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recreating career management & the pursuit of our own professional callings in a new world of work

You Gotta Jump

All I can say to this bit of inspiration from Steve Harvey is…damn right.

Jumping off the cliff – even knowing you have a parachute – is scary as hell.

And I’ll be absolutely candid. I’m still falling, tugging at the ripcord. I’ve been torn up and beaten up on my way down. I’ve experienced things that, at the time, made me wish I never jumped at all. But I’m glad I did. I’m glad I took the risk of jumping into the unknown. I’m glad I tried different careers and moved to different places with no idea what was on the other side. I have scars and I appreciate every single one of them. Each one is a reminder that I am alive, I am whole, I am worthy, I am enough.

And here’s the kicker…I do have faith that my parachute is opening. And yours will too, if you choose to jump.

However, as Mr. Steve says, if you never jump your parachute will never open and you will never soar.

So tell your fear – no matter what shape it takes – to go to hell because you gotta jump.

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4 Steps To Keep From Walking Into Another Bad Workplace

Eventually it happens to all of us when we enter a new organization. Sometimes it takes a few years. Sometimes a few months. For the least fortunate among us, only a few weeks. I’m talking about the waving of a red flag signaling our first WTF experience in our workplace. It’s usually accompanied by a feeling that might appear like this:

WTF is going on around here?

Really? You have got to be kidding me.

We all deal with irritants in our work. The sometimes gnarly commute. The copier that seems to drink ink like a pirate drinks rum. The volunteer who consistently runs late for their shift. You get the picture. But I’m not talking those daily annoyances. They’re just the cost of getting out of bed each morning and going to work in a nonprofit.

I’m talking about those experiences that stoke your sense that something isn’t right about your workplace. You might say those are also a cost of working in a nonprofit (or really any job) and you would be largely correct. Since an organization is made up of people, they’re just as imperfect and flawed as you and I are. Usually, we can choose to look beyond these flaws because we can accept them as we might accept our own flaws.

However, sometimes these flaws turn into something darker and more troubling. They violate a core value. Or perhaps a couple of core values which starts to feel intolerable. Or finally they violate so many of our core values that the environment becomes toxic and affects our wellbeing. It’s time to start looking for a new place to take our skills, talents, and passion ASAP.

But how can you be certain you won’t simply walk out of one insane asylum into another? I did it twice in one year and it was disastrous to my mental and physical health.

The key is to get curious about your current experience and learn to identify exactly what sucks. How? I’d like to suggest an exercise you can begin right now.

The first step is to identify and get cozy with your core values. Everything hinges on this because if something has deeply upset you, it’s likely because it violated one of your core values. If you’re unsure or simply want to do some reconnecting work with yourself, there are several sources that can help. Here’s a brief listing of resources which have helped me:
http://www.mas.org.uk/quest/ivp2.htm
http://www.inc.com/kevin-daum/define-your-personal-core-values-5-steps.html
https://www.zapposinsights.com/blog/item/3-steps-to-identifying-personal-core-values

Now grab a sheet of paper or crack open Word. (Personally, I like using a cloud app like Microsoft OneNote so I always have access to the document on my phone and iPad.) You’re going to create a map with at least four columns:

  1. Current Challenging Experience
  2. Violated Core Value
  3. Intensity of Feeling
  4. Questions to Help Uncover

Step 1. Current Challenging Experience
So what’s pissing you off enough right now that you’re actually taking time to do this exercise? What’s happening that is making you to want to run off and sell coconuts along a beach in Tahiti or start an angora rabbit ranch in West Virginia?

For illustration, let’s say a someone in leadership is constantly abrasive and condescending to you and your staff. They have no problems throwing around insults in public meetings. Your challenging experience might be: A Board Member is consistently rude to me and my staff.

Step 2. Violated Core Value
You know your core values. Now see if you can connect that value that’s been violated to the experience.

In our example, we might feel that our value of Respect has been violated.

Step 3. Intensity
This is highly subjective, but can help prioritize which experiences are irritants, which ones you can deal with, and which ones are true value violations.

Respect (at least for me) is one of those top three values so this isn’t an irritant or something you feel mildly. The intensity is High.

