Fall is here – that means the leaves change colors and begin to gather on the ground. Days are shorter and darkness comes earlier. For many, it also means the beginning of the school year and the change that comes with a new school, a new grade, a new teacher and a new schedule. Fall represents, for many, a time of change.
The onset of autumn often prompts people to contemplate their current career situation and to consider change. In the past week, I have spoken with an entrepreneur who is trying to figure out what new venture he should go after, a mother who has been on hiatus for over ten years and is looking to reenter the paid workforce, two people who have each decided to escape the long hours and demanding lifestyle of a top tier consultant, as well as a corporate executive looking for a new challenge. In fact, during the last month over 70% of the career conversations that Darden Alumni Career Services had were with employed individuals thinking about change.
People are often sure of what they don’t want to do next, but they struggle to figure out what they want to do. When working with this situation, I usually ask the question “Why do you work?” Seems like that should be a straight forward question. After all, we don’t usually start a project or make an investment without first contemplating what we are striving to accomplish. So, why is this question often received with surprise?
For many, the question may never come up as it is simply an expectation of society: you are smart, educated and capable – you will work. Many of us work to earn money to support our desired lifestyle. But that isn’t always the driving reason to work. And even if it is a major reason to work, it is rarely the only reason. Taking time to contemplate what you want out of work and determine what purpose you are seeking will help direct you in your efforts.
A couple of weeks ago I worked with an alumnus who determined that he sought work that allowed him to feel the satisfaction of helping a particular social cause move forward. He had also determined that, in terms of compensation, he only needed to make about $35,000 to live the lifestyle he desired. Answering the question “why work?” allowed him to go after a job that would make him happy without the societal presumptions placed on someone with his level of education.
When an employed alumnus is seeking change it is usually because something is missing from their current situation. It might be fair compensation or it might be the lifestyle demands (schedule, travel, lack of flexibility, location) or it might be the actual content of the job. I look at this as a “three legged stool” which is most steady when all three legs are solid but, with careful attention to positioning and balance, could remain upright with two legs. You can sacrifice compensation to achieve lifestyle and content, but it is near impossible to be “happy” with only one “leg” in place. For instance, the validity of the mantra “Money isn’t everything” becomes very evident when a person lacks job satisfaction (content) and control over their lifestyle demands.
Priorities are important and change with stages of life. Mary Burton and Richard Wedemeyer wrote In Transition over 20 years ago. While much has changed in that score, their approach to “Getting to Know You – the Product” is as relevant today as it was in 1991. The book includes a discussion of Life Mission, Priorities and Tradeoffs including some very practical exercise. Likewise, our own Jim Clawson has taught and advocated a thorough self-assessment process to inform one’s career decision making. In fact, his process can be followed using the Darden interactive learning tool Finding Fit.
If you have graduated from Darden, Alumni Career Services can help you think through career changes as well. Email us to set up an appointment.
May all your changes lead to wonderful beginnings!
Connie Dato English, MBA ’91 Director of the Armstrong Center of Alumni Career Services, University of Virginia Darden School of Business