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What to do when you don't know what to do

by Douglas E. Welch

April 7, 2000

© 2000, Douglas E. Welch

Every career has its ups and downs, but sometimes you can find yourself at a loss regarding your next step. Whether you are merely bored with your work or threatened by downsizing, your options can be both frightening and confusing. Having too many options can lead you to ponder endlessly until someone else makes a decision for you. This is never a wise choice. If you aren't sure which way to turn there are a few ways to break through the confusion and make the best decision you can.

First things first

Changing jobs can be stressful at any time, but even moreso if other aspects of your life are out of order. If you have the ability to stay in your current job while you put your other affairs in order, so much the better.

First, make sure finances are in order. Create a contingency fund just in case you are suddenly downsized. In order to do this effectively, though, you may have to address the issue of debt. Carrying too much debt can cause many problems beyond the debt itself. It can cause you to stay in abusive or low-level jobs only because of the security of a regular paycheck. Excessive debt can keep you from taking the risks that you need to succeed in your career.

Relationship issues can also hamper your ability to deal with career decisions. It is a simple fact of human nature that none of us think well when we are starting or ending a relationship. You need all your attention to focus on career moves. If you are in a relationship your partner can be an excellent resource for helping you work through your career decisions. They will be effected by your decisions and should be included. In most cases, your partner often has insights into your career. Sometimes we are just too close to our own job to see what is really happening. Talking things out with a good friend can be one of the best ways to develop a clear idea of where you want your career to move.

There is nothing wrong with letting your job simmer while you pay attention to other important issues as long as you realize that your career issues will need to be addressed at some time if you hope to move forward.

Smart Risks

Every career move is a risk, but you can be smart about the risks you take. Often, for a high-tech worker, the riskiest jobs can be the most fulfilling and the most career-forwarding. These risky jobs can provide you the opportunity to learn about new technology, new job skills and new ways of doing business. True, they can also be the most unstable, but I believe that any job that helps to expand your technical skills and your business knowledge is worth the risk. The knowledge you gain will only make you that much more marketable to your next employer.

You should, of course, investigate the prospective company to insure that both they and the position offer you a significant advantage. Talk to other employees. Talk to clients of the company, if you can. Try to insure that you will actually be doing the work the company describes in job listings and interviews.

You never want to move from one bad job to another, but experience has shown me that it is almost always better to leave behind a job you hate. The longer you stay in a bad job the more difficult it is to leave. Your self-esteem takes a pounding each day until you start to believe you don't deserve anything better. You should try and insure that the risk you are taking matches the rewards you expect in both finances and experience, but don't forget the simple benefits provided by removing yourself from a toxic environment. With each career move you gain experience. Experience about your career, the job market and, most importantly, yourself.

Whether you are currently in the throes of a career indecision or find yourself there in the future, hopefully these suggestions can help you make the move in riskier and more rewarding career.

Douglas E. Welch is a freelance writer and computer consultant in Van Nuys, California. Readers can discuss career issues with other readers by joining the Career Opportunities Discussion on Douglas' web page at:

He can reached via email at

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