Step 4. Questions
Now comes the difficult part but it is a significant reason why you’re going through this exercise. Ask yourself: If interviewing for my current position today, what questions could I ask that would give me insight into my challenging experience? What we’re trying to do here is reverse engineer the experience and identify the burning red flags from our current workplace to check if they’re present in this next possible workplace.

Some questions to ask in your next interview might be:

  • What’s the current relationship between the Board and staff?
  • Are there any Board members who I should work with differently?
  • In terms of how the Board governs, would you say it’s more Advisory, Co-operative, or Managing?

Putting It Together
Your map should look something like this:

Challenging Experience Violated Core Value Intensity Questions to Help Learn
A board member is consistently rude to me and my staff Respect High
  • What’s the current relationship between the Board and staff?
  • Are there any Board members who I should work with differently?
  • In terms of how the Board governs, would you say it’s more Advisory, Co-operative, or Managing?

Keep adding rows of experiences as they arise. And keep adding, reviewing, and refining it. Test drive it when talking to peers inside your organization or friends who work somewhere else.

And when you have an interview and get to put this to work, don’t forget to watch for body language when asking questions. While an interviewer might try to hide what they really think through their words, their nonverbal will likely betray their feelings.

Anything I’ve missed here? Thoughts on improvement? I’m always refining my own map so feel free to share in comments or shoot me a personal message. I’d love to hear how this works for you. Good luck!

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My Vacation To The Lake And Learning To Care Intentionally

View of Lake Hartwell in South CarolinaThere I floated on my bright yellow raft, not too far away from the dock. It was the first morning of our summer lake vacation and was starting to warm up into one of those typical late July hot southern days. But instead of feeling the peace of being on the water and the relaxation of being on vacation, I unintentionally brought something else along with me. A big, nasty ball of feelings that I had slowly and gradually crunched up in the pit of my stomach: bewilderment, anger, sadness, and more.

Yep, I made the critical error of bringing my job – and the frustrations of the last few weeks – along with me. I wager that every single person who works inside a nonprofit wrestles with an existential crisis at times. I was wrestling with the question of whether anything I was doing in my work really mattered. So there I floated, eventually coming to a point where the constant refrain in my head was, “…I could so care less.” I had gotten to a point where I was starting to find easy solace in apathy. 

Eventually, the slow ebb and flow of the water did its job and I felt my muscles and mind start to relax. The sounds of the birds and the cold beer in my hand led me toward some much needed inner solitude. I questioned how I had arrived at this place where “Screw it all!” was an acceptable landing spot.

I needed to confront head-on the confusion of experiencing this apathy in work that I deeply enjoyed and was exceptionally good at for an organization in which I believed in its mission. What the hell was going on that would make me accept the possibility of caring less?

Then, I recalled something a trusted mentor told me not long ago. I didn’t actually want to care less. My problem was that I was caught in a pernicious trap of caring too much. How is caring too much a bad thing? For me, caring about the outcome of every single experience, every single event, every single opinion in my workplace was exhausting. Further, it only led to disappointment and cynicism when those outcomes failed to match up with my expectations. It was a sure-fire road to burnout and I was on the express bus. 

Fortunately, I was able to pause. I quieted the thoughts about how I should care less or care more. Instead, I started to reflect on how to be more intentional as to what I truly do care about.

Not everything is worth the battle or engaging in the fire drill. We don’t need to actively participate in everyone’s drama. So many things exist far outside our control. However, what we can control is our thoughts and reactions to the daily dramas. When we get clear about our values and goals, we can make better choices about how we want to matter.

Later that evening, I sat on the deck overlooking the lake and spent time with the person I am at my core. I took some time to recall my values and why I returned to the nonprofit world. I sketched out the big picture goals for my work. Anything I could use to reorient me toward giving my best effort to my organization as well as my career. Shortly afterward, I let go a great sigh of relief and settled into enjoying the next few days of special quality time with my family.

By the end of the vacation, I left the lake with what I call my Roadmap for Intentional Caring.

The temptation to care too much is always there. And the relative “safety” of trying to not care at all is always there, as well. It’s locating the sweet spot in the middle and being able to get back there to intentional caring when we swing toward either end of the spectrum.

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Five Observations For Surviving The Modern Workplace

Rambo and survivalThis post might serve as some indication as to the type of week I’ve had. One where the veil has been pulled aside to further clarify some observations that I’ve noticed in my long and winding career journey.

