How do I know if I should branch out?
This is the big question that many readers are asking. To introduce myself, first of all, I teach management at Centrale Supélec and I am the founder of a school specializing in professional life change. This explains why I often hear this question: "How do I know if I should switch?" among my students in this engineering school, and of course among the trainees of the Primaveras School.
To begin with, the profile of the people who ask me this question is a constant: they are students or working people who feel a strong commitment to the environmental cause. They are "in search of meaning" as we say, but in the "sense" of a very strong aspiration to be an actor of the ecological transition. I could even say that this aspiration is so strong that it translates into an injunction for them to find a job that concretely participates in changing the world, "to act to save the planet" as they themselves say. But this injunction will have its paradox: it would imply giving up one's diploma or one's job, or even a job that one finally appreciates... you probably recognize yourself in this dilemma!
If there is a question, it is because there is a doubt!
So what is the problem? One could answer that the solution is easy, that you just have to find a job in the SSE or in professions directly involved in the ecological transition, ... in short, if you want to act for the climate, well then, fork over! And yet ... if there is a question, it is that there is doubt.
That's why some young people - and not so young - don't ask themselves this question: because for them, the answer is obvious, you have to branch out! This is the case of Camille, one of my students, who is extremely committed to the climate transition within the school's associations and who told me straight out: "I will not work in an activity that pollutes in any way, I want to commit myself to the climate, even if it means leaving the path laid out by Centrale". A position that will lead her to turn towards militant NGOs for the climate as a project manager. There is not a shadow of a doubt in Camille's mind.
But for all the others who express this alternative: "to fork or not to fork? I notice that the answer is not clear because there is strong resistance in these people to change everything, their trajectory, their orientation, their career, even their comfort... resistance that is at least as important as the motivation to change the system: loss of skills, loss of recognition, loss of influence, even loss of income .... at least in theory!
Two possible answers: one is radical, the other is moderate!
I will share here the two possible answers because I have experienced them with many profiles.
The clear-cut answer: if you are wondering, it means that you have already started to change direction! The only uncertainty that would remain for you is to find the work environment that will allow you to translate your commitment into a role that meets your aspirations.
The advice is then to radically follow the path of this commitment by considering that you will branch out. This implies persevering, looking for any type of structure that gravitates to the ecological and social transition. In doing so, you will get closer step by step to the context that will speak to you the most: either a type of purpose (waste reduction), or a context (a start-up), or a type of job (and follow a training). This is the case of Pauline who was a project manager in a building maintenance company where everything was going well for her. Except that her desire to act more concretely on social issues was such that she finally decided to leave her company and her job. "It was when I came across the path of my future employer, a circular economy association, that I made up my mind" she explains. "Quite by chance, thanks to this meeting in a conference debate, I understood that they needed skills like mine in their activity. So I took the plunge without hesitation, .... even though my family was appalled by my decision" she concludes with a smile. "I hesitated for a long time, but today, I don't regret anything, not even the loss of salary.
Pauline's example is a good illustration of her convictions, which outweigh many criteria. All she had to do was to start looking for a radical change, to put herself in motion, to make her aspirations come true!
To fork or not to fork: What is the right question?
The nuanced answer would then be this: if you're wondering, it's because you need more than just the "impact" criterion in your work, and so you need to move beyond this simplistic duality between visible impact work and classic non-impact work.
Here is the example of Tarik who is passionate about research jobs but would really like to work for the energy transition. Torn by this dilemma, he finally decides to accept a contract with a large energy group, in an R&D department that offers him to participate in projects to optimize the energy consumption of buildings. On the one hand, he knows that he is joining a player in carbon production, but the importance he attaches to his job as a researcher does not allow him to deviate from it. It is to combine these two motivations that he makes this choice. He has to find a translation that reconciles these two important criteria for him ... even if it means accepting compromises!
From my point of view, Tarik is similar to many cases I come across, driven by this desire to find a job that ticks different and seemingly contradictory boxes. If you feel this tug of war, or if you think you'd like to combine both of your expectations, then the right approach is to not rule anything out at first. This is probably the most delicate thing: accepting that there is no obvious and simple answer.
So to make this probable torment more comfortable to live with, I often invite my own students to look at the positive side of the thing. This positive side is the ability to choose. Indeed, when we have studied, we are all aware that it leaves us the choice of our orientation, and in particular to ask ourselves the question "To branch out or not to branch out? It would be in my opinion a chance, an asset, even a luxury seen by some, to be able to ask this question, which allows to make it more bearable...!
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