Career Crossroads

By Career Control

Are you at a career crossroads? Many of our career counseling clients are stuck at a job and/or in a career path far too long.  They feel the need to make a change  but fear giving up their “security” or their “investment” in their current career.  I never tell clients to give up security without a plan. But, most people stuck in a career crossroads have not analyzed their situation properly.  The analysis should focus on the opportunity cost of staying and the transactional cost of moving.

In other articles, I have focused on opportunity cost.  I’ll sum up quickly here: every day you are doing something you don’t like, you are giving up another day of opportunity to pursue work that you would like.

As for transactional cost, this is what you “spend” in time, effort, energy, and money to switch fields.  A story will illustrate this concept:

Abiona, a good friend from law school, came over to my office when I was an Assistant District Attorney in Philadelphia.  She was entering her fourth year of practicing law.  She had invested seven years into the law; 4 years of practice and three years of law school.  She also had significant law school loans to pay off.  She wanted some advice: “I’m thinking about becoming a doctor.”  Abiona continued by noting that most everyone thought she had lost her mind.  Nonetheless, she wanted my opinion.  Abiona told me her story, parenthetical remarks are mine:

“I was always interested in medicine but I didn’t take the requisite science courses during my sophomore year.  (Funny, how decisions we make when we are so young have such long term repercussions).  It seemed too late to take all those science courses during junior year.  So, I ended up taking the LSAT (the law school SAT), doing well, and then applying to law school.  Anyway, because I didn’t take those science courses, not only do I have to go to medical school but I have to do another year of a post-baccalaureate pre-med school program (“post-bac”).  That’s another reason people think I’m nuts.

But I know with certainty that I don’t like to practice law.  I know with reasonable certainty that I will like practicing medicine.  (She had done due diligence shadowing her doctor friends and talking to everyone and anyone she could about all that her new path would entail.) I can sit here and be miserable my job for the next seven years.   And, then what?  I’ll still be miserable.  The longer I stay the deeper I’ll feel stuck and won’t be able to do what I want (opportunity cost).

I am very certain that I would enjoy my time in the post-bac program more than I do my current work. While I know medical school will be hard, I also believe that I will enjoy my days more than I do here.  I basically know that if I’m on the right path, I’m willing to suffer through hard work.  Here, at my law firm, I suffer through hard work for no reason.  The only thing I’m concerned about is paying for medical school. But, I’m fairly sure that I’ll be fine after a few years of practice.”

I nodded.  That was the extent of my advice.  No reason to say anything.  She made complete sense.

My question to you: assuming you are unhappy in your current career, are you willing to pay the transactional cost necessary to switch careers?  Abiona was and now she is a happy and successful anesthesiologist.