1. Our organization is not our family.
This very notion that my organization is a family has always made me cringe. Unless we’re related by blood or marriage or some other legal compact, there’s not one shred of truth to this. Further, it feels cultish, like I’ve joined up with the Sunshine Carpet Cleaners.

Reid Hoffman, co-founder of LinkedIn, goes so far as to say that its one of the worst lies a company can tell its employees. It’s misguided at best and deceptive at its worst.

In a Harvard Business Review article, he elaborated:

In a real family, parents can’t fire their children. Try to imagine disowning your child for poor performance: ‘We’re sorry Susie, but your mom and I have decided you’re just not a good fit. Your table-setting effort has been deteriorating for the past 6 months, and your obsession with ponies just isn’t adding any value. We’re going to have to let you go. But don’t take it the wrong way; it’s just family.’

2. Our organization is not responsible for our happiness.
On the face of it, this feels stupidly obvious. But how many times have we felt pissed off, frustrated, and ultimately unhappy only then to blame our organization for it. Take a moment and reflect on your recent experience. Go ahead…I’ll wait. Hey, I did it just this week. It’s all too easy to feel we’re owed happiness at work by the very organization that feels it’s owed our loyalty in return for a signed paycheck.

However, who gets to determine our happiness? We do, of course.

3. Our boss is not our friend. And conversely, our employee is not our friend.
This isn’t to suggest that the boss-employee dynamic shouldn’t be friendly. But do not mistake that dynamic for a true friendship. The boss still holds the upper hand in the power structure. Don’t believe me? The next time you have the chance to do what you want versus what your boss wants, go your own way. Where your friend may be irritated, your boss is likely going to see it as a direct challenge to their authority. Do it too many times and you’re going to find yourself taken behind the woodshed for a professional whipping.

And god forbid that you work for a friend or hire a friend. The times when this works out for everyone is vastly outnumbered by the times when it ends in tragedy.

4. Our job does not define our identity.
I am an entrepreneur. I am a dentist. I am a diner waitress. I am an assistant to the traveling secretary of the New York Yankees. Or for me, I am a digital nonprofit fundraiser.

Yes, these can all be true statements…and untrue if we believe our job is our sole defining role. The times when I’ve identified myself as primarily a marketer, an entrepreneur, or a fundraiser are the times when I have been a shitty husband, father, and friend. These are also the times when I forget that I am a writer, a hiker, an amateur naturalist, a Steelers fan, and several other things that I enjoy in my life.

5. Our work is not our life.
There’s a thin line between being invested in our work (which is good) and being over-invested (which can lead to the type of obsessive behavior that robs us of strong relationships and our well-being). Over-investing in work can also lead to a type of vicious anxiety where the work isn’t just part of our life…it can feel like it’s life or death.

One mistake can cancel out several superb accomplishments. Then, fear of committing another mistake can prompt job insecurity and a paralyzing fear that just one more mistake can lead to a pink slip. And then we’re marked by the stigma of the Scarlet Letter F – for Fired AKA Failure-at-Life.

Whoa, whoa, whoa. But wait.

If you’re still with me so far, hang on. I’m about to take this whole line of thinking for a U-turn because maybe I’ve got it all wrong. Maybe this is my cynical persona taking me for a ride.

Instead, if I listen to the quiet voice of inner wisdom that whispers in the space where my ego screams, it reminds me that all is One and Life is interconnected. And our Work is a testament to our love not just for our self but a gift to this fractured world.

As someone who has experienced career success as well as career hell, here’s where I openly admit that I struggle with two concepts: realism and idealism. The real provides a protective fence for my ego. By avowing that my organization is not my family, it allows me to keep the group at arm’s length so I can’t be hurt. By acknowledging that my employee is not my friend, I can more easily make the decision to cut him loose with a parting comment that it’s “just business.” Maybe this protective fence is what keeps me from fully living life, fully sharing my talents with others, fully being human (and therefore vulnerable) with each person I encounter in my daily journey.

Perhaps these five “cynical” concepts I’ve described above have the opportunity to be turned around and transformed into something more spiritually rewarding, and therefore more radical in society and our modern workplace. What if organizations can be more human spaces where respect wins over condescension, courage over fear, service over power, and vulnerability over arrogance?

