When Do You Choose Personal Stability Over Professional Change?

I recently met two engineering managers: Joe and Mary. Both 55. Both are bored with their jobs. And taking totally different approaches to their boredom problems.

Joe decided to hang out in his current position—for the next 12 years, until he meets the retirement age of 67. He’s choosing personal stability.

Mary is gathering her career-based stories of how her emotional maturity and various experiences have helped her solve problems. And how she expects to use those experiences to help her solve more problems in the future. She’s choosing professional change.

Let me clarify: they each have other responsibilities that affect their decision-making: college tuition, older parents, and more.

Right now, Joe chose Old Status Quo. Mary is looking for her Transforming Idea.

Neither of them is wrong—and neither is right.

But I do find their thinking quite interesting. Especially because—in my experience—when we choose personal stability, we rarely get it.

When You Might Choose Personal Stability

We often choose personal stability when we think we have a lot to lose.

Do you make the bulk of the money for your household?  Or do you have the family health insurance? No one wants to lose the bulk of their income and the oh-so-important health insurance.

Any condition like that might make you choose personal stability. You might feel your responsibilities more like a vise, where you don’t feel free to make other choices. That lack of freedom might make you feel fear.

While we often feel comfortable in Old Status Quo, sometimes the world changes around us.

Every time I chose stability Something Big Happened that wrecked my plans for stability. I had to choose professional change anyway. (Once I realized that was a pattern in my life, I started to choose professional change first.)

When You Might Choose Professional Change

If you manage the money and various other personal risks, you might plan to search for something different. Or, if Something Big Happens to you, you might feel as if circumstances force you to change.

Then, you can manage the various risks of looking for a new job. For example, Mary is managing the risks of ageism.

But those are all the rational reasons for your choice. What about the emotional reasons you might choose to change?

If you realize you’re way too comfortable in Old Status Quo, you might be able to manage professional change if you:

  • Transition to a new role in your current organization.
  • Create a new role in your current organization, based on what you see in the market or the organization.

(I only see these two possibilities, which means I’m missing something.)

When you stay in your current organization, you can often maintain your income and healthcare. You manage the risks of a total change.

But, let’s talk about the courage to consider creating a transforming idea.

Courage for Your Transforming Idea

The more comfortable I am in my Old Status Quo, the less likely I am to consider alternatives. I need to find and use my courage. (See What Does Courage Mean to You?)

Here are ways I find my courage for professional change:

  • Define what I want. For work, I want sufficient income, fun learning, and to work with other people whose ideas I respect. That’s me. You probably want something else.
  • Think of three ways to get what I want in my current organization. What would I have to do in this organization to get what I want?
  • If I choose to change organizations, what area three ways can I get what I want?

If I don’t know what I want, I can’t get anything. But given that I have some inkling, I can start to create alternatives that make sense for me. And, because I’m thinking—not acting yet—I haven’t created any risks to my current Status Quo.

While I have no idea what your personal circumstances are, do consider avoiding making work somewhere you “put in your time” until you retire, as Joe has. That’s not creating an adaptable life. Instead, create and consider all your options, as Mary is.

And when you see the option where you say, “I can’t do that!”—that’s the option to choose. You will be surprised at what you can accomplish.

That’s the question this week: When do you choose personal stability over professional change?

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