If you’re unhappy, unfulfilled, or stuck in your career, maybe it’s time to start working your next job. This doesn’t mean quitting your current role, at least not immediately. Career changes often need an on-ramp. Activities that lead to your next job can be performed while you’re still maintaining the status quo.
Three ways to work your next job include: 1.) hiring yourself to conduct a search, 2.) switching to growth opportunities (“Opportunity Set B”), and 3.) persisting on the known path until mastery is revealed (“Helsinki Bus Station Theory”).
Hire Yourself to Search
Making the transition from passive to active job seeker requires a change in mentality. If you’re serious about a change but need discipline, think of your search as a second job that will lead to your next job. Set aside a few hours each week for networking, submitting applications, or improving the way you communicate your candidacy.
Luckily, you have tools like the HigherEdJobs job agents to alert you about opportunities, but career development takes work. You can’t outsource it all; a lot comes from within.
Play the B-Side
Just like setting aside time for your job search, you also need to recognize the separation between your job and activities that support growth. Jason Feifer, editor in chief of Entrepreneur magazine, calls these opportunity sets.
Opportunity Set A is all the things being asked of you at your job. It’s how your boss evaluates you or whether you’re performing well. For faculty, it’s the teaching, scholarship, and service. Opportunity Set B is all the stuff available to you but that nobody is asking you to do. These could be joining an advocacy group or cross-disciplinary initiative, developing a new professional interest, or solving a problem that makes your campus a better place.
“Opportunity Set B is always more important,” Feifer said as a guest on the How to Be Awesome at Your Job podcast. “And the reason for that isn’t (because) Opportunity Set A is unimportant. It is important. You have to do it, or you will get fired. You need to earn money, but Opportunity Set B is where growth happens.”
Think of Opportunity Set A as everything in your job description. Listing that on a resume or CV will not make you more attractive to other employers. That’s not to say any activity from Set B will, but it can lead to success and growth stories that are worth sharing.
“(Set B) is where you start to lay the foundation for payoff that you cannot even imagine, and you don’t need to know what the (return on investment) is on it,” Feifer said. “You should be doing things because you find them interesting, informative, and because they create new skill sets and new opportunities, because you’re thinking about, ‘What do I need to learn? And have I learned it yet?'”
For example, you might not be required to develop instructional design strategies at your institution, but having an interest, and maybe leading a course with your campus’ teaching and learning center, could lead to your next job.
By now, you might be thinking, “I can barely keep up with one job; I can’t do two!” Fair enough. If you’re overworked and being exploited, then you should certainly try to get another job that provides growth. But first, see if there is room to explore and exploit opportunities for yourself from Set B before you decide to change your Set A.
Stay on the Bus
Also, don’t overlook the opportunities that could await if you stay the course and commit to mastering your current job. This brings to mind another theory for career development that can be applied to areas of research, creativity, or other innovative professional practices. It’s called the Helsinki Bus Station Theory.
The theory is actually a parable from a commencement speech by Finnish-American photographer Arno Rafael Minkkinen, who compared the years of a photographer’s career as bus stops in Helsinki, Finland.
People riding buses make the same stops as other buses from the heart of the city because they are still on the same line. The problem is that people think their career path or experience are the same as others and then get off the bus and go back to the station only to start over. They never achieve separation and diverge into the suburbs or countryside, where novel ideas, breakthrough research, or distinctive skills and creativity emerge.
According to author Oliver Burkeman, writing about the Helsinki Bus Station Theory for The Guardian, “if you pursue originality too vigorously, you’ll never reach it. Sometimes it takes more guts to keep trudging down a pre-trodden path, to the originality beyond.”
Applying this theory to “working your next job,” leaving your job for an entirely different one could be like returning to the bus station. Sometimes working your next job means reworking your existing job. Your job might seem common, but it could be exactly what you need to make the connections necessary to reach uncommon results.
The current job market is favorable to higher education professionals compared to the pre-pandemic years. But that doesn’t make a career change easy. Sometimes you must work your next job first.
Higher education is a great place to work if you want to apply the Opportunity Set B or the Helsinki Bus Station Theory. Campus environments present many Set B opportunities, as well as a variety of routes to success.
You just have to prepare for what’s next and get to work.
Disclaimer: HigherEdJobs encourages free discourse and expression of issues while striving for accurate presentation to our audience. A guest opinion serves as an avenue to address and explore important topics, for authors to impart their expertise to our higher education audience and to challenge readers to consider points of view that could be outside of their comfort zone. The viewpoints, beliefs, or opinions expressed in the above piece are those of the author(s) and don’t imply endorsement by HigherEdJobs.