The Creative Imperative

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Should You Leave Your Job? Do the Math

A simple formula for deciding whether to stay or go

Change is in the air.

It has been building for a while but now it’s undeniable.  Too many of my patients have been talking about switching jobs/careers lately for it to be mere coincidence. Maybe it’s that the wistful days of summer are upon us, or perhaps there is just isn’t much good on TV right now, but there is definitely something about career change swirling in the ether.

The more I have talked about the difficulties of “taking the leap,” with my patients the more I have, and frankly, they have longed for an easy answer, a framework, a formula for deciding whether they should stay or go.

So, I decided to take a stab at it.  Here is the product of my musings: (Admittedly, this is a work in progress, but I figured why not get it out there to get the conversation started.)  So here it goes. 

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There are four factors to consider when weighing whether or not to leave a job: Learning, Value, Money, and Potential.

1. Learning: How much do you get to learn at your job?

2. Value: How valued do you feel at your job?

Let me be clear here that I am separating Value from Money (see below). The question “How valued do you feel at your job?” is aimed at getting you to think about how you and your contributions are appreciated and respected by your co-workers, your boss, and your company.

Okay, now that we have cleared that up, let’s turn to:

3. Money: Do you feel that you are well paid for what you do?

As much as we may not want it to be the case, money matters. Money is not everything, but it’s not nothing either. As one of my travelling buddies once said to me, “The only people who think that money doesn’t matter are silly rich.'  For the rest of us, it’s damn important— especially if you can’t make rent.” That’s why we need to consider it in our formula.

 4. Potential: What opportunities do you see for growth or possibilities for doing other interesting   things in the future?

Lets assign each of these four factors a number between 1 and 10 for your CURRENT JOB.

For example, let’s say you feel that you don’t learn very much at your current job, give that a “2," or thereabouts.  And you feel somewhat valued, so let’s give that a “5."  You are reasonably well-paid, so let’s give that a “7,” and there are some potential opportunities for doing interesting things down the line, so we will assign that a “5."

Adding these up would look like this:

2 (Learning) + 5 (Value) + 7 (Money) + 5 (Potential) = 19; so that’s the score for your CURRENT JOB

Good.  You are getting there.

Now, do the same thing for another job you might be considering. Say that you anticipate learning a lot in a potential job, so we will give that a “7,” you believe that you will be well-valued at the potential job so we will also give that a “7.” Imagine that the money will be about the same, so we will also give that a “7,” and finally you see immense potential in this other opportunity, so we will give that a “9.”

Adding these up would look like this:

7 (Learning) +7 (Value) + 7 (Money) + 9 (Potential) = 30; so that’s the score for your POTENTIAL JOB

Seems like a no brainer, right? Your current job got a 19 while your potential job got a 30, so you should leave your job, right? Not necessarily. 

Let’s bring in the two X factors that are critical for making this decision.

The last two factors to consider are Change and Fear:

5. Change: How much will changing jobs upset your life?

6. Fear: How much do you fear the new and unknown?

Assign each of these numbers between 1 and 10. Let’s say that changing jobs will have a low-to-moderate impact on your life, so we will assign that a “4,” and that you are mildly fearful of change, so we will assign that a “5.” Add these two numbers together for your FEAR/CHANGE score

Now subtract your CHANGE/FEAR score from your POTENTIAL JOB score and compare your score for your CURRENT JOB with your POTENTIAL JOB. The higher score is where you should plant yourself for now.

In our example, that would be POTENTIAL JOB = 30, minus FEAR/CHANGE = 9, so you are left with a score of 21 for your POTENTIAL JOB and 19 for your current job. 

What that means is, it’s time to go. You don’t need to quit today, but you do need to do it, and soon.  

Look at that. It wasn’t so hard. Right? Now all there is is the doing part. If computing this little formula convinced you to stay in your job, but you are still feeling antsy, consider ways of altering the four factors: Learning, Value, Money, and Potential. If you tried to pump these up but still feel stuck, you may need to re-do the math.

Either way, I hope this formula helped your decision making.  If it did, or even if it didn’t, please let me know. Maybe we can refine the formula together.  

Ben Michaelis, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist who specializes in helping patients achieve mental health and well-being through creative expression.

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