The stay/go decision: Navigating a career inflection point
One of the most common conversations I have with clients who are navigating career transitions centers around this question: Should I stay, or should I go?
If you’ve been following this blog for a while, you know I use a number of tools and conversations to guide clients through career mapping and decision making. We draw on all of them as clients explore questions about whether to leave their job or stay put. They usually find their answer on what I call the Stay/Go Grid.
As you can see, it’s a simple tool that boils circumstances down into four categories. The grid lays out the choices of “stay vs. go” and “survive vs. thrive,” creating four quadrants, each of which has its own opportunities and challenges.
Determining which quadrant you are in starts with a deep dive into what you are getting out of your job, role and institution. Understanding which of The Four E’s (education, experience, exposure or enthusiasm), if any, you are enjoying in your current role will help you see where you land on the survive/thrive parts of the grid. Meanwhile, a landscape scan and a clear sense of which of the 4 E’s you need most will help clarify whether you can thrive by staying or whether you must go to do so.
Ultimately, finding your place on the grid will link back to what matters most to you, and it might explain why someone would choose “stay and survive” over “go and thrive.” Let’s look at each of the scenarios described in the Stay/Go Grid.
Stay and survive
This quadrant probably doesn’t sound pleasant, but staying and surviving does not have to mean misery or stagnation, and there may be good reasons to make this choice. Suppose your youngest child is finishing college and you want to start a business but need to stay on salary while you still have a tuition bill to pay. Or maybe you’re close but not quite vested in the corporate retirement plan. Perhaps you are bored with your current assignments, but you’d love a shot at your supervisor’s job when she retires in a year. These are all reasons you might stay and bide your time.
In this situation, growth is not necessarily your primary aim. That doesn’t mean you can’t grow, but your decision to stay is motivated by something else in the short term. This is a lot like the idea of leaning out during difficult life circumstances. If your focus needs to be elsewhere beyond your career, that’s just fine.
Go and survive
This set of circumstances usually is not pleasant. If staying and surviving is not tenable, you have no choice but go. Layoffs, toxic relationships, pay cuts and other challenges can all land someone in the “go and survive” quadrant. If you find yourself in this situation, your best bet is to determine what surviving and thriving would each look like, then use that as a lens for assessing opportunities. What do you need most out of your next position? Start with Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. You likely need a paycheck that will get you the basics. What about your other needs? How far up the hierarchy you can go will depend on your personal situation, what you learn from your landscape scan and which of the 4 E’s is most meaningful to you. With luck and a clear understanding of these considerations, “go and survive” can turn into “go and thrive.”
Stay and thrive
If someone lands in “stay and thrive,” it’s because they are still getting something of value out of their current work. It aligns with what matters most to them and is also giving them at least one of the 4 E’s. They are learning, gaining experience, gaining exposure or enjoying enthusiasm in their current situation. If that’s the case, staying is a way to thrive. It’s important, however, to check in with yourself every few months or when you’ve had a major life change to ensure your needs have not changed. If you are no longer getting any of the 4 E’s, you might have slipped from “stay and thrive” to “stay and survive.” You may still choose to stay, but it’s important to revisit the stay/go question in case it’s time for something new.
Go and thrive
This is about seeing opportunity elsewhere and seizing it. And often (but not always), this is where people land after a period of “stay and survive.” To find your “thrive” opportunity, revisit your list of what matters most to you (sign up to get the worksheet) and the tools for intentional career design. Again, determine which of the 4 E’s you want out of your next role, and then go for it. Once you’ve made the leap and are thriving in your new environment, you won’t regret your choice.
Should you stay, or should you go?
When clients are considering this question, I ask if they have a gut feeling about it and why. The Stay/Go Grid helps us give context to that gut feeling. It’s also useful once we’ve determined where someone has landed, because each portion of the grid has a set of skills to be focusing on. No matter where you land, there are things you can do to continue supporting your own career development, even if it’s not time for the job of your dreams.
It’s also a good idea to understand what I call your “bright red lines” – the factors that will push you from stay to go, for example. These could be moral and ethical considerations, or they could involve something like schedule inflexibility. What would make a tenable situation untenable, and vice versa?
All these thought processes will help you understand if you’re in the right quadrant for you … and what it will take to change your situation if you’re not.
So, what about the question we started with: should you stay, or should you go? It’s really up to you, your priorities and needs. But using these tools will help you find clarity, and ultimately your best answer for this season of your life.
How did you know it was time to make your last career move?
I hope you’ll share your experience in the comments, on social media or by email. I’m always collecting case studies to refine my approach to helping clients through career decisions.
Last updated January 26, 2021