Career Entrepreneurs Know When It’s Time to Move On

The concept of career entrepreneurship is that each of us is responsible for our own careers. Midlife career transition is the time to become an entrepreneur, to “own” your career, creating it with vision and imagination and managing it by using your talents and skills to their greatest advantage. That might mean taking on a new role at your current place of work, becoming a consultant or project manager for hire. Whether this is frightening or exciting depends upon your nature, attitude and how well you handle the responsibility.

Careers in the future are more likely to be cyclical than linear. Those entering the workforce today will be likely to change careers several times and, no doubt, continue working well into their later years. Career cycles mesh well with the complexities of modern life, where change has made it impossible to predict anything very far in advance. While that vision of the future may be unsettling to some, cycling through different careers is something the career entrepreneur takes in stride. She doesn’t see the end of a working relationship with a particular company as a cataclysmic event, but rather as part of a natural progression toward another interesting opportunity.

A key factor in career entrepreneurship is recognizing when it’s time to move on. In a career cycle, the start of a new job is the most intense period, when you are the most productive. Your energies and enthusiasm will be the greatest and your commitment the strongest. It is the courtship stage, when all things seem not only possible, but probable.

Most people eventually plateau, however, and reach a stage when the work is just not as interesting as it once was. You’ve been there, done that, and the spark is gone. Quite simply, this plateau usually means you’ve stopped learning. Sometimes you can sidestep a plateau for a time by taking on more responsibilities, including mentoring others or taking advantage of educational or professional development opportunities. At some point, however, you find you’re just hanging on. You’ve lost your enthusiasm, your energy decreases, and you have a nagging feeling that it is time to move on. Often referred to as “burnout,” it’s really incredible boredom.

It is human nature to stick with the familiar, but you just aren’t having much fun anymore and you begin to feel trapped and helpless. Career entrepreneurs are visionaries constantly looking for new opportunities. They take risks (and may occasionally go in the wrong direction), but their flexibility, adaptability and unfailing confidence make it possible for them to create strategies to find new directions.

It takes courage and initiative to start a new career cycle; first you need to recognize that you have the power to make the change. People usually go through four stages before they make the break:

  • denial that the old job is no longer satisfying
  • recognition that a change might be a good idea
  • willingness to explore possibilities and
  • readiness to take action.

Career entrepreneurship is about doing what you must, because you must, when you must.

Any good entrepreneur can benefit from an advisory board, and managing your career is no exception. Establish a corporate board of directors and, just as you would for any other corporation, choose people with the specific expertise you need. Include dreamers and efficiency experts, design engineers, salespeople and marketers, financial analysts and public relations and technology gurus. Think carefully before you include close friends or relatives, whose biases and personal agendas may prevent them from being effective board members. You need the kind of objectivity that you won’t get from people who know you too well. Create a mission statement that provides focus and direction and bear in mind that your life, and the career that supports and enriches it, is an ongoing process. If you are going to renew, you must anticipate, and your board can help you recognize when it is time to change. The role of your board will be to help you brainstorm ideas, discuss philosophy, analyze procedures and provide the 50,000-foot view, as well as practical down-to-earth strategies and tactics. Most of all, their job is to encourage you, to be the “wind in your sails.”

Viewing a career as a series of cycles prepares you for its ups and downs and keeps you alert. It’s okay to take chances, to experiment. Remember that we rarely learn as much from success as we do from failure. Trust your instincts, avoid analysis paralysis and recognize that the answers are within you.

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