I wonder what our organizations would look like?

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On Letting Go and Letting In

Joseph Campbell Quote

I’m really not sure how to start this post. There’s a voice that is trying to convince me to delete it this very moment. My Inner Critic whispers to me in his most lovingly insidious voice, “No one wants to hear about your problems and fears. No one likes someone who is weak and vulnerable and struggles with life and career. No one wants to hire a man who is emotional, fights off self-doubt, bears his soul to the world and is an idealist at heart (besides, you’ll just get chewed up by hungry, focused, competitive, driven professionals that organizations want anyway). So, shut up and stop being such a damned martyr.” Yes, this is what that voice sounds like in my head. He’s a true bastard.

There was a point not too long ago when I would have ceded to this voice. It’s why I didn’t blog for months. It’s why I allowed myself to stay quiet and unassuming. Yet, I recognize now this was the lie of depression. Problem is, when you live with a voice for so long, you hear it softly lulling you into the supposed safety of smallness and inadequacy, it becomes a tough relationship to sever. And that’s where I am right now…trying to be at peace with this voice while allowing for other voices of purpose, confidence, humor, and compassion to emerge, as well.

My past few years have seen their share of ups and downs. They’ve also been full of heartbreaking struggle and it’s largely because I have clung so tightly to my past with its burdens, fears, guilt, and emotional anchors. I’ve lied about what I want from life and ignored my true self fearing the ridicule and judgment of others, particularly in my career. I didn’t want to be seen as weird, incompetent, unprofessional. I chased after work that didn’t fit my strengths, that didn’t excite my passions, that didn’t fill me with purpose but they were in-demand jobs that held the promise of money and prestige. Alas, these jobs didn’t last long and I fear these recent professional missteps – though I learned much in the experiences – could serve as my own scarlet letter in the future.

However, I am also waking up to recognize that all of this I have gone through has been preparation for something much bigger and much more important. I don’t yet know what this is…but I know as I approach 40 it is about emerging into a truer form of my self, one that this world needs right now. It’s about letting go of the past and unmet expectations and letting in the possibility of new beginnings. It’s about meeting whatever comes next with an excitement and a belief that what is emerging has the ability to be a force for good. It means choosing to live a heartful life and commit to work that truly matters. It means being free to be weirdly and soulfully me…and resting secure in the notion that while I may not fit every organization’s ideal model of employee, there are some organizations that are looking for all I bring to the party.

I hope that if you are finding yourself in a similar state of emerging, that together we can embrace the life that is waiting for us. If I can help you in your journey, reach out and let me know what you need. We’re all in this together.

Love, Chris

P.S., Special thanks to Licia Berry for inspiring this post.

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Don’t Like To Work? (And What You Can Do About It) Part II

Interestingly, this phrase is one of the top search phrases that lead folks to Bailey WorkPlay. As much as it pains me to say it, I can understand why. I’ve done my fair share of work that’s sucked, but I’ve also been fortunate enough to do work that’s been exciting and rewarding.

Here’s a truth about me: I don’t like to work either when that work doesn’t challenge me, inspire me, or use the best that I have to offer. So, this issue is one that I’m curious to explore in more depth. Below is part 2 of 2 in this series covering three more reasons why we might not like to work.

Reason #3: I don’t like to work because…I dislike the people I work with/for.
I guess there are two ways of looking at this. Either you’re working with folks who you genuinely have no connection with (I’m trying to be diplomatic here…we all have worked with people who were flaming numbskulls). Or you’re the problematic person who seems to push co-workers away. If it’s the latter and you’re self-aware enough to know it, consider whether your negativity is due to your own unhappiness in your work or personal life. If that’s the case, it’s okay…you have an opportunity now to fix it.

But if it’s the former and you find yourself working around unpleasant people, that’s a level of stress that’s probably not going to go away any time soon…particularly if it’s your manager. I can’t promise any easy remedies, but I will offer this: they’re likely not going to change for you. Which means you’ll need to either learn to navigate around difficult personalities or get the heck out of there.

