When Careers Go….Sideways

Sometimes I have a client who is stuck. Stuck in a rut, stuck in a dead-end job, or stuck at the top of a ladder by themselves, with (literally) no backup supporting the ladder.

Today I met with a woman who has what on paper is a highly successful career in her industry. She has been with a company she loves for a long time, and she has had many promotions over time and climbed higher and higher within the organization.

Sometimes, that sounds like what we all want, but my point is that it’s not always what *everyone* wants. She doesn’t want the level of responsibility and pressure she finds herself at now.

She got a promotion about 6 months ago and has been miserable ever since.

The role requires her availability at all hours. It is incredibly taxing in terms of the pressure put upon her to perform at a certain level. And she finds that for her, at least, it is not worth the pay they are providing to endure that constant stress.

So she has been mulling it over and has come to a conclusion that she needs to back off. She is very clear: she has100% decided that she will be asking for a demotion. To relinquish the position she has now and return to the still vacant position she had before.

When a client has made up their mind like that, I have nothing but support. So long as she works through the practicalities, and still comes to the same conclusion. So what are those practicalities?

You need to think and talk through the potential consequences.

What about the pay cut? “It wouldn’t be a lifestyle killer. We’d just have to cut our budget a bit.”

What about the optics at your organization? They have invested alot of time, training and money in you. Will asking for a demotion mean that they might consider you undeserving of future promotions if / when you may want them? “I’ve thought about that, and while there’s no way to be certain, it really doesn’t matter to me. Even if it does down the road, I can port my experience elsewhere.”

Now, to what she asked me: “Will this down move be a permanent hit in earnings potential?” It’s hard to say, but probably not, as long as you can see yourself being able to move in at least a couple of different directions from that job – either at least to the level you’re currently at or even beyond? Yes? Then go for it.

“And how will it affect my resume to be seen as making a down move?” Here I’m going to share some good career advice *I got myself* from a trusted HR colleague: “You have to play chess, not checkers. You can’t always be moving forward. Sometimes you have to move sideways, or even backwards, to end up with the board you want to see.” Will taking a demotion mean you can still make new connections, have a different relationship with your work, and thus perform well, if not even better? Then go for it.

Finally, do you still have room to learn if you move “down”? It’s often worth the cost of a pay cut to invest in learning and mastering different skills, approaches, and teams, because that is investment that will pay off. You’ll have more diverse options moving forward. Yes? Then again, go for it.

All she wanted was a gut check, which is all many of us need sometimes. I fully give you permission to make whatever career move you need to make today, even if it’s sideways, backwards, cutting back, or making an abrupt and sudden shift. When your gut instincts are telling you it’s time for a major change, you should think carefully, talk it over with trusted colleagues and friends, and then go for it.

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