One of my favorite authors is business guru Seth Godin. In several of his books he outlines how fear of the unknown and aversion to change causes inaction and maintains the status quo. Read The Linchpin for more details, but he argues it’s because of how our brain developed through evolution from a largely “lizard” brain (the amygdala) that tells us to go slow, be careful, compromise and be complacent. The lizard brain compels us to avoid risk and not put ourselves in an situation where we could be hurt/wrong/stand out. The theory is that, when we were just beginning our evolutionary journey, that not standing out led to survival; standing out and taking risks rarely led to good things. That may have served our ancestors well, but it’s not a great trait in the business world. The urge to preserve the status quo gets stronger as we get closer to making an important decision – like taking a job.
So let’s say that, for a myriad of reasons, you’re frustrated at your current firm and start looking for a new job. You land an interview at another firm and soon have an offer in hand. Congratulations! But now the emotional gymnastics start. You think of all of the people you will be leaving behind, the good work you’ve done, the comfort-level that comes with knowing the partners at your firm and maybe even thoughts of future bonuses creep into your head. STOP.
Stop torturing yourself now. Applying Godin’s theory, this is just your brain’s way of avoiding risk and keeping you “safe.” There was obviously a reason that you started looking for a job in the first place. Something isn’t right. If the new opportunity is clearly not going to be a better platform for your practice, then by all means turn it down; but if you are failing to take (or consider) the job now that it’s being offered because you just now are remembering that your firm ordered you a chair with better lumbar support, then that’s just silly.
A job search is a two-way street. The potential employer is evaluating you and you should be evaluating them. It is likely that one (or both) of the parties will decide it’s not a good fit. It’s just not fair to either side if the reason for breaking off the talks is based on something that should have been considered well before the resume was sent.
So how do you avoid your brain playing this trick on you? The bad news is that you can’t avoid it. What you can do is remind yourself WHY you started the job search in the first place. Think about why you are leaving your current job and write it down (preferably at the beginning of your job search). As you jot some notes, put down everything that you like about your job, too. Refer to this list often and update it as needed. This written list will serve as a tangible reminder of the things you are looking to avoid in the new position and will help you get over the mental hurdles of switching positions. It will help you avoid the “perceived” danger of switching jobs, trumping your mind’s desire to preserve the status quo.
Being trepidatious about a job change is normal. Not progressing in your career because out of fear is something that should be avoided.