Most of the choices we make every day are simple and straight-forward: what to wear to work, what to eat for lunch, whether to go to sleep at a reasonable hour or stay up watching Netflix. They don’t cause much stress or inner conflict.
Career transition points, on the other hand, can leave you feeling significantly more stuck — especially when you’re facing a big, life-changing decisions.
Should you take that promotion? Move to a different city? Transition to a new industry? Launch a business or take your side hustle full-time?
Decision-making is tough, particularly when there may not be one “right” answer. Despite your best efforts, it’s not always clear what to do next. How do you know whether you’re heading in the right direction, or about to make a bad career move you’ll regret?
Here are five tell-tale signs you’re about to make a career misstep — and how to get back on track to finding work you love.
1. You have a sense of foreboding.
Just about everyone has experienced a feeling that something is “off” or a sense of dread they can’t shake. Does that sensation creep up when you think about the new opportunity?
Maybe you didn’t feel much of a connection with the new team you’d potentially be working with when you met them. Or perhaps you’re starting to worry about relocation costs and not as willing to take a pay cut as you first thought.
Although most of us come equipped with a sense of intuition when something doesn’t feel right, we also have plenty of ways to rationalize these feelings away and ultimately discount them. You certainly don’t want to turn down a great offer or miss out on a solid opportunity because you’re feeling nervous. A big career move is bound to cause some butterflies.
But an ongoing feeling of discomfort could be a sign you’re not ready, or that this career move isn’t the best option for you. Try out the 10/10/10 test to slow down your thinking and separate fact from fiction in your mind: will this concern matter 10 weeks from now? 10 months from now? 10 years? Your answers can help you put things in perspective.
For instance, if you’re incompatible with your colleagues, that could absolutely matter 10 months or even 10 years down the line. Getting used to a longer commute, however, might be something you could become accustomed to in 10 weeks or less.
2. You’re feeling desperate.
Feelings of desperation may take root when you’re deeply unhappy with your current position, or when you and your family are in a difficult financial situation. You might have an anxious feeling of simply wanting to get the decision over with.
When you feel panicky, it’s tough to maintain perspective, so consult someone who doesn’t share your emotional attachment to the situation. This may include a trusted friend, mentor or coach who can help you sort through options in an objective way. You may be amazed at how much easier it is to calm down and think rationally after getting out of your own head.
3. Your motivations aren’t healthy.
Be honest with yourself: are you considering this opportunity to spite someone else — to make your old co-workers jealous maybe? Taking a new job to sidestep criticism from family and friends or hiding the decision altogether are also bad signs you’re making an escape-based choice that you could regret in the future.
If you find yourself venting to anyone who will listen ranging from your mom to a stranger on the bus or indiscriminately seeking advice, you’re likely being driven by fear. This type of “polling” behavior is done in an attempt to feel better. You seek external validation that you’re doing the right thing. But you essentially outsource your decision-making to other people when you ask everyone for advice instead of becoming self-reliant. It’s important to learn to trust yourself.
4. You have to talk yourself into it.
You may find the pep talks you give yourself turning into last-resort trumpet songs. Your self-talk may include some version of the phrase, “Well, at least I…”
- “Well, at least I have a job…”
- “Well, at least I’ll be making more money…”
- “Well, at least it will technically be a promotion…”
- “Well, at least I won’t look stupid for passing off this opportunity…”
This type of anxious internal dialogue, called intellectualization, is a common response to anxiety. Because strong emotions can be uncomfortable, we overly focus on facts and logic.
While being rational and using reason can of course be a great thing, it can also signal denial. Deep down, you know your possible career choice might be a bad idea. This isn’t a productive frame of mind for making decisions about a career move because you’re talking yourself into something you don’t truly believe is right for you.
5. You’re restless.
The complicated nature of a significant career decision might make you feel completely preoccupied or keep you up at night tossing and turning. Any career transition can send you for a loop, but you should be able to see promise in what you’ll be able to learn through the process. Whether it’s taking on a promotion or starting a company, you might feel far outside your comfort zone, but you’ll also feel excited about everything you’ll learn.
With big decisions comes uncertainty. Learning to balance your head and heart is an ongoing process. Take the false pressure off of yourself to know all the right answers, right now. No matter what you choose, move forward with confidence, knowing that your career is always evolving.
The next positive change might be right around the corner.