What I am watching: Gotham (TV Series)
What I am listening to: Rekindling my love for Metallica
What I am reading: Happy City – Charles Montgomery
Moving on from an organization is one of the hardest decisions you will make during your career. In my brief municipal career, I have moved on from two separate organizations and I recently accepted a position at my third municipality. I was not unhappy in either of my previous organizations. I was privileged to love both organizations. There were seldom days where I actually dreaded going to work. I valued the organization, position, coworkers and the projects that I was working on. Yet, I at both stops I knew that I wanted more.
But more of what? More money, recognition, advancement opportunities, and/or per diem for Legos? I was, and still am, unsure.
Understanding when it is time to move on is more of art than science. The only people who understand the decision are you and the people closest to you.
These are my thoughts that may be useful to you, and I hope that they are. They are not intended towards senior managers or entry-level professionals, but rather are some immediate thoughts that I have during a time of transition.
Be Careful of Chasing What You Don’t Have
During one of my first state conferences as a new municipal employee, a city manager gave a speech that I will always remember. In a presentation on the “Why Work for Local Government,” he broke down the different ways in which local governments can affect the lives of people. Paraphrasing, he stated “Think about some of the best memories you had as a child. Where were you? Kids will remember hanging out at the park, walking down the street with their friends, being safe in their neighborhoods, and hanging out late at night outside. As government employees, we get to provide a direct effect on the memories and lives of everybody. Why would you want to do anything less?”
It is easy to become downtrodden in our own lives and think of everything that we don’t have. One thing that is true is you always want more than you have. That is unless you can recognize what you have is still great. We are privileged to be doing what we are doing. Even the ability to read this article online in the comfort of home is a privileged place in the history of our species. One of my mentors had a great saying: “Be content, but not complacent.”
“One of my favorite life-guiding philosophies is called the ‘Ex-Spouse Phenomenon’. Immediately after ending a relationship with a spouse, we seek out the exact opposite traits in our future partner. Our previous partner was reserved, so now we will seek someone outgoing. This phenomenon is replete in the world of business, pro sports teams, and local government. NFL teams hire an offensive guru, and when that doesn’t work out they hire the defensive mastermind. Pay attention to the hiring of managers and see where this phenomenon comes to fruition.”
I have never lost sight of how privileged we are to be doing what we are doing. Just because you are looking to make a change should not mean that you do not value what you don’t currently have. Wanting something different and loving what you currently have should not be mutually exclusive.
Leaving the People is the Hardest Part
Moving on from the organization and physical surroundings is probably even easier. Leaving the people that you worked with is definitely the hardest part.
Human are hard-wired to connect. We are the most socially advanced animals that this world knows. Studies have shown the brain is in default mode, the only thought that it has is to socialize. Dopamine is released when we have positive encounters with other people. Yet, we are all aware that what gives you pleasure can also cause you pain. Studies have also shown that social pain is equal to or exceeds that of physical pain. Ask people about their most painful and long-lasting memories, and you are sure to find physical pain (broken bones, bruises, etc.) score lower than social pain (deaths, ending of relationships, etc.).
Book recommendation – Social by Matt Lieberman
If you are a manager, make sure that you have a welcome “party” for your incoming employees. They are likely feeling a lot of emotions leaving another organization to come to yours. Ensuring that they feel welcomed will go a long way towards easing some of the transition pains.
We Make Plans for the Future
As a species, we are one of the few on the planet that has the distinct ability to understand that there is a future and make plans in the present for that future. As such, we always have a vision (and predominately optimistic) of our future and what it holds. One thing that has always confounded me is that we are always making plans for the future, but we consistently forget that we are going to be different people in this future as well. How do we plan for the future and make career moves in the now for a life that we don’t know we have or even want? Also, are we forever stuck to run laps on the hedonic treadmill?
Both times I decided to pursue a different opportunity, I kept in mind the Hedonic Treadmill and The Happiness Advantage by Shawn Achor. We often make plans for the future, earmarking a certain if that will lead to our happiness. We have been conditioned by our culture to seek out more and it is a uniquely American trait. Yet, countless studies have shown that when we reach that next if we just earmark out next if. I’m reminded of the image of a young child always trying to catch the soccer ball but each time they get close to it they kick it further.
Understanding that the future is elusive and hard to prepare for, and that we are likely not going to find the secret treasure of ultimate happiness, has helped me make decisions on my career. I hope that it helps you as well.