Reason #4: I don’t like to work because…I’m tired.
There’s no doubt about it…a job can exhaust us, sap our energy, keep us in what feels like a never-ending spiral. Taking a vacation often means coming back to more work so we don’t take the leave that is one of the top benefits an organization offers. But I will argue that’s not work, that’s a J-O-B. Work often requires an intense energy, but it’s an energy that quickly restores itself because we can’t wait to do it again and again. If your job drains you, think deeply about whether it’s work you really want to be doing.

Reason #5: I don’t like to work because…I’d rather do something else I enjoy a lot more.
There are two questions that are worth asking here: what is this activity you’d rather be doing and is there a way to turn it into an income-generating gig? While it’s not always possible, sometimes there are ways to pursue a playful passion and make it a career. It might take some imagination and bit of risk-taking, but wouldn’t you rather get up every day knowing that your work is something you absolutely love?

Here’s another question: are you ignoring a powerful signal trying to tell you something important? If play means being outside hiking and you’re stuck inside an office all day, maybe your work is better geared toward being in the open air. If you love to cook, but you’re crunching numbers for 8 hours a day, maybe it’s time to think about those culinary classes you’ve been putting off or that dream of starting a catering business.

If you come to determine that your playful activity will always just be a non-paying hobby, that’s okay. You might just keep it in your backpocket and perhaps there will come a day when your playful activity might open an opportunity to take it in a professional direction.

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Don’t Like To Work? (And What You Can Do About It) Part I

Interestingly, this phrase is one of the top search phrases that lead folks to Bailey WorkPlay. As much as it pains me to say it, I can understand why. I’ve done my fair share of work that’s sucked, but I’ve also been fortunate enough to do work that’s been exciting and rewarding.

Here’s a truth about me: I don’t like to work either when that work doesn’t challenge me, inspire me, or use the best that I have to offer. So, this issue is one that I’m curious to explore in more depth. Below is part 1 of 2 in this series covering two reasons why we might not like to work.

Reason #1: I don’t like to work because…the work I do feels like drudgery.
I’m starting with what I think is probably the #1 reason folks do a Google search on this phrase in the first place. You’re in a rut, doing a job that sucks, wishing there was something better on the horizon. Now, I can tell you that the answer is to get out and go find work that you’re truly passionate about, but somehow I think you already know this. The question you’re likely wrestling with is…how? I can’t offer a complete answer here, but I say this: you owe it to yourself to find work that is uniquely yours, that fits your unique set of talents, that makes you feel of use. Make a commitment to find a career coach who can help guide you toward work that let’s your best shine through every day (note: I’ve worked with quite a few who I can highly recommend so shoot me an email and I’ll be happy to guide you along).

Other things you can do right now…
Know exactly what that drudgery looks like to you. Do you seriously want to leap to something else only to land in the same muck you left? Sit down and create an inventory of what you dislike about your JOB. Once you know what that drudgery looks like, you’ll hopefully be far less likely to find yourself neck-deep in it again.

Okay, now what do you like about your JOB? I guarantee there’s something there you can work from. Build an inventory of these things. You can use this list to construct an idea of what your best work looks like.

Reason #2: I don’t like to work because…I feel undervalued, underappreciated, underpaid, under-etc.
This was the impetus behind my recent post You Alone Define Your Value. Far too often, we internalize these feelings and own them as if they were ours to hold. Well, it’s time to disown this crap right now.

Things you can do right now…
Reclaim your value in your current work. If you feel undervalued, underappreciated, etc., create a gameplan for addressing this. It starts with you. Do you honestly feel that you’ve added value to your organization? Have you done something remarkable in the past few months? Have you visibly grown your business over the past year? If you can answer “yes” and have concrete examples, put these to paper. Now, it’s time to have a chat with your manager. Given the belt-tightening that’s going on right now, you may not be able to do much about the underpaid issue, but focus on a persuasive argument as to how your performance deserves greater visibility. Managers aren’t mindreaders and as much as we might expect them to instantly see our work and give us the necessary kudos, we need to understand they can fall prey to busyness too and can benefit from our gentle prods.

Find another place to work where you are valued, appreciated, well-paid, etc. Let’s say that you’ve done the first exercise and had the talk with your manager to little effect. Then, it’s time to move on. If you like the work you do and need to find another place to practice it, connect with your network. If you don’t know what that looks like, find a career coach, a mentor, or a colleague to bounce ideas.

