When Tessa came to me as a coaching client, she had one question on her mind, “Should I take this promotion?”
You see, Tessa was a marketing manager at a major Fortune 500 company. Tessa loved her work, the company, and her team. A dedicated high-performer, she was on the fast-track for growth.
At the same time, her job was often draining. Optimizing marketing campaigns brought out her perfectionist side and Tessa sacrificed work-life balance to push launches out the door. She had three direct reports and enjoyed serving as their leader, but doubted if she was actually good at her job.
So when Tessa’s boss approached her about her interest in a promotion, she felt very conflicted.
On the one hand, a promotion to being director would be a huge level up in her career. It would come with more direct reports, open new doors, give her greater opportunities, and expose her to senior management.
On the other hand, Tessa wondered if she could handle it. Would the stress be too much? Could she stomach the pressure, fire drills, and politics? Would she really want the responsibility that came along with leading a bigger team?
After many sleepless nights spent wrestling with the what if’s, Tessa came to me for coaching.
Sensitive Strivers and Career Decisions
Tessa is a Sensitive Striver — a high-achiever who is also highly sensitive.
Sensitive Strivers think and feel everything more deeply. Naturally thoughtful and perceptive, they can see all sides of a situation — the upsides and the downsides — which can make big career decisions more challenging.
Sensitive Strivers have a high drive for meaning in their work. So while they are motivated by ambitious goals, for them, growth doesn’t always have to look like climbing the ladder. It usually means having a fulfilling job coupled with a sense of inner peace.
At the same time, many Sensitive Strivers like Tessa have forgotten how to listen to their own voices after living a life dictated by other people’s expectations. They get caught up in “shoulds” and tend to look for answers outside themselves (polling others, endlessly researching, etc.) And their loud inner critic drowns out their intuition.
If any of this resonates with you, then you are far from alone. About 15–20 percent of people are sensitive. Plus, when it comes to making tough decisions, your qualities can be a strength if channeled correctly. In fact, research shows that people with higher sensitivity excel in areas that involve thoughtful deliberation and action planning.
5 Ways to Make a Difficult Career Decision
Here are a few exercises I coached Tessa through as she pondered whether or not taking a promotion would set her on the right path. They can also help nudge you towards clarity for whatever decision you might be facing.
On a scale of 1 to 10, how excited do you get when you think about Option A ( 1 being none, 10 being impossible — 5 is not an option!). Then, on a scale of 1–10, how rewarding do you think it would be? Do the same for Option B. What do your responses tell you?
Think about your future self
When you look back on this in a year, what will you regret not doing? Let’s also say there’s a version of you in the future who is already successful and happy? What would that version of yourself advise you to do?
Fall back on your values
Your core values represent what’s most important to you. Examples of core values include freedom, diversity, stability, family, or calmness. Think about your number one core value. Which action or decision is more aligned with or brings you closer to that core value?
For one day, act as if you’ve chosen Option A. Observe how you think and feel — relieved, a knot in your stomach, excitement, dread? Then, for another day, try on Option B. Take stock of your reactions.
Make a snap judgment
On a piece of paper, write down this decision as a yes/no answer (“Will taking the promotion make me happy?”). Write “yes/no” below the question, and leave a pen nearby. After a few hours, come back to the paper and immediately circle your answer.
Walkthrough the worst-case scenario
For each option, ask yourself, what is the WORST that could happen? How likely is it to happen? How would you handle it if the worst did happen?
Making a big career decision is a balance between head and heart. Spreadsheets and pro/con lists are great, but sometimes there’s no replacement for making space to hear yourself. That’s exactly why these exercises focus on getting you to mine your emotional responses for data.
After all, at the end of the day, only you know what your best next step is.
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