Your career tank can be similar to your automobile gas tank in that you have to fill it up from time to time. You have to make sure you have enough motivation, energy and positive relations with your current employer that if you want to make a change, you can do so relatively painlessly. If you wait until your career tank is on empty, just like with your car, there’s a risk you’ll wind up stranded and stuck.
I learned of this metaphor from Jason Alba, of JibberJobber.com. Jason tells a story about driving a rental car trying to get to a speaking engagement and the fuel gauge is almost on empty. If you’re driving your own car, you know how far you can go after the needle hits E.
When my 2003 Honda Element (a real guy’s car with no carpeting!) gets to empty I still have 2-3 gallons left. When you are driving a rental car that is totally foreign to you, how far can you drive? Jason relates that we do the same with our careers. We usually wait until our gauge is on empty before we make a change.
Does this sound familiar?
My tank has gone completely empty a couple of times in my career and I was kicked in the butt to make a change.
In 2002 I had a head-on collision with a car. I was on a bicycle. Our combined speeds exceeded 50 mph and statistically I should have died. But I lived and, all things considered was not badly hurt. I broke a lot of bones but had no internal injuries (and no brain injuries I will admit to). Almost dying changes your perspective. So in 2003, I resigned my position at a very large high tech company and went on to teach high school math at an inner city high school. Almost all of my students were poor and I was teaching Algebra I and II, not the most popular subject in any school. My first year was tough but I surrounded myself with a great team.
My second year was equally tough, but as a second year teacher, I thought I should be able to handle it. I wasn’t.
My team fell apart and slowly but surely my tank went empty. I resigned after the fall semester completely and totally exhausted.
I saw it coming. I knew my body and spirits were getting depleted, but I didn’t think I could quit because the kids were counting on me. By the time I quit, I was a wreck and needed to recover. Fortunately, I had the means to support myself while I did that. But a lot of people don’t. Trying to find a new career or even a new job when you’re a wreck is a lot tougher than doing it when you’re near the top of your game.
Which is more important your job or you?
In these times, where companies have figured out that they can do more with less, many of you have been pushed to do more and more. When do you say, I need to take care of me?
Think about it. When you are feeling good, you can work at peak performance. Your attitude on the job is usually good. People like to be around you.
Your personal brand stands out.
Working when your career tank is near empty is not good for you, your company or your personal brand.
How do you know when career tank is approaching empty? What will you do to fill your career tank before it goes empty?
Marc Miller is the founder of Career Pivot which helps Baby Boomers design careers they can grow into for the next 30 years. Marc authored the book Repurpose Your Career: A Practical Guide for Baby Boomers, published in January 2013, which has been featured on Forbes.com, US News and World Report, CBS Money-Watch and PBS’ Next Avenue. Marc has made six career pivots himself, serving in several positions at IBM in addition to working at Austin, Texas startups, teaching math in an inner-city high school and working for a local non-profit. Learn more about Marc and Career Pivot by visiting the Career Pivot Blog or follow Marc on Twitter or Facebook.