When is the Right Time to Make a Career Leap?
You’re leaving a secure job during a pandemic?
When I announced I was leaving my job of thirteen years for entrepreneurial pursuits, I heard versions of this question over and over. To many people, it seemed far too risky, even rash.
There are different kinds of risk, though. Stagnation is one of them. Sometimes staying put is far riskier than making a change.
I’m not alone in this thinking. A work trend study released by Microsoft in March 2021 found that 41% of the global workforce is considering leaving their current job in the next year. Of that number, 46% were seeking a major career transition, such as switching industries or pursuing a side hustle full time.
My gut told me it was the right time for me to move on, but I didn’t make the decision lightly. Before I made the leap, I weighed the options by assessing both risk and opportunity.
True risk framework.
There is comfort in what’s familiar, and it’s human nature to react emotionally to the thought of jumping into the great unknown. To avoid making a fear-based decision, put together a framework to consider true risk – the total of all risk factors combined.
This is the first (and sometimes only) type of risk that people default to when considering a career change.
- Company to company. It can appear that staying in a job year after year is less financially risky than making a change. However, people who switch jobs often increase their salary faster than those who plug away in the same place. Forbes reported that while the average annual employee raise is 3%, the average salary increase for job switching is 10-20%.
- Company to entrepreneur. For people jumping from a full-time job to entrepreneurship, it can be scary to abandon a steady diet of twice-monthly checks. But consider the upside - entrepreneurship removes the cap on your income. You’re unlimited in what you can earn. In one program I managed at my former job, I tripled my output in two years, yet earned the same salary. “If I was working for myself,” I thought, “I would have tripled my income.”
All jobs will have their ups and downs, but a consistently negative environment takes its toll. The impact that job satisfaction levels have on physical and mental health is widely reported. We typically spend more time working than doing anything else, and long-term health should be a consideration in any career move.
I had a great position at my former company, and was working in a growing area. Yet I also had definite ideas for several new ventures, ideas I’d had for years. Every month I spent in my job was a month I wasn’t pursuing those goals. The longer you wait, the higher the opportunity cost.
Risk of regrets.
Ultimately, the risk of regret often outweighs the comfort of the status quo. In one assessment of end-of-life care, a palliative nurse noted that her patients regretted not taking more risks throughout their lives. You don't want to wonder what might have been.
Once I was comfortable with the risk, I made sure I had four things in place to support the opportunity. As Louis Pasteur said:
Fortune favors the prepared mind.
Plans A, B, and C.
A career leap can follow the same strategy as applying to college – have a dream scenario, a back-up, and a safety. Have a picture of the longer-term ideal, but also a way to earn income on day one. If Plan A doesn't work out, you'll have Plan B and Plan C ready and waiting.
Before I left, I did the math. What were my monthly financial needs? How would I adjust to income fluctuations? Advisors typically suggest having three to six months of expenses set aside in an emergency fund to cover unforeseen costs; set aside even more, if you can, and you'll know you're covered in case of the unexpected.
A support network.
Talk the decision over with the people closest to you, weighing the pros and cons and what-ifs. As one dear friend told me:
The people who have known you a long time will really understand why this is absolutely the right thing for you.
I’ve heard successful entrepreneurs say they couldn’t not build their companies or launch their products or give life to their ideas. Their belief was stronger than doubt. While I was technically leaving a job, what I was really doing was standing behind something I believed in, doubling down on what I was passionate about.
The pandemic was a vivid reminder that we don’t know what’s around the corner. It forced us to re-examine what’s important to us, what we value, and how we want to spend our time. Beyond my new career endeavors, I now enjoy more reliable work/life balance and spend more time with friends and family. I've been able to volunteer my time and talents to causes I care about, including joining a non-profit board, and helping beleaguered industries re-open and rebuild.
There are things I miss about my former role and there are new challenges to face. Still, I know with certainty I made the right move. It wasn’t just a career leap, it was a life leap.
The right time will be different for everyone. If you’re part of the 41% ready for something new, put the knee-jerk fear of change to the side for a moment. Consider your own situation carefully, using the risk and opportunity frameworks, to make a decision based on facts. But also listen to the voice telling you that there’s more you can do, and it’s time to move forward.
[Related: Tips to Build Your Business Empire]
Melanie Schutt is an experienced marketing consultant who provides branding, communications, and event strategies to help individuals and businesses thrive.
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