Racing toward or running away

In this moment of flux that I heard being called the Great Resignation, it almost became normal to regularly receive emails from my colleagues and friends about changes in their work. People leave one company to join another, some start their own, and some decide to retire. When I do get to chat with them, the question that I usually ask is whether they are racing toward or running away. Given the decision to make this change, is it more about leaving the current environment, or entering a new environment?

Neither of these are wrong or right, but might be useful to understand, especially in conditions as stressful as job change. Having done a few of these in my career, I’ve learned to recognize that each brings a different mindset and a set of implicit expectations – and surfacing these expectations early usually does some good.

When I ask, folks often have an immediate answer. They can tell right away if the change they’re making is racing toward a new opportunity or running away from a setup they no longer find tenable. If you are blessed enough to contemplate such a change, and aren’t sure how you would answer this question, here’s a silly exercise that might be of use.

Ready? Ask yourself why you are currently working where you are. Answer as honestly as possible, trying to state it in terms of some larger reason behind your work. Once you have the first answer, see if it resonates deeply with you, excites you, gives you that sense of being aligned with your internal sense of purpose. If it isn’t, keep asking the question. Why is this larger purpose important? This line of questions may terminate early with the “Aha! This is exactly what I want to be doing with my life”,  or take you toward some lofty ideals like “uplifting humanity”, or it may attempt to trap you in weird causal circles.

Now, do the same for the new opportunity. Does it follow a similar path? Is it crisp and brief, or even more convoluted than the current one?

Here’s my intuition. If the second string of “whys”  is shorter than the first one, you are likely racing toward the new opportunity. If it’s the other way around, you’re likely running away from your current work situation. And if they’re both pretty long, then it might be worth looking at other opportunities, and seek the ones that ring a bit more true with what you believe you’re meant to do with this life.

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