody that’s made a career move solely based on financial reasons wound up regretting it.
While we like to assume each step in our career path will pay more than the previous one, that’s not always the case and we shouldn’t rule out taking a step back in pay for the right opportunity — especially if we’re in the process of shifting career fields to head in a direction better aligned with our interests.
Personally, the two best long-term career moves I ever made both came with a short-term drop in pay.
But both also ultimately led me to a significant increase in pay within a few years — likely to levels I wouldn’t have attained had I stayed on a traditional financial career path.
Money’s important, but it’s no more important than a lot of other factors when it comes to plotting your career.
Don’t be afraid to take one step backward in order to take two steps forward down the road.
6. Your next career move isn’t as risky as it seems.
We put a lot of importance on our careers and often can paralyze ourselves when it comes to making decisions about what to do next and whether or not to accept an offer.
But relax, your career isn’t life or death. Whatever you decide, you’ll be fine.
Career decisions aren’t as risky as they seem because no matter what we choose to do — even if we make a horrible mistake — it doesn’t erase everything we’ve accomplished up to that point.
Our experience, relationships, track record, and expertise doesn’t disappear just because we chose to take the wrong job.
As I said at the top of this post, careers are fluid. And it’s important to remember that even if you make a mistake, you can always recover from it, learn from it, and improve your situation.
It’s as easy as making your next career move.