Friday, February 23, 2007

When do You Leave a Good Job?

It has been an embarrassingly long time since I’ve posted but I recently made a huge career change and I’ve been pretty busy. I’m afraid blogging dropped off my radar for several weeks. At least it was huge for me. As a consultant, I could change projects and clients without changing employer. Not everyone is that lucky.

Here’s a little history. I was encouraged by my management back in the fall to leave my comfort zone and take on bigger challenges. I think the handwriting was on the wall that I was as high as I could go in the organization if I stayed put. At first it looked like I might become what we call an “Associate Partner” in IBM Global Business Services and take on more of a marketing role. Instead, I wound up taking on an Enterprise Architect role in a truly global project.

Me at the Temple of Heaven, Beijing, China

I did indeed raise my hand and say “Yes” I will leave the position where I was happy, effective, and comfortable. I will leave the position where I got to sleep in my own bed every night and “jump into the frying pan.”

National Software Technology Park - Beijing, China

I knew I wouldn’t be bored. But would I be happy?

This whole experience had led me to think a lot about the question “When is the right time to leave a good job?” This is not an easy question. I think it strikes at the heart of our professional identity. I had to do a lot of soul searching about my priorities. I had to face questions like:

  • What is really important to me?
  • Am I content to stay where I am and continue to do what I’m doing?
  • What is the cost career-wise of staying put?
  • Is it better to leave now on my own terms rather than wait for some executive to make the decision for me by phasing out the position before I’m ready to leave?
  • Is it really possible in today’s global economy to have work-life balance?
  • Is it really possible to “work smarter not harder”?
  • Are there intangible benefits to making a change outside of my career?

If you look at my situation purely from a career point of view, I stayed in my previous position too long. Four years with one client on one major project using technology picked 3 or 4 years ago is too long for a technology professional. There were, however, other considerations such as the whole work-life balance issue. For me the decision to make a change came down these points:

  • I was getting a little bored because I’d been doing almost the same thing for four years.
  • I don’t know if it is healthy ambition or vanity, but I did find myself wanting the professional recognition and reward that came with a bigger, more visible project.
  • I think it is better to get out in front of large trends like globalization on my own terms rather try to hold onto what I’ve got and take the chance it might taken from me before I’m ready. A client once told me “There is an on-coming train coming. I can either put up my hand and try to stop it (and get run over) or try to get on board as the engineer.”
  • Biggest of all for me – the intangible benefits outside of my career. (If you’re brave enough to explore the spiritual side of leaving your comfort zone, click here.)

I’d love to hear what you think about leaving a good position. Have you ever done it? Did you regret it? Or did you never look back?

In case you're wondering how it is going... I'm working harder and working longer hours but I'm having a ball! So for now... it is good!

Click here if you are interested in my commentary and pictures about my recent travels to China. Still more pictures on flickr. Don’t forget Toronto.

Copyright © 2007 by Philip Hartman - All Rights Reserved

The postings on this site are my own and don't necessarily represent IBM's positions, strategies, or opinions.