When Creating Career Options Starts To Hurt Your Actual Career

At whatever point you find yourself in your career, most professionals are striving to create options.

Whether in management consulting, medicine, or law, a person is eschewing niche markets in favor of universal ones. So, when it comes down to recession-based dismissal, requesting a raise, or simply moving on from a job, this same person will have options to change careers, departments, or companies.

Daniel Gulati had the privilege of investigating this trend while writing Passion & Purpose. He interviewed high-performing, educated individuals about their careers and decisionmaking.

His sample group was composed of professionals in their late 20s or early 30s, graduates from top-tier schools with several years of service at reputable companies. Financially stable, individuals in the sample group rated intellectual stimulation as the number one reason for choosing a job. They were willing (and already had) moved between jobs and countries frequently to find the right fit.

Law school graduate consider their career options in a similar way. They prioritize intellectual stimulation, as well as hands-on experience. They join law firms where they have the highest salaries, as well as potential to gain trial experience, mentorship, or other tangible benefits to their future careers.

Gulati categorizes these young professionals as “the Hesitation Generation.”

He says about his study, “The most striking finding, however, was a common reason underpinning this restlessness: the desire to defer. Convincing themselves they had yet to find a true calling, they relentlessly pursued careers that increased their future options.”

“They were betting that the pain of creating more options now would pay off in the pleasure of a better life later.”

Sound familiar?

But this kind of decisionmaking can be harmful, not helpful, to a person’s career.

Constantly switching firms, departments, or suffering through first-year pain for future partnership gain may be a poor strategy among lawyers.

Gulati exaplains, “Generating options can quickly become an end in itself.”

“By [a person’s] second or third job, however, many had fallen into the dangerous habit of making decisions solely to increase the number of options available to them. This was all at the opportunity cost of creating real value and pursuing their passions.”

Ask yourself, at your firm, are you creating options or an actual career?

Next, Gulati found that “Ironically, those with more options tended to feel less satisfied with the path they were currently pursuing, irrespective of what it was.”

Gulati makes a convincing argument in “More Options, More Problems.” Whether in conversation with a career counselor, friends, or relatives, it’s frequently stated that a person should “keep your options open.”

But, is it possible that we can be happier in our career paths if we keep all other doors closed?

In a difficult economy, it’s tempting to compromise in your profession. However, Gulati’s study makes it clear that by creating options, we destroy opportunities to create real value by pursuing our passion.

If you’re unhappy with your current position, consider ways to redefine that job description.

If you’re a law firm manager, ask your employees to describe their ideal position within your firm, and then explore ways to make it happen.

Luckily, it may be as simple as forming legal forums, discussion groups, or mentorship programs and pairs that provide the intellectual stimulation so crucial to keeping young professionals content and hardworking… and, of course, closed to changing their options.

-WB

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