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ON THE MIND

Work out reasons for leaving

Before seeking a job change, map out your motivation and goals. Thoughtful analysis can build a rewarding path to career stability.

December 11, 2006|Jonathan Alpert | Special to The Times

Today's ever-changing business climate, repeated rounds of downsizing and companies' focus on short-term bottom lines, rather than relationships with employees, can put many workers in a stressful, almost existential, bind.

They find themselves contemplating a new job or career even as they try to hold on to some measure of stability. Because the mere thought of change can come with an overwhelming mix of emotions, positive and negative, they get comfortable being uncomfortable. Days turn to weeks, weeks into months, and soon a year of inactivity has gone by, usually due to fear of change.

If you find yourself in this monotonous cycle of self-doubt and fear, understand that simply recognizing it can serve as a great catalyst for change. An embrace of these conflicting feelings can lead ultimately to clarity, direction and confidence as you move along your job or career path.

To understand your true motivations, first establish whether you're trying to move away from a job that is undesirable -- a nasty boss, demanding hours, low pay -- or toward an appealing opportunity -- great benefits, a stimulating environment, rewarding tasks. Either is justifiable, but the latter is motivated by inspiration, not desperation, and therefore puts you in a stronger position.

Actions motivated by a move away from a negative stimulus generally are void of a plan, other than fleeing the situation. In contrast, actions motivated by inspiration usually have a future orientation with a positive end goal, with effects lasting beyond seeking relief from the job. This provides focus and direction in planning a strategy to land a new job.

What to do:

To clarify the underlying motivation, ask yourself: Am I leaving because I'm unhappy with the job or is it the setting/company? Is it my colleague who makes the day unbearable or is it the job duties? If the setting or a colleague is the culprit, then perhaps a change in venue, not career, is warranted.

Next, compile a list of reasons to stay with your current job compared with the potential rewards of leaving. There is no right or wrong answer, and every point is an important consideration, no matter how minor or insignificant. Even the office espresso machine can be listed -- imagine your morning with stale coffee, or worse, no coffee at all.

Timing is critical as well. Some circumstances are more conducive to change than others. If you have a baby on the way, are caring for an ill parent or recently had knee surgery, perhaps the job upheaval can wait.

Conversely, if life is fairly stable and you're gainfully employed, it's probably a good time to consider making the move. Hiring managers find employed job candidates attractive because they view the person as dedicated to his job despite the quest for a new job. When a job offer is made, employment status translates into negotiating power.

If you decide a change is in order, consider what makes you feel content, personally and professionally. Ask yourself: What is most essential? Do a comparative analysis of fortune and family: making $300,000 a year, but working 14 hours per day; material items and lifestyle -- a company car and bonus -- but with no time to take a vacation; and security and stimulation -- the comfort of knowing you have a great pension after 25 years, -- but a job as boring as watching paint dry.

If you're still uncertain, fast-forward two years. Does this visualization make you cringe as you imagine still being in your present job? If so, that's a clear indicator of where to go from here.

Approach change with an open mind. Although stressful, change can be positive and a sign of progress. Remember: Short-term stress is better than long-term monotony and feeling stuck in a rut. As you move forward, focus on what you want while you pursue opportunities with gusto.

In On the Mind, Jonathan Alpert, a psychotherapist in New York, answers questions about healthy mental living. Send questions to health@latimes.com.

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