A friend of mine is close to a job offer that would increase not only her salary but also her management and leadership responsibilities. However, the job would require her to relocate across the country and is not fully aligned with her longer-term career goals. She’d be leaving behind her relationship and creative side projects but would be gaining new colleagues and an exciting city to explore. Many of us have faced a choice like this. It can feel agonizing, even if we’re happy to receive an offer.
Here are a few strategies for making these tough career choices with confidence:
Write a pros and cons list: When there are many factors involved, it can be helpful to lay them all out on paper rather than have them swirling around your head. Try breaking the lists up into categories such as content of the work, work environment, salary and benefits package, quality of life, and fit with long-term vision. The purpose of this exercise is not to tally the pros and cons and make your choice based on the higher score, but to get the decision out of your head and onto paper—where you can see what information you have and identify where there might be gaps.
Tune in to your inner voice: While the pros and cons list is useful, people don’t make decisions using reason alone. What is your internal voice or guide telling you? With so many outside voices weighing in (friends, family, society), it can be difficult to isolate the one that is truly yours. I’ve had success at finding my voice using self-care practices such as yoga, meditation, and journaling. For example, when faced with a difficult decision, I sometimes employ Julia Cameron’s “morning pages” and write three stream-of-consciousness pages in the morning (and often again in the evening) until my innermost feelings emerge.
Seek counsel of trusted advisors: When making a big decision, it’s helpful to talk it through with people you trust. Determine who will be best for you. Ideally, these people will be objective, insightful, caring, and without a vested interest in the outcome. They could include therapists, life coaches, spiritual advisors, career counselors or other trusted people in your life. A good advisor usually will ask you powerful questions and mirror to you what they are seeing and hearing in your answers.
Watch for red flags: By all means, if your instincts are telling you NO, listen to them! Was there a vibe in the office during your interview process? A sense that the position would cause your quality of life to suffer intolerably? Discuss these red flags with a trusted advisor to make sure they are real and not symptoms of fear of change.
Determine your options: If you were to turn down the offer, what are your alternatives? Can you stay in your current position? Go back to your job search? Cut expenses to provide a sense of security if you become unemployed? Getting clear about your options will put you in a better position to make a confident decision.
Understand you always have choices: If you have only one job offer on the table and no appealing alternatives, counter the victim-like voice in your head that says, “I have no choices. This is my only option.” Knowing we always have choices in life can go a long way toward creating more opportunities for ourselves. A powerful decision-making process involves accepting that you are making the best possible choice in the present moment, rather than believing that this opportunity is your only option.
Determine what the ideal offer would look like: By mapping out the ideal offer, you can see points for potential negotiation, or simply have clarity on what is holding you back from answering with a resounding YES. Does your ideal offer include a higher salary? Flex time to spend with your small child? Projects that involve more creativity? You may or may not be able to negotiate for these things, but you can start to weigh how important they are to you or come up with potential solutions moving forward.
Remember you can always change your mind: Sometimes we get trapped into feeling like a decision is so enormous and irrevocable that it paralyzes us from making it. Ask yourself, can I commit to this job for six months or one year and then reevaluate?
When you were faced with a tough career decision, what tools did you use?