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You Alone Define Your Value

It always amazes me how easy it is to lose our sense of value. As working professionals, it usually starts in our work. I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that organizations are notorious for not fully grasping the value of each employee. I’m not talking about valuing that little slice of work that falls within the job description (though there are times when even this may be undervalued for sure). Rather, I’m talking about the richness of each employee’s value: their passion, their potential, their desire to bring the fullness of themselves to all they do. When this feeling of undervalue goes on for a while it’s all too easy to feel invisible and downtrodden. It’s also all too easy to create a story that says that no other organization will find you valuable. So you toil away in the same place, under the same conditions, quietly, desperately, each day muddling into the next. And the heart-wrenching part is that it often slides ever so easily into our personal life when we begin to question our value as an individual.

Remember that you alone have the ability to define your value. You get to decide your own worth as an employee, a professional, a human being. You determine which labels apply to what you do and to who you are.

If you’re trying to figure out where you’re going or how your work fits into the bigger picture of your life, I hope this holiday time gives you a chance to ease back and reflect. Know that it’s never too late to reclaim your value for yourself and choose to offer this for something better. Be of use to something or someone that appreciates all you are.

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Why Job Fit Is Important To Your Confidence

Unless you’re one of the exceptionally rare and fortunate individuals who has always landed in the right job, you’ve had at least one job that didn’t fit right. Like a pair of shoes three sizes too large or small, it always felt poorly aligned with who you are and your unique set of talents. Maybe you’re in one of these jobs right now. If so, let me ask you a few questions:

  • Do you often question your own personal value?
  • Do you sometimes feel a distinct lack of confidence in your abilities?
  • Do you feel marginalized and demotivated?
  • Do you wonder if you’re professionally valuable not only within your current organization, but possibly in future organizations, as well?

When we talk about job fit, at least on a surface level, we may understand its importance. But there is a deeper level to job fit which affects us psychologically. Here, we begin to form stories about ourselves. If the fit is wrong, then it’s much easier to create stories that the reason it’s wrong is because of what we’re doing. We tend to pin the blame on ourselves. If we’re not getting it, then it must be because of a deficit of ours, rather than the actual job or even the organizational structure supporting the job.

I’m not suggesting that we should throw personal responsibility out the window. But all too often, we take a bad job fit and assume all the responsibility for not doing well, not feeling content with our work, not feeling that we’re bring our best into the world everyday.

Instead, let’s take a breathe, back up, and consider a bigger perspective. Let’s get curious about whether we’re doing a job or in a position that uniquely fits us. Let’s think of how our work can create a healthier livelihood for ourselves. Let’s hold true to the knowledge that we do have choices about how we live each day.

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Don’t Jump Ship Too Quickly

Admit it. There are days when you come home from the job and toy with the idea of ditching it to move on to something better. But is ditching your job the best answer? It all depends on your circumstances.

CNN published a (somewhat surprisingly) insightful article called Look on the bright side of a bad job. Based on this title, I didn’t have high expectations. I rather expected the writer to admonish his readers to just “buck up” and find their shiny, happy selves. Instead, there are some pretty good ideas in the article…in particular the last one under their category of Wisdom.

If you’re unhappy, examine why. Do you dislike the people you work with or is it the actual work? Are you in a dead-end position? Think back to your interview and see if you missed any warning signs that this job might not be the one for you. Use your experience to avoid falling into the same predicament in your next job. If the situation didn’t turn sour until after you’d been with the company for a while, you know to stay attuned to shifts in attitudes and practices…Making the best out of a bad job situation doesn’t mean being complacent. A positive outlook shouldn’t replace your plans to move on (emphasis mine).

This is brilliant advice. I know from personal experience that when the shitstorm at work starts to get wild, there’s a strong impulse to jump ship. Yes, there are times when it’s necessary to move on (say, when our health is at stake or the situation has become toxic), but it’s not always the best plan for our working future. Most times, these bad jobs are chock full of learning that we need to absorb in order to make better future decisions that will help us find work that has meaning and purpose. Or else, we risk falling into the same situation again and again (think Bill Murray’s plight in Groundhog Day).

If you’re in a spot where you’re edging toward the end of the plank and thinking about leaping for another ship, take some time to answer the questions posed above. Take full advantage of the wisdom and experience that this experience is offering you.

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