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Should I Stay, Or Should I Go?

by Brought to you by the ACS Career Navigator
July 7, 2014 | APPEARED IN VOLUME 92, ISSUE 27

Credit: Shutterstock/Yang H. Ku/C&EN
Your career can go in many different directions; you just need to figure out which path to take.
Credit: Shutterstock/Yang H. Ku/C&EN
Your career can go in many different directions; you just need to figure out which path to take.

Every day, you have to decide whether to continue working at the same job or to look for something new. Most days, the decision may be subconscious; you just get up and go to work. If you have a really bad day, you may think about seeing what else is out there. But to be a good steward of your own professional destiny, you need to consciously stop every once in a while and really consider where you are in your career and whether that is where you want to be. Below are a few questions to help determine if you’re on the right career path or if it’s time to start seeking a change.

HAVE TO, OR GET TO? When you wake up in the morning, are you excited about going to work, or do you dread it? Do you find yourself pondering work problems when you’re not at work but don’t mind doing so? Do you read books and articles on topics related to work in your spare time? If you truly enjoy what you do, you will look forward to it and not be bothered when thoughts of work creep into other parts of your life.

FAMILY & FRIENDS. Do your family and friends think what you do is really cool? Are they proud of you and eager to tell others about what you do? Or do they think your job is an endless list of boring chores and wonder why you do it? Where do they get that opinion, if not from things you have said to them about your job? Your attitude toward your work is reflected in the people who are closest to you.

MEETING EXPECTATIONS. Even the best-laid plans don’t always work out. You may have tried something different on a lark or been forced into a suboptimal position by circumstance. After you’ve been in the situation for a while, you need to take a step back and decide if it is as bad as you thought it would be or if it turned out to be a blessing in disguise. Are you where you thought this position would take you? Sometimes, taking a chance puts you in a place you never thought you’d be, but that unanticipated destination ends up being a perfect fit.

ACCOMPLISHMENTS. When you look back over your career history, what are you most proud of? What do you consider your most significant accomplishments? Can you picture more exciting accomplishments on your current path? Are you working toward something you will be proud of? If you can’t answer “yes” to these questions, it might be time to move on, shifting into a career path with a future you can be excited about.

You should get into the habit of pausing on a regular basis to evaluate your career situation—at least once a year, or even once every six months. If you find yourself saying, “This is okay, for now,” too many times in a row, it might not be “now” anymore.

Get Involved In The Discussion. The ACS Career Tips column is published the first week of every month in C&EN. Post your comments, follow the discussion, and suggest topics for future columns in the Career Development section of the ACS Network (



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Lou Floyd (July 11, 2014 1:40 PM)
I agree with the essence of the article, but think a different slant might be helpful: one's personal attitude in general. When I entered the chemical industry fresh out of school, I didn't know how to assess career opportunities, so I joined a company that impressed me during my interviews, to work in a field that I never thought I would enter: polymer chemistry and coatings chemistry. As a presumed organic chemist (academically), polymers were the tars that form on the bottom of flasks when our synthetic attempts go awry -- they had no redeeming social value. I quickly learned how wrong that was, and proceeded to learn and enjoy the field of polymer chemistry my whole life. The same was true for coatings. They were not just a glop in a can, but were an incredibly complex mixture that utilized just about all fields of chemistry then known to us, particularly colloid and surface science. I opened my self to learning everything I could about the subject (all on the job), and as a result, was able to make reasonable contributions during my career.

My point is this: just because something doesn't go as we hoped, thought, or planned doesn't necessarily mean anything. If one is instead curious, interested, and willing to work and study throughout one's career, one can likely make a go of it in just about any field, assuming the requisite skills and abilities. Focusing only on the next promotion or other aggrandizement may not be the best means of assessing one's career progress. Luck has many benefits, and certainly favors the prepared mind. But I do acknowledge the need to continuously assess the health of one's employer -- that is far more likely to interrupt one's path than anything else. I worked for 4 companies during my career; only the first of those changes were to achieve a better fit -- the rest were because I could see that the environment I was enjoying was soon to disappear.

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