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Should I be Willing to Take a Step Down in My Career?

After 20 years of continuous employment, Iíve been out of work for six months. While the economy is beginning to grow again, unemployment is barely budging. Iím very concerned about my future and having to step down to find work. While money is important, I think thereís more to my anxiety than dollars and cents.  

Iíve been around long enough to know that recessions come and go. Why do I feel that I may be in a permanent slump and itís all down hill from here?

What Does Stepping Down Mean to You?

Taking a step down. Now thereís a term loaded with angst for most job seekers. Very few people want to be less successful in the future than theyíve been in the past, whatever their definition of success. Yet, if you ask a number of unemployed individuals what stepping down means to them, you will likely get a variety of responses.

What does stepping down imply to you?

Is it making less money or having a decreased benefit and perk package? Sending your kids to a state university instead of Harvard? Selling your house and moving to a less affluent community because you canít afford your current mortgage? In a society where people often measure their self-worth by the number of zeros on their paychecks, a lower compensation package means a substantially reduced lifestyle and a devastating blow to the ego.

Does the thought of less authority or responsibility mean youíve lost your edge or are no longer a player? Would you feel less important if fewer people reported to you or your title changed from Vice President to Director? Our culture tends to judge us by our accomplishments rather than our character. The loss of face in accepting a lesser position can be just as humiliating in the US as it is in Japan.

Is working fewer hours your definition of stepping down? Many professionals become underemployed because they take part-time positions that pay significantly less than a full-time salary.

For non-exempt employees, a regular 40-hour shift instead of 50 with overtime means fewer hours with lower pay. These lost hours decrease both income and self-esteem, if the worker can no longer support herself or her family on her reduced income.

Are you concerned about moving to a smaller, less prestigious company whose market share, products or customer service seem inferior to your former employerís? A reputation for mediocrity can make your job much harder because underdogs get little respect. People who align their identities with their companyís can experience a tremendous loss of self-worth if they donít perceive their organization to be the best.

Is a forced move from employee to independent contractor or temp status particularly difficult to swallow? For many years, being an employee meant security and a company to call home. With the proliferation of downsizing, organizations are using independent contractors and temps to replace full-time employees. This shift in the employer/employee equation has meant vanishing benefits, insecurity and a lack of belonging for baby boomers, whose parents took a lifetime working relationship for granted.

Do you feel you must resort to starting your own business because no one is going to hire you? I hear this lament from a number of professionals in their late forties and fifties who think corporations are only interested in younger, less expensive workers. Unfortunately, particularly with Fortune 1000 companies, this perception is often true.

When a Step Down is Truly a Step Down

If you are contemplating taking a position that has no upside potential, itís common to think it will:

  • Be a tremendous blow to your self-confidence

  • Decrease your compensation both now and in the future

  • Give potential employers the impression you are no longer capable of doing high-level work

  • Cause you to wonder whether you can still make a worthwhile contribution

  • Mire you in a position that saps your energy and enthusiasm and keeps you from looking for something better

  • Attract repeated rejections because you are over-qualified

  • Make you think you arenít marketable at a higher level because you canít even land a low-level position.

Stinkiní Thinkiní

To paraphrase Zig Ziglar, a famous speaker, author and self-help guru, ďYour are a victim of stinkiní thinkiní.  Or, in psychotherapy terms, you are overwhelmed by catastrophic expectations and negative selftalk.  Whatever you call it, itís a debilitating state of mind that makes hunting for a new job even more difficult.

Seeing the Glass as Half Full

When you find yourself spiraling down into the big black hole, try the following process:

  • Determine the underlying reason(s) why youíre so worried.

  • Assign a percent likelihood to this negative scenarioís actually happening. Is it 100%, 75, 50, 20, 10? Consider both your long-term track record and current market conditions. Try to step outside your situation and look at it rationally. Potential changes often seem more unfavorable than they truly are when youíre in a catastrophic mindset.

  • Now that youíve selected a realistic possibility for whatís worrying you, how do you feel? Usually confronting your demon dispels the hold it has over you .

  • Finally, decide what you will do if the worst comes to pass. Put together a plan A, B and C. If you are ready to take action when necessary, youíll be a lot more confident in your ability to produce the best result.


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