Career Dilemmas: Beware of 5 Traps When Deciding to Stay or Go

UPDATED: October 17, 2014
PUBLISHED: October 17, 2014

“Am I in the right job at the right company?” “Am I doing what I am meant to do?” “How can I find my dream job? Is there such a thing?” Who hasn’t asked these questions?

It’s easy to ask these questions at low points: The person who recruited you leaves for a new job, the project you put your heart and soul into goes flat, or an important client is furious over what you thought was a small change.

It also happens when we compare our situation to others, like when friends share the perks of their own jobs:
• “We get a thank-you bonus every year, so we are taking a trip next month.”
• “I love my new job, and I got a 30 percent increase when I moved.”
• “I can work from home and set my own hours as long as my work gets done.”
• “My five-minute commute has changed my life. I can actually take the kids to school or even stop and have lunch with them.”
• “I’ve been handpicked for quick advancement, so I’m in a special program to make sure I’m ready.”

All of these situations sound great, and it’s too easy to think, What about me? Why can’t I have that, too? Or, as I see it, we develop “the grass is always greener” blues. But is it really?

Beware of these traps when deciding if you are in the right place or if it’s time to move to greener pastures:

1. Comparing yourself to others rather than what matters most to you.
Instead of comparing your situation to isolated information from your friends, make a shortlist of your “must-haves.” Contrast your current job and company against what matters most to you. This is a real comparison based on what you value. After all, if one of your must-haves is maximum flexibility, then a nice holiday bonus that comes with heavy and unpredictable travel won’t help.

2. Confusing what is you vs. the environment.
I once mentored someone who constantly had difficulty working with his team. After the third situation, it became clear that he was likely the problem. Consider how you show up at work and with others before you assume your company or team doesn’t get it. A new attitude or approach will bring a different result. Rather than blaming everyone else, ask yourself, What can I do? and How can I help?

3. Believing opportunities will knock on your door.
You have to ask for what you want—whether it’s a promotion, your dream job or a desire to earn more. Yes, it has to be done in the right way, but silence isn’t the answer.

Last week the CEO of Microsoft, Satya Nadella, stated that women should do as he did by trusting in the system to reward them fairly for the amount of work they’ve put into their jobs. Nadella faced a huge backlash, particularly from women, and later apologized. Stating what matters to you in a constructive way is essential for anyone who plans to reach their goals.

4. Confusing an interview with a resignation.
I always remind those I mentor or coach that there are three distinct and separate decisions in making a move:
1. Deciding to consider other options
2. Exploring other options (interviewing)
3. Deciding to leave

Interviewing is a great way to learn about other opportunities, see how your work compares, and develop your gut instinct. You might decide to stay or to go, but an interview on its own is a long way from submitting your resignation.

5. Limiting your dream job to the company’s organization chart.
Once we’ve worked at one place for a while, our blinders can pop up. We confuse our individual careers with the positions that the company offers today. Your career is yours and yours alone. Don’t let the organizational structure make you think too small.

6. Walking in place.
Not making a decision is making a decision. If you are somewhere you don’t want to be or in a role that isn’t what you want, it won’t change or improve by simply keeping at it. Go back to your must-have list, and decide what changes are possible where you are today, explore other connections, keep in touch with your network. Determine your first step to change your circumstances—and create a direction and find forward movement.

You can only know if the grass is greener by deciding your must-haves and what you want in your unique career. Spend your energy here and in what you can control or influence.

So, I have no choice but to agree with Big Sean and Justin Bieber, “The grass ain’t always greener on the other side, it’s green where you water it.”

Exploring other options but failed the interview? Check out the 8 reasons why you probably didn’t get the job.



Patti Johnson is a career and workplace expert and the CEO of PeopleResults, a change and human resources consulting firm she founded in 2004. Previously, she was a senior executive at Accenture and has been recently featured as an expert in The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, NBC, Money Magazine and Working Mother. Patti is also an instructor for SMU Executive Education and a keynote speaker on “Leading Change.” Her first book, Make Waves: Be the One to Start Change at Work & in Life, hit shelves in May 2014. Visit her website at